What! No Anesthesia?

The Stink About "Anesthesia-Free Dentals"

We’ve all experienced it – come home from an extra long work day and Rover the Golden Retriever excitedly meets you at the door. It’s almost as if he spent the whole day wondering, “is my family coming home??” He runs up to you and as you reach down to pat him on the head and take off your shoes he gives you a machine-gun series of wet “Welcome Home” kisses….and all you can think about is how terrible his breath smells!

Or – you’re finally enjoying a relaxing evening on the recliner, lights down low, book in hand when Precious the cat saunters into the room. She stops at your feet, looks up at you and meows demandingly – “Time to feed me!”. Of course, you are so engrossed in your book you don’t even notice. Precious decides to act more directly, hops up on the hair, forces her way onto your chest and begins to meow incessently directly into your face. The stench of her breath just about knocks you out. She gets fed….after you put your nose into a bowl of lavender.

Bad breath in our furry friends is often a sign of some level of oral/dental disease. (To learn about more signs of oral/dental disease in cats and dogs, click HERE). Sometimes, that level of disease requires a Professional Veterinary Dental Cleaning. For a variety of reasons many pet guardians have begun seeking a form of dental cleaning called Anesthesia-Free Dentals. The purpose of the Pet-ucational article is to explain why at Boulder’s Natural Animal Hospital we do NOT offer or advocate Anesthesia-Free Dentals.

What is an Anesthesia-Free Dental?
Anesthesia-Free Dentals are dental cleanings performed on dogs and cats without the use of an anesthetic. The pet is held or restrained, fully awake, typically in the lap of the “hygenist.” The “hygenist” then uses dental tools to scrape off the visible calculi that have accumulated on the crown (visible portion) of the teeth.

Why doesn’t Boulder’s Natural Animal Hospital advocate Anesthesia-Free Dentals?

For a variety of reasons, we do not offer and do not advocate Anesthsia-Free Dentals for our patients. Some these reasons are:

  • Incomplete Care- Anesthesia-Free Dentals simply do not provide a complete dental cleaning to the patient. For example, the “hygenist” typically is only able to scrape off the larger, visible calculi on the crown of the tooth. Often they cannot see or remove the calculi on the interior faces of the tooth. Furthermore, they typically cannot clean the plaque and/or calculi from the parts of the teeth that lie below the gumline, where the more serious dental and oral disease can occur. Additionally, most Anesthesia-Free Dentals cannot or do not include a thorough polishing of the teeth’s surfaces both above and below the gumline, a step that is crucial to preventing later buildup of bacterial plaque and calculi. Also, most Anesthesia-Free Dentals do not include a complete oral exam by a Veterinary Doctor. Lastly, dental x-rays cannot be taken during an Anesthetia-Free Dental to asses the condition of the unseen roots of the teeth.
  • Cost- Many pet guardians are drawn to the lower cost of an Anesthesia-Free Dental. While it is true that a Professional Veterinary Dental Cleaning utilizing anesthesia is more costly this does not hold true over the life of the pet. Due to the incompleteness of the procedure, pet’s who receive Anesthesia-Free Dentals tend to need a cleaning far more often than those who receive a Professional Veterinary Dental Cleaning. In addition to this, pets who receive Anesthesia-Free Dentals often have the underlying disease incompletely treated or completely untreated. Often, the further the disease progresses, the more costly the intervention is to treat it.
  • Pain- Proper dental cleaning, including root planing (scraping with an ultrasonic scaler under the gumline) and polishing can be very uncomfortable. This discomfort worsens if there exists any level of gum disease or disease to the enamel of the tooth being treated. With an Anesthesia-Free Dental there is no way to eliminate this discomfort despite the “hygenist’s” best efforts. With a Professional Veterinary Dental Cleaning the use of anesthesia completely eliminates the discomfort of all aspects of the cleaning.

But isn’t anesthesia really dangerous?!?!?

It is completely natural and understandable to worry about the safety of using anesthesia for your furry friend. While all anesthesia does have some inherent risk the simple answer to the question above is, “No.” How can we say this so confidently? At Boulder’s Natural Animal Hospital we take extensive measures to ensure the highest level of safety to all use of anesthesia. To learn about everything entailed in an anesthetic procedure in our hospital, click HERE.

Recent studies have show that severe reactions to anesthesia occurs in less than 0.2% of healthy dogs and cats – this number decreases as supportive anesthetic safety measures (such as those utilized at Boulder’s Natural Animal Hospital) increase. More importantly, that percentage pales in comparison when considering the probability that untreated dental or oral disease will progress, which is almost 100%.

The best moral of this story is this – PREVENTION is the best form of treatment!

The safest, least expensive method of treating dental and/or oral disease is preventing it from ever happening. We are strong believers in empowering our clients to take the care of their cherished furry family members into their own hands. The great news is, adding a strong dental care regiment into your at-home pet care is easy! Such things as regular teeth brushing for your cat or dog, water additives, specialized dental treats and an annual (AT LEAST!) exam can go a long way toward eliminating the need to ever answer the question, “Anesthesia-Free Dental versus Professional Veterinary Dental Cleaning?”

Afterall, all we ever want for our animal companions is fresh smelling kisses and pearly whites!


For an article by Dr. Woodward, a certified veterinary dentist, on why he does not support Anesthesia-Free Dentals, click HERE.

For an article by Dr. Eisner, a certified veterinary dentist, comparing Anesthsia-Free and Professional Veterinary Dental Cleanings, click HERE.

To read the American Veterinary Dental College’s official position on Anesthesia-Free Dentals, click HERE.