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Dentistry and Anesthesia

What is anesthesia-free dentistry? This is a service you may have seen advertised, but is not what it sounds. Un-trained and un-licensed people are advertising this service as an alternative to a professional cleaning. Well meaning owners may be tricked into thinking they are helping their pets by paying for their pet to be held down and mouth scraped with sharp metal instruments to remove visible tartar buildup. What you may not realize is that this type of practice can cause harm to your pets mouth and does nothing to help prevent dental decay.

Fact: The most important part of a dental cleaning is what goes on below the gum line. This is where the tooth root is located and this is the area where plaque and tartar can lead to gingivitis, tooth loss and periodontal disease. Without general anesthesia cleaning below the gum-line is not possible. Scraping only the visible tartar may help make the smile look better in the short term, but does nothing for the health of the pet.

Fact: Scraping the teeth forcefully with sharp instruments in an awake animal can be dangerous. Remember from our own dental cleanings, the scraping of tartar is not the most comfortable of procedures. An awake animal is unlikely to stay still, have their mouths held open, and allow this procedure without putting up a struggle. Having a sharp instrument in the mouth of a struggling pet is not safe.

Fact: Ultrasonic scaling and professional polishing helps prevent micro-fractures of the tooth enamel surface. This cannot be done in an awake animal, requires professional veterinary dental equipment, and requires intubation (a breathing tube to protect the airway) which helps prevent water from back-flowing in the trachea, which can cause serious health problems. Intubation can only be performed under general anesthesia by a licensed veterinarian.

Fact: Under general anesthesia, the doctor is able to probe the gum line looking for “pocketing” between the tooth and gingiva. This may indicate a tooth root abscess, a painful condition that requires extraction of the diseased tooth to resolve. These type of examination and procedures can only be performed by a trained veterinary medical professional.

Fact: Anesthesia free dentistry businesses are illegal. The California Veterinary Medical Board is currently working to shut down these companies. The practice is most commonly advertised and performed by pet store workers or groomers, who may even market themselves as “pet dental hygienist” but this is simply a fictitious marketing slogan as they have no formal education, training, or certification to be performing these procedures. Would you trust your dentist to cut your hair, or you hairdresser to perform your dental work?

Fact: The only reason these “anesthesia-free cleanings” are popular is due to public fear of anesthesia. In reality current veterinary anesthesia protocols use the same equipment, medications, and safety protocols as in human medical practice. Have more questions or concerns? Give us a call!