Why Do We Need Anesthesia for Dental Cleanings?

There is always a risk with anesthesia, no matter how healthy the pet or minor the procedure is. At Centennial Animal Hospital we are fully staffed with individuals highly skilled and trained to provide safe anesthesia with minimal to no complications. So why must animals get anesthesia for a dental cleaning? Why can’t a veterinarian reach into the mouth and scrape the teeth much like the dentist does to us? Some owners will even vouch for their pet saying “they are very well behaved!” Well unlike us, your pet does not understand the concept of a dental cleaning, or why someone may be putting a sharp pointy tool into their mouth and below the gum line and can easily be injured if they suddenly move their head or try to get away.

Not only that but if we attempt to do anesthesia-free dental, it would be purely cosmetic. We would not be able to perform the level of cleaning required to remove the plaque and tartar that is below the gum line and between the teeth effectively. We would only be able to scrape off the visibly stained tartar that can be easily seen.

Some animals have very long snouts, and if the animal was not under anesthesia we would not be able to reach all the way to the back of the mouth, on all sides of the teeth, as we cannot ask the dog to say “ahh”. If the animal has a very small crowded mouth like a pug, we would not be able to get in-between all the tightly packed teeth at the right angle, if the dog was awake.

So the main reasons behind using anesthesia for dental cleanings;

  • It allows us to clean all aspects of the teeth, above and below the gum line, and all the tightly packed areas between other teeth and against the cheeks and tongue.
  • This allows your veterinarian and technician to get a full assessment of the mouth without the dog moving. It allows us to check for any pocketing in the gums, mobile teeth, any pieces of tartar hidden deep in the back of the mouth, as well as checking for any ulcers or growths that may be hiding in the mouth.
  • The pets and staff stay safe! The animal doesn’t get hurt by moving with sharp instruments in the mouth, and the staff don’t get bit if the animal experiences some discomfort.
  • It allows us to take dental x-rays to see what is going on below the gum line. A tooth may look fine from the outside, but sometimes an abscess has started to form deep by the tooth root, or there could be bone loss or other abnormalities not seen by the naked eye. Without anesthesia, the x-ray dental sensor would not be able to be accurately and safely placed.
  • If an extraction needs to take place, then we definitely want the animal under anesthesia for that. We will give a proper dental nerve block, but often the tooth still needs to be properly elevated or sectioned. Sometimes the gum needs to be surgically cut to make a flap, so we are able to get down to the root to properly elevate it from the alveolar bone. None of which you want your pet to be awake and conscious for.

Written by: Michelle, RVT

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