A Labrador retriever is laying on the grass and breathing with its mouth open exposing its tongue and teeth

Anesthesia and Dental Cleanings in Pets

This is a common concern that a lot of clients have asked me when it comes to dental care. You have to try and understand that using an ultrasonic scaler that vibrates 1000s of times a second and creates an incredibly high pitched whine will terrify any cat or dog. This is only one of the reasons that we have to put patients under a general anesthetic to perform a dental cleaning and orthodontic procedures. Also, the scaling and cleaning are not only performed on the tooth surface, but also under the gum line which is exactly where the tooth lesions and cavities begin.

If there is an infection that they are trying to treat, it becomes even more important that they can freely access it and perform a procedure on it. Keep in mind that dental infections in cats and dogs can be incredibly painful and although you don’t think your animal is in pain, they can very easily hide it. Extreme oral discomfort does not reveal itself by your pet pointing at its mouth. It’s much more difficult to recognize. Pain can manifest itself in subtle ways, such as avoiding eating, not wanting to interact, hiding more, vocalizing more, and just not acting like themselves. In addition, dental disease such as infections can potentially travel into the bloodstream while the gum is traumatized during chewing. The invading bacteria can circulate and land in areas such as the kidneys, liver and heart. On occasion, however infrequently, we do encounter cases that have severe organ infections that started with a dental issue. This means that the very small, insignificant risk of complications with anesthesia in pets is far less than letting a dental infection progress.

You should absolutely do preanesthetic blood work prior to any surgical procedure. There are many clinics that require this and build it into the quote to the point that clients may not have a choice. Performing this test could find medical concerns that predispose your pet to risks or anesthetic complications and you may not currently know about them. There are many disease processes that you can find in blood work but the patient is showing no clinical symptoms of them.

I would recommend that you perform other pre-surgical testing as well. A urinalysis would help evaluate renal function. Many animal clinics offer a low-cost ECG (echocardiogram) test for cardiac function. This is the extent of testing I perform for what appears to be a healthy patient. If your pet has any identified health concerns, I would consider other testing to determine the severity of them. This also allows me to build a suitable anesthetic protocol that is tailor-made to your pet.

The downside is cost. Testing costs money but simple pre-surgical blood work, urine and even the ECG test is pretty affordable and is incredibly valuable.

Keep in mind that a dental procedure like this may reveal further issues that your veterinarian may address during the procedure that were unexpected. For example, your veterinarian may find an area of infection or tooth decay that would indicate the need to perform further unanticipated procedures. It is quite common for this to happen and I would encourage you to allow your veterinarian to address any unanticipated concerns during this procedure. They may call and inform you of this during the anesthetic and you may feel like it is unfair. It would certainly be a bit more costly. However, I want you to know that if your veterinarian did not address it during the procedure, you would just have to go through the whole entire procedure again at a later date.

To get personal, I’m not trying to support your veterinarian and blindly encourage you to follow their advice. Before my current cats, I always owned senior cats. I diligently addressed their oral health and performed dental cleanings on them annually even after the age of 20. They all lived to a wonderful mature age of between 20 to 22 years old. I am personally convinced this occurred because I was proactive about their health and performed dental cleanings under annual, and even biannual, general anesthetic procedures to maintain their good dental health. Putting the textbooks and appropriate medical answers aside, I personally experienced the value of this myself, and this is the real reason why I present these points.

By: Dr. Clayton Greenway, B.Sc., DVM

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Disclaimer: Our authors do not endorse any products or services that may have been mentioned. All advice presented is not meant to replace a regular physical exam and consultation with your primary veterinarian. We always encourage you to seek medical advice from your regular veterinarian.

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