Periodontal disease is the most common disease that pets develop. It is estimated that 80 to 85% of dogs and cats have some degree of infection. It is not just a cosmetic problem; chronic infection shortens their life because of effects on other organs, especially the heart, kidneys, and liver, not to mention the pain that goes along with loose, diseased teeth.
Veterinary dental cleanings are very different for pets than they are for you. Anesthesia is required to keep your pet still and comfortable during a cleaning. Your pet needs to have a complete physical examination prior to a cleaning, in order to detect any underlying metabolic issues that could complicate the use of anesthesia.
During a cleaning, the trained veterinary nurse uses a hand scaler to remove tartar and plaque from your pet’s teeth. Next, a periodontal probe is used to check under the gum line for signs of periodontal disease as well as tartar on the root surface. An ultrasonic scaler is used to clean the teeth above the gum line, and a curette is used to clean and smooth the teeth below the gum line. Finally, your pet’s teeth are polished and the gums are washed with an anti-bacterial solution to help prevent future tartar build-up. In our practice we also apply a sealant to the surface of the teeth. This prevents bacteria and plaque from sticking and causing disease.
Here’s why you shouldn’t consider “anesthesia free dentistry”.
In “anesthesia free dentistry” the dogs are just held down and the teeth are scraped with a metal tool to clean tartar off the crowns, or exposed surface of the teeth. One problem is that the crowns are only about 2% of the problem. Pathology takes place under the gums and this is where veterinarians concentrate their treatment. Cleaning the crowns is just a cosmetic treatment; it does nothing to improve the health of the pet. Dogs are stressed with “anesthesia free” dentistry. They have to be held firmly to try to reduce movement. Think how hard it is to get them to hold still just to brush their teeth. Hand scaling uses sharp metal instruments. Even a slight movement can cause injury to teeth, gums, lips, even the eyes. Also, as the dog is struggling, it can aspirate pieces of tartar as it is removed. Additionally, many dogs struggle so much that they strain their backs and legs. They can be very sore or lame afterward, requiring veterinary care and treatment.
Hand scaling with metal instruments also etches the enamel of the teeth. Veterinarians can use power instruments which cause less etching, and are able to use a lighter touch with hand instruments on the enamel because the pet is not moving. The teeth are then polished to smooth the enamel. With the “anesthesia free” procedure, deeper grooves are made in the enamel of the teeth, which enables the tartar to attach and accumulate even faster.
When your pet has an “anesthesia free” procedure, it gives you a false sense of security and delays the treatment your pet really needs. When a veterinarian evaluates the pet under anesthesia it is not unusual to find abscessed or fractured teeth that would not detect by just by looking in the mouth and scraping off tartar in a conscious patient.
It is illegal. In the United States and Canada, only licensed veterinarians can practice dentistry. Anyone providing dental services other than a DVM or a supervised, trained licensed veterinary technician working directly with a DVM, is practicing veterinary medicine without a license and should be reported to The California Veterinary Medical Board in Sacramento at (916) 263-2610.