Most pet parents are well aware that regular dental care is an important part of keeping their pet in good health. However, dogs and cats don’t lie down quietly and say “ahhh” so vets can attend to their teeth and gums. They need a general anesthetic to have their teeth thoroughly cleaned; this can cause concern for pet parents.
Some pet businesses now offer anesthesia-free teeth cleaning to appease pet parents’ fears about anesthesia. There is no general anesthesia, so pet parents feel it is safer and cheaper. But is it worth it?
A recent case involving a cat that suffered an extensive tongue laceration during anesthesia-free dental treatment that resulted in the death of the pet has turned the spotlight on this procedure. The American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) is also speaking out against anesthesia-free procedures to educate and inform pet parents about the risks involved.
When undergoing an anesthesia-free cleaning, a pet needs to be physically restrained while their teeth are scraped clean with a sharp instrument called a scaler. Depending on their temperament, this can be quite frightening for them. Scaling can etch teeth enamel, which promotes the adhesion of bacteria and accelerates the accumulation of more plaque. It’s also not possible to clean under the gum line completely when a pet is awake, so the cleaning isn’t thorough.
Anesthesia-free cleanings also leave both the pet and the person performing the procedure at higher risk of injury. For the pet, any small movement in the head during the scaling process can lead to cuts, scrapes, and punctures of sensitive oral tissue, or as in the case of cat mentioned above, an injury that’s serious enough to stop them from eating - permanently. For the handler, their hands are very close to the pet’s mouth and they can be bitten if their patient panics and fights restraint.
Compare this to a professional dental clean under anesthesia while under the supervision of a veterinarian and veterinary technician. Your pet's mouth will be x-rayed to identify any disease in the roots of their teeth that could be causing them pain unbeknownst to you. Then, after a thorough scaling above and below the gum line, the teeth are polished to smooth out any rough areas to stop bacteria adhering to the newly cleaned teeth. Your pet will awake from anesthesia with a clean, healthy mouth and won’t have suffered through stressful physical restraint during their treatment.
One of the main issues with anesthesia-free dental treatment is that there are no training or certification processes for those who perform these procedures. This means that there’s no need for the person offering the service to have any credentials or formal training. In some states, it is also considered to be practicing veterinary medicine without a license. Pet parents often have no idea about the skills and experience of the person who is treating their much-loved pet. According to the guidelines of the American Animal Hospital Association, all dental cleanings must be performed under anesthesia.
Don’t be fooled into believing that those pearly white teeth after an anesthesia-free dental treatment indicate that your pet’s mouth is healthy. A thorough exam and treatment can only be done under general anesthesia. If this worries you, then speak to your vet and ask about their anesthesia protocol. Modern techniques are very safe and your vet will help to put your mind at rest.