Wed. Jun 26th, 2019

Are anesthesia-free dentals worth it for my dog?



Dental disease (aka periodontal disease) is the most common medical condition found in our companion animals today. As a pet parent, you may not realize just how important your dog’s oral health is. We all know how important it is for us to see the dentist on a regular basis. We brush our teeth twice daily (and pretend like we actually floss) but most dogs don’t get their teeth brushed at all (let alone every day).

You may have heard about anesthesia-free (or non-anesthetic) dental cleanings from a friend, neighbor or even your groomer. Many pet parents think that this is a great (and cheaper) alternative to taking your dog into the vet for a teeth cleaning while under general anesthesia. As a loyal and faithful pet parent, you probably researched it on Google and think that this may be the best way to take care of your pup’s stinky breath in a cost-effective way. Contrary to what you may believe, an anesthesia-free dental cleaning is not as stress-free or good as you may think. If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is!

Anesthesia-free dental cleanings only remove the tartar and plaque build-up that we can see with our eyes. Sparkling white teeth does not guarantee that all of the teeth are actually healthy. Because this procedure is done on your dog while awake, your pup is likely restrained while having his or her mouth held open while the teeth are cleaned with a dental scaler. Most dogs are not used to having a veterinarian look at their teeth for a few seconds during a physical examination, let alone have someone they aren’t familiar with spend 20-30 minutes removing all visible tartar with an instrument that produces a vibration. Imagine the fear and stress this produces because they don’t understand what is happening.

“Sparkling white teeth does not guarantee that all of the teeth are actually healthy.” – Dr. Lisa Littlejohn

Advanced dental disease that will require most of the teeth to be extracted
Dental Xray shows significant loss around the roots of some teeth that will need to be pulled
Mild to moderate dental disease

The scary thing is most of the disease-causing bacteria are microscopic and hide underneath the gum line. This is where they wreak havoc and break down the bone surrounding the tooth. Anesthesia-free dental cleanings are unable to truly clean the teeth as they do not get under the gum line. Furthermore, it is virtually impossible to perform dental x-rays on an awake patient. Dental x-rays help your veterinarian determine if there is any damage to bone that surrounds the root of the tooth. Once the bone is destroyed, the tooth becomes loose, wiggly, and commonly results in major discomfort. Ever had a tooth ache? OUCH! Once the bone is destroyed, it cannot grow back. The diseased teeth will need to be removed, which shouldn’t be done while awake.

To properly care for your pup’s teeth, the best (and safest long term) option is to speak with your primary care veterinarian about your dog’s teeth. They can perform a physical exam and pre-dental blood work to ensure that your dog is healthy enough to have a dental cleaning done along with x-rays while under anesthesia. Regular dental cleanings are strongly recommended as bacteria can be sneaky and possibly get into the bloodstream. If this happens, the bacteria can affect the heart, liver, and/or kidneys. This could be a serious issue for your pup, if not fatal. It’s better to be safe than sorry! Your pup (and your wallet) will thank you. After all,

A healthy mouth is a healthy pup!

Lisa Littlejohn, DVM, is a veterinarian at Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice. She is a 2010 graduate from the University
of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. After graduation, she spent several years in General Practice through out
the Tampa Bay area before transitioning exclusively to end of life care. Dr. Lisa loves helping anyone she can and is
passionate about educating pet owners and connecting with veterinary students to make their overall school
experience the best it can be. In her spare time, she enjoys making insightful and empowering YouTube videos for
pet parents. She lives in Brooksville, FL with her 2 dogs (Maui and Grady) and 2 cats (Abby and Finn).

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