I’m willing to put my dog’s under anesthesia to clean their teeth and get x-rays if our vet thinks it’s necessary, but I would rather avoid it if possible.
While undergoing anesthesia is relatively low risk for most dogs, I have personally seen how it takes my dogs several days after to return to acting and feeling normal.
Plus, being put under anesthesia is riskier for senior dogs, and dogs with medical conditions like congestive heart failure.
I use an at-home teeth cleaning routine that doesn’t require a toothbrush and get dog teeth cleaning without anesthesia if the plaque starts to build up on my dog’s teeth.
UPDATED: originally published January 2016.
Since writing about anesthesia-free teeth cleaning, I’ve been berated and stalked (yes, stalked…. I can see your email address and see you work for a vet) repeatedly with comments about how anesthesia-free teeth cleaning is horrible and my dogs will die.
I disagree but but looked deeper into anesthesia free dog teeth cleaning to see if their claims were warranted.
Here is my review.
Note: to be clear, the goal of a non-anesthetic dental cleaning is to help prevent periodontal disease in a healthy dog, not treat it.
Anesthesia-free Teeth Cleaning – The Negative Claims
I am pretty sure I’ve heard every argument in the book about Professional Outpatient Preventive Dentistry (POPD) – the technical term for anesthesia-free canine dental cleaning.
If I haven’t, I am sure I will after people read this article.
Despite the very vocal detractors, I feel strongly that I have made the right choice for my dogs.
I admit I am not a vet and that these are personal opinions based on very thorough research done over a period of 2 years.
I have a background in science so I know how to ask probing questions, find in-depth information, and understand scientific reports.
I will admit that I lean towards natural and holistic medicine.
I am open to “experimental” procedures not accepted by the entire “medical” community as long as I feel knowledgeable about the situation and feel I have made the best choice for myself and my dogs.
Below are the arguments I’ve heard and what I have to say about them.
1) You’re just doing it to cut costs
I’ve done a lot research regarding what it costs to get a dog’s teeth cleaned. It can be really expensive.
Luckily, at my vet, cleaning under anesthesia starts at $300, which is relatively inexpensive.
In the 20 years I’ve owned Dachshunds, my vet has never said anything about there teeth except the occasional, “Eh. You could get a full teeth cleaning under anesthesia if you want.“
However dogs that constantly fight tartar buildup on their teeth may need a dental cleaning under anesthesia once a year.
So let’s say the cost of teeth cleaning would be $300 per year (reminder: this is a which is a very conservative number).
If a dog was to get anesthesia free teeth cleaning on a regular basis, the recommendation is to do it twice a year.
Where I get my no anesthesia dog teeth cleaning for my dogs, the cost is $160 per cleaning.
Therefore, the cost is relatively the same, or more, to get anesthesia-free teeth cleaning.
Besides, I do not make choices about my dog’s health based on cost alone so this argument is a moot point.
2) Anesthesia-free teeth cleaning is not as thorough as cleaning under anesthesia.
Logically, I agree with this.
It makes sense that the dentist can’t peel back the dog’s gums to scrape way up under the gum line unless they are under anesthesia.
Besides scraping under the gums being painful, the dog needs to be lying completely still to avoid injury while doing it.
However, that doesn’t mean that getting anesthesia-free cleaning is worthless.
Again, using logic, I don’t believe that removing the majority of plaque, and thus bacteria, on a dog’s teeth unhelpful.
In a 2016 article, Dr. Kate Knutson, the former President of the American Animal Hospital Association, after observing Animal Dental Care technicians clean and probe the teeth of alert pets, concluded:
“[anesthesia-free dental cleanings] are not a replacement for X-rays and oral surgery… but [the anesthesia free teeth cleaning she observed] … is going under the gum line and cleaning out plaque and tartar.” (source)
3) You can’t detect deeper dental issues without x-rays
Is letting a vet or technician judge the health of your dog’s teeth by look alone risky? Maybe.
However, while I agree that the only way to be 99.9% sure there are no dental issues is to have x-rays done under anesthesia, that’s not the only way to detect issues.
The certified dog dentist that cleans my dog’s teeth without anesthesia looks for any signs that there may be trouble under the surface like spots on the gums, bleeding, and a foul odor.
There is also a veterinarian that supervises the cleaning so this veterinarian can be consulted if the dog dentist discovers something suspect.
A study published in the National Library of Medicine concluded that, “… An oral examination in an awake dog can be a helpful screening tool…”
The study does state that a visual assessment of dental heath , “Should not be considered a comprehensive evaluation of periodontal health” but I already stated this truth.
You can’t know if there are any underlying problems with your dog’s teeth if they aren’t cleaned under anesthesia, but it’s likely that early signs of gum and teeth issues can be identified.
4) People performing anesthesia free teeth cleaning don’t know what they’re doing
People worry that those offering these services don’t know what they are doing and can injure your pet with their dental instruments.
This is true. Or was true when this service was only being offered as an ad-on service by pet groomers, unskilled technicians, or performed by people just looking to make a quick buck.
However, dog dental cleaning without anesthesia has come a long way in the last 10 years.
Now there are companies utilizing technicians specifically trained in this technique.
There are also companies with highly skilled hygienists offering anesthesia free cleaning within existing veterinary practices.
