Before you schedule an anesthesia free dental exam, the doctors at Sierra Veterinary Clinic want you to know what you are really buying. But before we talk about anesthesia free dental exams, let’s talk about where most tooth problems come from in our pets.

Bacteria builds up on the tooth and starts to irritate the gingiva, creating gingivitis. Gingivitis then leads to periodontitis, inflammation, and often destruction of the tooth supporting structures. Gingivitis is reversible with preventative care such as brushing and dental treats and diets. Periodontitis is only sometimes reversible in pets.

In the examples below, do you see the light pink beautiful tissue where the tooth meets the gum on the dog teeth in the left photo and cat teeth in the right photo? That is we want our pet’s gums to look like. Although there are cases where this can be normal but there are problems under the gum, nice pink gums usually mean that your pet’s teeth and gums are healthy and their breath is pretty clean.

b2ap3 small dog healthy gums  b2ap3 small cat healthy gums


Now take a look at these teeth:

b2ap3 small dog gingivitis  b2ap3 small cat gingivitis

In these examples, the gums look red, irritated, and slightly swollen. If the plaque under the gum is less than 3 mm deep, it can be removed with a subgingival scaler by us when your pet is under general anesthesia. If the bacteria continues to sit under the gumline, the bone around the tooth will continue to rescind. After the pocket is more than 3 mm deep, cleaning under the gumline is no longer possible and the tooth must be extracted or require surgical opening of the gum for a deep cleaning to stop the painful inflammation.

The plaque that sits on the crown of the tooth (marked with a red arrow) is not painful in any way. It is the plaque that gets under the gum that causes inflammation and then pain for your pet.

In an anesthesia free dental exam, they may make the crown of the tooth look white again, but the same amount of plaque on the crown of the tooth is under their gums, causing your pet pain. During anesthesia free cleanings, they cannot get access to the plaque under the gum that causes discomfort and causes the bone around the tooth to slowly be eaten away.

Not only do they miss the plaque under the gumline, they will miss major problems because they cannot take dental x-rays or measure the pockets around your pet’s teeth. Check out this example from the American Society of Veterinary Dentists:

b2ap3 large AVMA periodontal disease

It takes dental x-rays and a full oral examination under general anesthesia to find that bone loss. In the left picture, the crown looks clean, but severe periodontal disease is easy to see in the right picture. When somebody cleans your pet’s teeth without anesthesia, they will miss this severe infection and if the bone in the right picture continues to be eaten away, it could even break the jaw.

Look at this second example. Just a little plaque and calculus, right?

 b2ap3 medium periodontal disease


But after we take x-rays and probe for pockets look what we find:

b2ap3 medium bone loss x rays

Ouch! It takes dental x-ray and a full oral examination under general anesthesia to find bone loss.

It is hard for us to imagine what periodontal disease feels like because as kids we are educated about tooth brushing and twice a year dental cleanings with a dentist. It is also socially unacceptable for your teeth to be severely crusty and have horrible breath so almost everyone takes care of their teeth. According to the CDC, painful chewing and sensitive teeth are signs associated with periodontal disease in people. Most of us don’t know this because most people take care of their teeth. Imagine not being to tell anybody about the toothache that you have every day.

When someone cleans your pet’s teeth without anesthesia, they are not removing the plaque under the gums, which is uncomfortable and will create painful periodontal disease in the future. They are also giving you false comfort that your pet doesn’t have painful periodontal disease at the time of the cleaning.

Make sure to schedule annual examinations for pets under 7 and twice a year examinations for senior pets with us at Sierra Veterinary Clinic. If recommended for your pets, be sure to schedule annual dental cleanings. During a dental cleaning, we will check for those hard to find pockets and take full mouth x-rays of your pet to make sure they are living a healthy, comfortable, and happy life. Contact us if you have any questions about dental exams here at Sierra.

If you would like more information about the pitfalls of anesthesia free dentals, here are some great resources from the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Veterinary Dentist College:

Pet Dental Care

Anesthesia Free Pet Dental Cleaning & Pet Dental Health Information