Sedation for dental work rather than anesthesia?


Q: Is it possible to do dental work on a cat’s teeth without full anesthesia, using a sedative gas mask or other means of sedation? I’m asking because a friend’s cat died under anesthesia during a teeth cleaning.

Renée DeKona
Roslindale, Massachusetts

Dear Ms. DeKona,

A: We can understand your concern given what happened. But doing dental work on a cat’s teeth with sedation only is not an option. Even deep sedation, from which a cat (or a person) will probably fall asleep, will not be enough. Only anesthesia guarantees that a cat will remain perfectly still during dental procedures, when sharp instruments have to hit precise spots in a cat’s mouth. Anesthesia also guarantees that a cat will not experience any pain during
the procedure.

Consider that just a routine cleaning of a cat’s teeth requires an evaluation of what is known as pocket depth, or the separation of the gums from the teeth, and that requires poking with a metal tool. Furthermore, tartar has to be scraped away with dental  instruments not only above the gum line but also below it.

Then, too, dental exams and cleanings include checking to see if there are more serious problems that require immediate action. Maybe there’s a cracked tooth that needs to be removed, for instance. A cat most certainly has to be under general anesthesia for that.

Without more information, it is impossible for us to know why your friend’s cat died under anesthesia. There could have been an underlying condition. But virtually 100 percent of the time, cats come through their dental procedures under general anesthesia just fine. While the incident has understandably left you feeling spooked, and while anesthesia cannot be said to be completely risk-free, it would be a mistake to try to do dental work on a cat who is sedated but not anesthetized.


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