Anesthesia Free Dentistry for Pets Especially Dogs and Cats…Malpractice?

Anesthesia free dentistry (anesthesia-free) in pets particularly in dogs and cats is unfortunately becoming more common.   This is a very timely and important post meant to benefit pet parents, veterinarians and most of all our pets.

This case is unfortunately a very common problem these days.  In order to avoid general anesthesia, as was the case in this 10 year old dog, the choice was made to to provide regular cleaning without anesthesia.  Although this patient received excellent home care including brushing daily profound disease below the gum line was the disastrous result.   Is anesthesia free dentistry for our pets the right choice?  Please view the pictures of this patient below.  Commentary to follow.

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The right maxillary premolars and molars only have minor tartar and relatively no gingivitis

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Radiograph of the teeth in the picture above. The arrows point to dark areas that represent the profound destruction of bone due to periodontal disease.

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The right mandible of the patient above shows little tartar or gingivitis

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The arrows point to black voids in the bone destroyed by periodontal disease.

The case above is the rule, not the exception.  Disease below the gum line results from plaque accumulation and years of improper “oral hygeine” in the form of anesthesia free dental cleaning.

This bizarre practice originated in grooming facilities as a service to supplement income despite its negative impact on the patient.  As sad as it seems some veterinary practices have adopted this practice for similar reasons.

Unfortunately it is very harmful for the enamel by creating more of a rough surface for plaque and tartar to accumulate more quickly and in greater volume.  More importantly it does the patient a great injustice by neglecting the only place where periodontal disease is most profound:  below the gum line.

Lawsuits against those performing this service are on the rise.  Anesthesia free dentistry is cosmetic only, hiding the true disease that exists below the gum line.  Seek professional dental care from caring veterinarians who have been properly trained to perform safe dental cleaning, proper oral evaluation, dental probing and x-rays under anesthesia.

The American Veterinary Dental College Position Statement on Companion Animal Dental Scaling Without Anesthesia

Veterinary News Network on Anesthesia Free Dentistry for Pets Dr. Jim Humprhies and Dr. Tony Woodward

Veterinary News Network Article

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15 Responses to Anesthesia Free Dentistry for Pets Especially Dogs and Cats…Malpractice?

  1. Pingback: 2011 Veterinary and Animal Health News Predictions - Blogs - Pet Docs on Call

  2. Karen Kaplan says:

    Hi, I found the Anesthesia Free Dentistry article very informative and useful. We have many clients who are interested in dental care for their pets but are reluctant to have them undergo anesthesia. I’d like to know if there’s a way to share this information with clients? I would like something that I can print out and/or display to show clients.

  3. MORNET Alain says:

    thanks for this warning

    thanks for the team navc institute may 2010

    now we can recognize most of dental problems
    if we are not able to treat all of them , we refer to
    philippe Hennet in Paris
    thanks for recommend innovadent dental system ,we have got one

  4. Brett says:

    Hi Dr. Mornet,
    Glad to hear from you. Please give my regards to Phillipe.

  5. Brett says:

    Hi Dr. Kaplan,
    I believe I answered this by email but you are more than welcome to use this in any manner you choose, just please give credit to the source.
    Take care,

  6. jan says:

    My dog has had his teeth brushed every day since he was a baby, he is now 5 years old and he has some build-up but in my opinion (and my vets) not enough to warrant being put through a dental cleaning with ansthesia. I opted to do a “standing dental”.

    After reading this article, I am feeling bad that I didn’t wait and do a full dental cleaning. I feel like I wasted money on nothing and that I could have potentially made the situation worse. His teeth look slightly cleaner but honestly, I am not sure if they did much, he was in the office for 10 minutes at the most, how can you clean teeth in that amount of time? He came out extremely upset. They said I should return in 6 months.

    There was a vet on site but not working with the “Hygenists”. I am actually worried about whether they use clean tools on each dog. What if the last dog had an infection and the tools aren’t properly disinfected? Wouldn’t that put my dog at risk for infectious bacteria?

