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Anesthesia-free Dentistry For Pets

Multiple times a week I find myself ten minutes into a struggle that I will clearly not win. A normally friendly fifteen-pound terrier mix is hell-bent on keeping me from examining her mouth. Her owner may have brought her to me for any number of oral problems – worsening bad breath the most common of them. The pet parent suspects their pet’s teeth need some TLC but I can’t complete a thorough exam of the dog’s mouth to even begin putting together an accurate estimate for dental cleaning and work-up. And this struggle is just for the oral exam! That doesn’t involve scaling below the gum line, poking and probing for gingival pockets (aka gum recession), or any of the dental surgery that may be needed.

It makes a veterinarian wonder, where did the idea that anesthesia-free dentistry was even an option come from?

Still, it’s a question I hear frequently. “Hey doc, isn’t anesthesia-free dentistry better, or at least a good alternative to a full dental cleaning with my animal asleep? Won’t it do, ya know, for now?”

Well, for starters, this idea is largely coming from unlicensed feed store employees (not veterinary professionals) that are preying on pet parents’ fear of anesthesia. Many state veterinary boards have found these cosmetic “dental cleanings” to be not only wrong or part of a phony marketing gimmick, but often illegal. Why? Because this procedure is harmful to the pet. From a legal standpoint, according to the American Veterinary Dental College, “anyone providing dental services other than a licensed veterinarian, or a supervised and trained veterinary technician, is practicing veterinary medicine without a license and is subject to criminal charges.” Most often these cosmetic dental cleanings are performed by pet stores without veterinarians.

Why is the veterinary community so adamant against this new availability? While I do believe that the veterinary community as a whole tends to drag their heels when it comes to change, this is not the case here in any shape, form, or fashion. Non-anesthetic dental cleanings are simply dangerous for several reasons.

Sadly, non-anesthetic dental cleanings are becoming more and more commonplace in the pet industry. The availability of misinformation on this service has unfortunately made it across news channels throughout the US, but trust your veterinarian before your local feed store associate. Non-anesthetic dental cleanings are far more harmful than no cleaning at all.

Back to my original question, does anesthesia-free dentistry have a place in veterinary medicine? YES!!! It’s called brushing your pets teeth at home—before and after your veterinarian performs a full dental cleaning under anesthesia. Drop by your vet’s office and they will be happy to show you how.