Anesthesia: Why Do Pets Need it to Have Their Teeth Cleaned?

By April 27, 2015Blog

Let’s start with a confession first…  when I was a child I bit my human dentist. I remember his thumb didn’t taste very good. No blood was drawn, we were not banned from the practice, and eventually I learned to sit still while my mouth was probed, cleaned, and polished.

Here is the main difference between veterinary and human dentistry: I was able to understand the importance of the procedure and eventually co-operate. In the case of our veterinary patients, general anesthesia is required.

Just because your pet Alfie will lie in your lap while you paint his nails, apply fake tattoos to his belly and even floss his teeth does not  mean Alfie will lie quietly enough for him to be safe during veterinary treatment of dental disease.  We pride ourselves on the safety of your animals when in our care.

Let’s look at the components of a Complete Oral Health Assessment and Treatment to see how this compares:

1. Dental x-rays, at least eight pictures, are essential to identify painful dental infections and other diseases.Alfie might eat the x-ray film or sensor, endangering his health and damaging costly equipment.

2. We examine the mouth and the teeth, probing around each tooth to measure gingival recession and looking around the mouth for signs of injury or cancer.

Diseased gums are sensitive to the probing and often bleed making anesthesia essential for probing depths as well as getting a good view of Alfie’s mouth.

3. The teeth are scaled to remove tartar, the brown stuff stuck to the sides of teeth, using a combination of hand tools and an ultrasonic scaler.

The hand tools are sharp and the scaler is noisy and vibrates but we need to reach down below the gums to scrape off the tartar that causes gingivitis. This is impossible in an awake dog.

4. Polishing is important after scaling to remove the fine scratches created by our instruments. We like to use strawberry flavored polish.

We do this to ensure that Alfie stays tartar free for as long as possible following the procedure by preventing bacteria from finding these scratches and hiding in them!


Before the Cleaning

Check out these pearly whites

And After!

5. Now it is time for numbing local blocks if diseased teeth need to be removed. The veterinarian will extract teeth and then take more x-rays to ensure all the roots were removed intact, then suture the sockets closed to prevent food from collecting in the resulting holes.

Tooth extractions are surgery and even with the numbing, Alfie does not want to be awake if he needs teeth removed. He also does not want his diseased teeth cleaned and left in his mouth, that’s like painting a rotten fence; a waste of time!

Scraping tartar off the crowns of teeth in awake dogs has been offered by groomers and other lay people and appears initially attractive without the cost of anesthesia or x-rays. Afterwards the teeth appear clean, but the tartar quickly recurs, dogs may be injured, and the periodontal disease is essentially untreated since x-rays, subgingival scaling, and needed extractions cannot be performed. For more information, look here to learn how the College of Veterinarians of Ontario has been protecting pets and their families from the risks of awake dental cleaning.

Your pet’s health is, quite literally my business, so I take it seriously.  It’s in my best interest to give you the facts so you can make informed decisions on what’s best for your pet.  If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.  I promise not to bite.

Leave a Reply