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Do I have to put my pet under anesthesia to have his teeth cleaned?

December 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Dentistry

When I inform a pet owner that I recommend a prophy, or teeth cleaning, I’m often asked, “Do you have to put him under anesthesia to do that?” But the REAL question they’re asking is, “Is it safe to put my pet under anesthesia?”

If there’s one thing I could effectively convey to the general pet-owning public, it would be the difference in quality of anesthesia drugs, monitoring equipment, and trained staff. Not all anesthesia is the same. I’ve heard plenty of stories of friends, relatives, and neighbors who’ve had a pet die under anesthesia when it came in for a simple routine procedure such as a prophy (or spay or neuter).

Since I joined Olathe Animal Hospital in 2004, I cannot think of ONE anesthetic death that occurred in association with a dental procedure.  And trust me, we remember major events like that. Out of curiosity, I ran a report to see just how many dental procedures (under anesthesia) we’ve performed in the last 5 years. In that time frame, we have performed 1,611 teeth cleanings under anesthesia, and have had NO anesthetic deaths.

While that should ease your mind a bit, what you really need to know more about are the safety precautions we take. Every patient undergoing an anesthetic dental procedure receives an IV catheter for IV fluid support (helps keep blood pressure up). Blood work is performed prior to the procedure to check internal organ function. A physical exam is performed on the day of the procedure to check heart health and hydration status. Monitoring equipment monitors the patient’s heart rate and oxygen levels. A technician is with the patient the whole time, watching breathing, temperature, and heart rate.

These precautions I described above are more than half the battle in terms of having a safe anesthetic event. Obviously the drugs used also play a significant role. Patients are premedicated (made sleepy) with an injection of hydromorphone (a sedating narcotic) and sometimes acepromazine (a sedative), depending on the patient’s anxiety and activity level. To induce a state of anesthesia, we use propofol IV. To maintain anesthesia, we use isoflurane gas, which is widely used in human medicine as well. The gas anesthesia is delivered through an endotracheal tube, which also allows assistance with ventilation if needed and prevents aspiration. Watch the video above to see the process of a dog undergoing anesthesia at Olathe Animal Hospital.

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