    My dog has good teeth and there was no bleeding. It seems they were pretty gentle. They said they use ultrasonic cleaning and not scraping. In my case, I doubt I should worry too much, my dogs teeth weren’t bad and they look as if they haven’t had much done to them. I am not sure if anything was done but it was not cheap… I think I will wait a few years and have a dental with anesthetic. Hopefully we don’t require anything too soon, I’d hate to put him through this again. I think he would have prefered to be under ansthesia.

  7. Brett says:

    Hi Jan,
    You are absolutely correct in your observation ” I feel like I wasted money on nothing and that I could have potentially made the situation worse.” Eliminating tartar above the gumline and not approaching the rest does little to benefit our pets. A thorough evaluation with probing and dental radiographs is always indicated especially if your dog is 5 years of age. I see profound changes on x-ray at 2 in some dogs when little or no tartar or gingivitis exist. Please seek out a veterinarian who is comfortable with taking and interpreting dental x-rays now before it the disease that is likely present under the gum progresses.

  8. Anne says:

    Thank you for a terrific summary of this important issue. I recently put up a web page on my site on cat nutrition concerning this issue and was very glad to find your blog.


    Anne (

  9. Carolyn says:

    I recently tried to have my dog done before reading articles. When I walked in the young girl was sitting on the floor behind some things. I left my dog and received a call shortly later saying my dog was too hard to due to his moving around. When I returned for my dog he was in the cage and she had another dog sorta wrapped between her legs and yelled at him a couple of times to hold still. This really enlighten me to how any dog would just sit still and let them clean their teeth. I will take my dog into the vet and have his teeth cleaned. The extra money could well be worth it in the long run.

  10. Liz says:

    I usually get my pets teeth cleaned by a veterinarian and they go under anesthesia. My 13 year old dog has a heart condition and no longer can go under. He has some tarter build up and I was thinking of getting his teeth cleaned anthesia free. After reading this I am having second thoughts. I don’t really have a choice so I guess his teeth will no longer be able to be cleaned under anesthesia as well.

  11. Brett says:

    Hi Liz,
    A heart murmur is not a contraindication to anesthesia. If a proper cardiac workup is done by a specialist they can determine the course of anesthesia. I did extensive oral surgery on a 14 1/2 year old Norwegian Elkhound for 2 1/2 hours yesterday with a heart murmur and he went home happy 90 minutes later. We perform procedures routinely on patients with multiple systemic problems. As long as proper workups and precautions are taken there is relatively low risk involved.
    Dr. B

  12. Iwona says:

    Thanks for the article. I was using cleaning teeth services in the grooming facility, trying to give one “dentabone” a day to my dog. After reading this article I an getting to conclusion that all advertised products related to dog oral hygiene are really not substituting dental cleaning by veterinarian. I think that I however I don’t see any tartar build-up I should talk to my veterinarian about some scheduled dental check ups. Once more thanks for the article.

  13. Brett says:

    You should be highly commended for making an intelligent, informed decision. You will want to ensure that your veterinarian has dental x-ray and has the experience to take x-rays of the entire mouth. Great decision!
    Dr. B

  14. Dr Zoran Radnic says:

    It is a shame that some veterinarians will not put “old” dogs under anesthesia due to fear of animals having anesthetic death under their care. That also fuels “gentle dentals” how they call anesthesia free dentistry here. Recently I had a 19 year old dog that had completely normal bloodwork and radiographs under anesthesia for dental procedure including extractions . The old age is not a disease.

  15. Brett says:

    Hello Dr. Radnic, I agree wholeheartedly. We see patients with coexisting diseases such as heart, kidney and liver disease in addition to old age. These patients, managed correctly do fantastic with anesthesia and pet owners see dramatic differences in their health and well being for months to years to come following removal of the infection they have suffered from for years. We know periodontal disease plays a part in pathology in those organs and likely contributes to the rapid deterioration of these patients if the oral disease is not properly addressed. We teach that the cosmetics ie cleaning the crown does nothing to help the patient and it is slowly hitting home. Thank you for your comments.

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