The Facts About Anesthesia-Free Dentistry
In the veterinary and pet owner world, controversy exists over anesthesia-free dental cleaning (also called non-anesthetic dental scaling, or non-professional dental cleaning) for dogs and cats. These are questions we hear regularly at Blue Lake Animal Care Center. This involves cleaning the enamel surface of the teeth of a conscious animal. No evaluation of potential disease below the gum line, periodontal ligament , or surrounding bone is performed. Furthermore, a complete examination of the oral cavity cannot be performed, as this is impossible in a conscious animal.
Are There Ever Good Reasons to Clean a Pet’s Teeth Without Anesthesia?
For the vast majority of pets, the answer is probably no. Most dogs and cats having a needed a teeth cleaning have some degree of dental disease under the gumline. Also, after scaling, it is vitally important to polish all the tooth surfaces to buff out any scratches the scaling causes. If not polishes, these scratches will actually ATTRACT calculus and speed up your pet’s oral disease. Adequate polishing may not be performed if your pet is squirming or resisting, especially near the end of the procedure.
This also holds true for pets whose owners brush their teeth every day, though the progression of disease can be significantly through brushing.
Blue Lake Animal Care Center also carries and recommends Oravet chews to reduce plaque on the teeth, as well as providing a sealant to act as a barrier against bacteria attaching in the mouth.
While we always allow pet owners to choose treatment options they are comfortable with , we also want you to not be surprised if during awake dental examinations/cleanings, the technician/assistant performing the procedure finds something that causes them to recommend that your dog or cat undergo a professional oral exam and cleaning under anesthesia with a veterinarian .
Anesthesia-Free Dentistry Is Purely Cosmetic
Anesthesia-free dentistry has gained popularity with well-intentioned pet owners who are either nervous re: anesthesia, or may not be able to afford proper veterinary dental care.
They want to provide something in terms of oral care s, so they opt for AFD. Unfortunately, anesthesia-free cleanings are purely cosmetic procedures that address only the parts of your pet’s teeth you can see.
One of the questions circulating among general veterinary practitioner as well as certified veterinary dentists is whether these procedures do more harm than good. A concern is that just scraping teeth can release bacteria into the bloodstream through cuts in the gums(gingiva). Once the bacteria are in the blood, it can infect other organs like the kidneys and the heart.
Another concern is that AFD can give pet owners a false sense of security about the state of their dog’s or cat’s true oral health. The visible areas of your pet’s teeth may seem clean after an anesthesia-free dental procedure, but the area below the gumline you can’t see is actually more important, and often a far-different story.
Problems like tartar buildup below the gum line and gingivitis aren’t addressed during a procedure that only scrapes and polishes the visible enamel. The vast majority of oral disease is occurring below the visible surface.
Why Pets Should Be Anesthetized for Dental Procedures
Most pet owners don’t understand the limitations of a procedure that cleans just the surface of the teeth. This would be similar to going to your own dentist and not using a periodontal probe to check for pockets or bone loss, or x-rays to check for cavities, infection, or other disease.
It is our responsibility as veterinarians to help people realize that, with quality medicine and sound anesthetic monitoring, the risk of anesthesia for dental procedures is significantly less than the risk of the systemic effects of untreated periodontal disease.
The fact is, a thorough oral exam and cleaning IS IMPOSSIBLE on an awake animal, no matter how “good” your pet is.
Anesthesia has several benefits when it comes to dental procedures, including:
- Immobilizes your dog or cat to insure his/her safety and comfort during a procedure he/she doesn’t understand, while eliminating anxiety
- Allows for a thorough exam of ALL the surfaces inside the mouth and the taking of x-rays
- Allows for scaling below the gum line where periodontal disease is most active
- Allows for pain management such as nerve blocks
The vast majority of fully alert dogs and cats simply won’t tolerate a thorough inspection of their mouth. They’ll wiggle, squirm and sometimes jerk their heads, which makes the use of sharp instruments dangerous and poor practice.
Cleaning below the gum line of a fully awake animal is something that should never be attempted. Pets don’t tolerate it because it is stressful and often uncomfortable. And if tooth extractions are necessary, they are impossible for un-anesthetized pets(and mean).
What About Anesthesia Risks?
The bigger question is: What are the risks of doing it WITHOUT anesthesia?
If you’re nervous about anesthesia for your cat or dog – and most people are (especially with older pets) – you should know that it’s actually quite safe when performed responsibly.
Senior pets are handled more carefully for anesthesia because they are more likely to have a systemic illness, such as kidney, heart, or liver disease. Often, more advanced bloodwork and EKG screenings are run on older pets prior to scheduling procedures requiring anesthesia.
A well-trained, skilled and experienced veterinary staff, following the most current standards of practice, can safely anesthetize senior and geriatric pets, as well as pets with significant sys temic disease. To reiterate: if your pet’s test results show no problems with their health, there is NO INCREASED RISK for anesthesia. Remember: Age is NOT a disease.
Make sure to check with your vet about how anesthetic monitoring is performed during your pet’s procedure and recovery period. Remember, not all veterinarian’s use the latest equipment, and have the same level of qualified nurses and assistants. Ask questions if you have concerns!
For more information:
American Veterinary Dental Academy–Know the Facts! http://avdc.org/AFD/