It is very important that this procedure be performed by:
- A veterinarian
- A trained technician who works under a veterinarian’s supervision
This is what distinguishes a Professional Out Patient Dental procedure (POPD) from the “cleaning” done by groomers, pet store employees, at boarding facilities, and during house calls.
There are growing number of general practitioners advocating for safe and thorough anesthesia-free cleanings done by discerning and skilled technicians (source)
5) Restraint techniques used during anesthesia-free cleanings can hurt your dog
This could be true. Especially with Dachshunds because they are prone to back injury.
Not every dog is a good candidate for an anesthesia free dog teeth cleaning procedure.
The ideal dog is one that is mild mannered, doesn’t have severe arthritis, does not have a history of frequent spinal disk ruptures, isn’t easily stressed, and has not exhibited aggressive behavior in the past.
I will say that my Dachshund Gretel does have Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD), the disease that weakens a Dachshund’s spine, and general anxiety, but, to my surprise, there have been no issues with getting this procedure done.
The technician that does our anesthesia free cleaning will refuse a dog if he doesn’t think this type of cleaning is appropriate for a dog (ie. see’s significant periodontal disease) or the dog struggles too much.
He said that both of my dogs, after maybe a mild struggle akin to what they do when I try to cut their nails, relax for the procedure.
6) Bacteria can enter the blood stream and your dog can die
According to The Whole Dog Journal, plaque and tartar build up on a dog’s teeth can cause “A bacterial infection and inflammation in the gums, which can send bacteria through the dog’s bloodstream, where it can wreak havoc with the heart, lungs, kidney, and liver.”
Another article I read indicated that it was possible for a teeth cleaning to dislodge bacteria containing tartar, which can result in that bacteria entering the bloodstream through swallowing or absorption through blood vessels in the moth.
All information I have found says that bacteria entering your dog’s blood stream from plaque and tartar is a bad thing.
However, bacteria can enter the blood stream both by doing nothing – leaving plaque and tartar to build up on your dog’s teeth – and by having it scraped off (both under anesthesia and with non-anesthesia cleaning, mind you).
Bacteria can enter the blood stream any time the surface of the gums is weakened and compromised.
Some vets will pump antibiotics into your dog’s blood stream while cleaning under anesthesia to help keep the bacteria at bay, but some anesthesia-free dog dentists will give you antibiotics to administer after the procedure.
I have not found information that supports the theory that getting your dog’s teeth cleaned using anesthesia-free techniques is any more harmful in this regard than letting your dog develop dental disease from plaque and tartar build up on the teeth – by doing nothing.
So, as I have said in previous articles mentioning this procedure, I maintain that anesthesia-free teeth cleaning is better than doing nothing….. or at least not any worse.
7) Pitting on the teeth can make plaque buildup worse
The argument is that the tools used during dental cleaning can put the surface of the tooth, thus making it rougher.
Plaque and tartar are more likely to stick to a rough surface, making it worse.
In theory, this may be true.
However, I know that some technicians do polish the teeth after anesthesia free cleaning because ours does.
I don’t notice plaque and tartar building up on my dog’s teeth more quickly than they would otherwise.
The rate at which they accumulate seems to be more dependent on genetics, the food I feed my dogs, and the number of opportunities I give them to chew on something to scrape plaque off themselves.
I don’t know enough about this point to argue it. All I could find is detractors making this claim.
I don’t feel like there was enough information on the other side for me to take an informed stance.
I do know that this has not been an issue for us but expect that the experience varies from dog to dog.
I have covered most of the issues about anesthesia free dog teeth cleaning I’ve been made aware of so far – both from comments on my articles and my research.
The bottom line is that:
- Non-anesthesia dog teeth cleaning can’t catch most issues under the gum line like X-rays under anesthesia can
- Trained technicians can perform this procedure effectively, safely, and can visually examine your dog’s gums and teeth for any potential issues
- This type of cleaning may be a viable option for those that don’t want to put their dogs under anesthesia for teeth cleaning
- It’s a personal choice
For a seemingly unbiased article on anesthesia free teeth cleaning for dogs, see this article by The Whole Dog Journal.
If trying to make a decision, you should also read this objective review of the differences between traditional teeth cleaning and cleaning under anesthesia from Healthy Pet Smiles (one of my friends actually wrote this article and she is a very trustworthy lady).
My vet says that my dog’s teeth look great during exams and that there are no signs they need a full dental cleaning under anesthesia.
Due to my senior Dachshund’s (13) I prefer to not put her under anesthesia unless my vet deems it medically necessary.
However, I did get a full teeth cleaning under anesthesia and x-rays when she was 12 just to make sure there weren’t any underlying issues that weren’t detected by visible signs.
Her teeth were in good health and she didn’t need any extractions due to tooth decay.
Our home dental care routine does not include brushing but, instead, I do this.
I will continue to get anesthesia-free teeth cleaning for my dogs when needed to help keep excess plaque and tartar at bay.
My dogs get anesthesia free dentals from Dr. Scott at All the Best Pet Care in Seattle.
Dr. Scott is trained to perform POPD, has been performing this procedure for almost 7 years, has completed over 60,000 anesthesia-free dentals, and every procedure is performed with a vet on premises.
About the Author
Hi, I’m Jessica. I’ve been studying the Dachshund breed since 2007, owned 3 of my own, and shared in the lives of thousands of others through their owner’s stories. When I’m not sharing what I know on this blog, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.