The Truth About Anesthesia-Free Dental Cleanings

If you have looked into having your dog or cat's teeth cleaned, you probably have stumbled upon anesthesia-free pet dental cleanings. This simply means that your pet will not go under general anesthesia in order to have their teeth cleaned. At first glance, it seems less risky and less expensive, so why not?

Anesthesia-free dental procedures are generally performed by non-veterinarians who attempt to scale plaque off of a pet’s teeth using sharp instruments. This is neither safe nor effective, yet many businesses proudly offer this service as part of a grooming regimen. But we encourage you to think of it this way: you wouldn’t go to a salon for your own oral hygiene needs, and neither should your pets.

What Happens During an Anesthesia-free Dental Cleaning (AFD) or Non-Anesthetic Dental (NAD)?


First, because your pet is not under general anesthesia, they must be physically restrained for a lengthy amount of time. Because your pet does not understand what is happening to them, this can be a traumatic experience for them. Even beyond the cleaning, it can cause heightened anxiety during your at-home dental hygiene routine.

Even with high levels of restraint, your pet may move his or her head during the process. The individual who is doing the scaling to remove the plaque is using extremely sharp tools, and could unintentionally cause damage to the oral tissue.


In addition, your pet could be experiencing pain and discomfort while having years of plaque build-up scraped off of their teeth. If your pet has a loose or diseased tooth, it will be painful to have this tooth cleaned.


Unfortunately, the appearance of white shiny teeth may give the impression of a healthy mouth. The truth is, it is purely cosmetic, and the pet may have benefitted very little.

Without your pet going under anesthesia, there is no possible way to clean the plaque accumulation inside surfaces of the teeth or below the gumline. Periodontal disease can actually cause serious overall health problems.

Why Anesthetic Pet Dental Cleanings are Important

First, we would like to take the time to debunk the perception that it is dangerous. The truth is, the use of general anesthesia is extremely safe when properly administered by trained individuals. A pre-anesthetic examination and blood test will help the doctor choose the best anesthetic protocol for your pet.

During professional dental procedures, each patient has a doctor and highly skilled veterinary technicians monitoring them at all times.  The patient has an IV catheter in place and is receiving intravenous fluids during the procedure to ensure hydration and normal blood pressure.

Each tooth is probed and assessed individually as we check for pockets and disease. Full mouth dental x-rays allow us to assess the root and bone health surrounding the teeth. Many times, problems are found during this procedure that would not have been identified during an awake examination.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for a patient to visit their regular veterinarian after receiving an AFD with remaining serious issues that were not addressed. With dental x-rays, we may find significant bone loss, fractured roots or crowns, abscessed teeth, and oral tumors.

Pets Deserve Professional Dental Cleanings

What Happens During a Professional Dental Cleaning?

  • The patient is admitted to the hospital after an overnight fast
  • The patient is examined by the doctor to ensure the pet is healthy enough for the procedure
  • The patient is given an injection of a sedative and analgesic
  • An IV catheter is placed
  • The patient is intubated and placed under general anesthesia
  • The patient is connected to monitors that record blood pressure, body temperature, respiration, oxygenation, EKG, and heart rate
  • A technician takes the dental x-rays and performs the cleaning while your pet is constantly monitored
  • The doctor oversees the entire procedure, evaluates the x-rays, performs any oral surgery required, administers any necessary medications, and communicates with the owner over the phone
  • Once the procedure is complete, the patient is transferred to a recovery cage to ensure a comfortable recovery
  • The patient is discharged in the late afternoon with full at-home care instructions


Our mission is to provide your pet with the highest standards available in veterinary medicine. The American Animal Hospital Association, the American Veterinary Dental College, and the American Veterinary Medical Association all agree: no pet should have an AFD dental cleaning.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about pet dental cleanings, we can help you find a local vet!



Contributing DVM