Using anesthesia for teeth cleaning helps vets spot real problems


Q: How do you feel about the new teeth cleaning procedure that doesn’t use anesthesia? My veterinarian doesn’t offer it and she says it’s not good for pets. I’m still looking around for someone who does it because I’d rather not have her go under if it’s not necessary. Isn’t it just like having your teeth cleaned at the dentist?

A: Non-anesthetic dentistry (called NAD by veterinarians) and “anesthesia free” dentistry by its providers is a procedure performed by services offered to groomers and veterinary hospitals (typically by independent entities and not by the veterinary staff itself). The service scales a pet’s teeth to remove any obvious signs of tartar, which requires restraining your pet for the entire time in order to accomplish it.

The reason your veterinarian doesn’t recommend NAD is because it’s not considered a cleaning of your pets’ teeth in the way your dentist would yours. It is considered a mere cosmetic procedure that only removes the visible tartar. If she’s like me, she also dislikes the long-term restraint of animals this procedure demands.

As such, NAD is neither recommended by the American Veterinary Dental College (, the standard setters for veterinary dental care, or by the Fear Free veterinary initiative (, an organization devoted to reducing your pet’s stress in hospital settings.

Here’s the thing: If your dentist is like mine, he does more than just have his technician scale and polish your teeth, addressing the periodontal disease you can’t see that lives between teeth and under the gums.

Unfortunately, however, examining a pet’s mouth isn’t typically an easy thing to accomplish. Pets tend to be squirrelly about having their mouths opened –– much less thoroughly probed. And much as we may urge pet owners to start brushing their teeth early on, it’s still the unusual owner who manages to train their pets to surrender complete oral submission.

Enter anesthesia. Just ask any veterinarian and they’ll confess: There’s no going without it if what you want is a thorough examination.

Moreover, it’s clear that all kinds of conditions, not just periodontal disease, can result from unchecked oral problems, most of which can’t be a) evaluated or diagnosed properly in the absence of anesthesia, or b) treated without it. Dental fractures, cavity-like lesions in cats, root retention, oral inflammation in inaccessible areas, dental abscesses, oronasal fistulas and oral cancers are just a few of these.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is Send questions to