AUSTIN–One notable concern among veterinarians during Pet Dental Health Month is anesthesia-free dental cleaning, (sometimes mislabeled as anesthesia-free “dentistry.”) According to Johnathon (“Bert”) Dodd, DVM, FAVD, DAVDC, a clinical associate professor at Texas A&M University, anesthesia free “dentistry” or “dental cleaning” is simply an attempt to remove debris from the crown of the tooth by either brushing the teeth or scraping the teeth with a sharp instrument while attempting to restrain the patient. This procedure is actually purely cosmetic, and not dentistry at all, since it only gets to the surface of the teeth.
Unfortunately, some establishments claim to provide “dental cleaning” in order to “supplement income despite the negative impact on the patient,” according to veterinarydentistry.net, a forum where veterinarians discuss current issues within the industry.
“Regardless of what some groomers and clinics offer as ‘teeth cleaning,’ owners should recognize and be cautious of these procedures because the most important findings regarding dental care happen below the gum line. These findings cannot be determined without probing and radiography, and should not be attempted without anesthesia,” said Larry Kimberlin, DVM, FAVD, CVPP, owner of Northeast Texas Veterinary Dental Center. “There is nothing wrong with a groomer or anyone else brushing a pet’s teeth; however, to claim that proper cleaning under anesthesia is not needed is a completely false statement,” said Dr. Dodd. “Additionally, anyone not under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian administering sedatives or anesthetics is committing malpractice.” The American Veterinary Dental College has stated that anesthesia is essential for veterinary dental procedures, to ensure that the procedure can be completed successfully. Because some pet owners are reluctant regarding the use of anesthetics, it is important to note that veterinarians are trained to administer a proper dosage of anesthesia to an animal based on health, size and blood work. This creates an extremely low risk for the patient as well as much less pain.
“With over 20 years of experience cleaning teeth on many species of animals, I cannot, nor will I, attempt to clean an animal’s teeth without anesthesia because the animal’s periodontal structures can be too easily damaged with the use of dental instruments when the patient is not anesthetized,” said Dr. Dodd. “A thorough, complete oral exam is extremely difficult to perform on an awake animal so to think someone can properly clean the teeth is misleading and erroneous.”
An overview of the process is provided here by the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC): A trained veterinarian will provide a proper initial oral evaluation, including probing, x-rays and polishing with a sealant to help prevent future damage to the teeth and gums. This process is necessary in order to provide a full examination and diagnosis of periodontal disease. This infection begins with the accumulation of plaque and tartar, which could potentially result in profound problems under the gum line. During the examination, a veterinarian uses ultrasonic scalers and sharp instruments, which could be upsetting to a conscious animal. Further, with anesthesia the doctor can manipulate the patient’s mouth for a more thorough visualization and access. Some of the other benefits of using anesthesia are the opportunity to treat affected dental tissues, such as extraction of teeth or other periodontal surgery, and protection of the airway to prevent accidental aspiration of fluid and bacteria from the mouth, said Dr. Kimberlin.
In some anesthesia-free teeth cleaning, pets will sit calmly and tolerate the pain, but this is unusual and realistically the discomfort from this type of procedure is most likely unbearable for an animal.
“Why would we even attempt to perform procedures that are painful without proper pain management and anesthesia?” asked Dr. Kimberlin. “Realistically it is not humane to attempt procedures such as this without regard for pain.” In addition, an article written by Dr. Jim Humphries with Veterinary News Network calls attention to the fact that the restraint of the pet could cause the animal to experience unnecessary stress and anxiety and to even retaliate, which could cause harm to a person. So during Pet Dental Health Month, don’t put your pet through the trauma and risk involved in anesthesia-free dental cleaning. Aside from brushing your pet’s teeth, be sure to visit your veterinarian every six months for a full examination.
For more information about an anesthesia-free dental cleaning, see this video.
Founded in 1903, the Texas Veterinary Medical Association is a professional association composed of more than 3,700 veterinarians committed to protecting public health, promoting high educational, ethical and moral standards within the veterinary profession, and educating the public about animal health and its relationship to human health. For more information, call 512/452-4224 or visit tvma.org.