Dog and Cat Dentistry- Anesthesia Free?

Anesthesia-free dentistry is available in many locations, from pet stores to grooming facilities toDog and Cat Dentistry- Anesthesia Free? mobile vans. This hand scaling involves using a small sharp instrument to remove tartar and plaque from the surface of the pets’ teeth while it sits in the lap of the person performing the process.  It is tempting to dog and cat owners to have this service performed on their pets as it is less expensive  than the dentistry services provided by veterinarians and it does not require general anesthesia. Veterinarians, for the most part, do not recommend this service of a number of reasons.

First, cleaning the teeth without anesthesia is ineffective at detecting or treating dental disease. The lack of anesthesia prevents the provider from scaling underneath the gumline where the majority of disease occurs. Removing the tartar from the visible surface of the tooth is cosmetically pleasing, but does little to prevent periodontal disease which leads to discomfort and tooth loss. In addition, the inside surface of the tooth cannot be scaled or polished in an awake patient no matter how skilled the person performing the scaling is. Veterinarians use sonic or ultrasonic scalers which are designed to clean under the gumline. Any form of scaling etches the surface of the tooth which then needs to be polished to prevent plaque from adhering to the tooth surface too quickly. Most hand scaling is followed by ineffective polishing. Pockets between the teeth and gums cannot be cleaned or measured and dental radiographs (x-rays) cannot be taken to evaluate the tooth root and surrounding bone so painful tooth abscesses go undetected.

Secondly, anesthesia-free dentistry may be harmful to your pet.  Scaling of the teeth in an un-anesthetized patient can cause pain. Cats develop a type of tooth defect called tooth resorption and scaling a resorbing tooth will be extremely painful to that cat. The sharp scaling instrument used can cause trauma to the gums or tongue if the pet moves during the process.  We have seen lacerations caused by scaling that require surgical repair, and we had one dog die due to an abscess that formed under the tongue secondary to trauma that occurred during hand-scaling. If an animal inhales a piece of tartar or calculus during the process it can develop pneumonia. The airway and lungs are protected by a breathing tube during anesthesia which prevents this from occurring.

Lastly, the practice is illegal unless provided by or directly supervised by a licensed veterinarian. Most anesthesia-free dentistry is performed outside of a veterinary hospital without any veterinary supervision.

The best thing that you can do for your pets teeth is to brush them regularly to prevent tartar from forming in the first place.  Use dental chews, treats and diets on a daily basis. Have your veterinarian examine your pet yearly including the teeth and if a teeth cleaning is recommended, have it done properly by your veterinarian.

To learn more about why correctly performed preventative dentistry is important for your dog click here. Have a cat? Click here.

To learn how to brush your dog’s teeth at home, click here. Cat lovers? Click here.


  1. I brush my dogs teeth every night to prevent the tartar. When he had a cleaning a few months ago it was really traumatic for him, but it definitely helped his mouth in the long run. I also try to give him only natural crunchy treats like Healthy Bones, because they help to scrape the tartar off and he goes nuts for them.

    • Good job on the daily brushing! That is the best thing that you can do to keep your dog’s mouth healthy. I am sorry the cleaning under anesthesia was traumatic for him, but it is important to have routine cleanings under anesthesia in addition to brushing for severeal reasons. First, the inside of the teeth get cleaned, which can’t happen with brushing. Pockets, loose teeth, and broken teeth can be indentified and dealt with. Finally, even dogs with perfect teeth on the outside can have abscesses at the tip of the root, which is only identified with x-rays taken under anesthesia. Crunchy chew bones (not hard bones) and foods help as well. Keep up the good work!

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