Dentistry without anesthesia?

I had a phone call yesterday from an older gentleman who wanted to know if I cleaned dogs’ teeth without anesthetic.  (I do not)  I told him that I do sell dog toothbrushes and toothpaste and he wasn’t aware that these things existed!  And then he said that he would never be able to brush his dog’s teeth because he wouldn’t cooperate.

This made me wonder why he thought a dental procedure without sedating his dog was going to be effective.  But I try to be positive when engaging with new clientele; it seems that he was after a procedure that would cost him less money – not necessarily what was appropriate (or comfortable) for his dog.

I explained that I thought he would be better served by having a proper dental cleaning which is a veterinary procedure and then focusing on prevention.  This would include things like teeth-brushing by getting his dog accustomed to the taste of the paste, then gradually introducing the brush with praise and treats (positive reinforcement) throughout.

He thanked me for my advice.

I’ve done a little homework about this practice, because I have concerns whether an animal could truly be treated thoroughly without sedation.  I’ve just been to the dentist myself for a cleaning this week and it isn’t always a comfortable procedure!  Imagine a dog being restrained for it…

The American Veterinary Dental College refers to Anesthesia-Free Dentistry as Non-Professional Dental Scaling (NPDS) and cautions owners against the procedure for the following reasons:

1. Dental tartar is firmly adhered to the surface of the teeth. Scaling to remove tartar is accomplished using ultrasonic and sonic power scalers, plus hand instruments that must have a sharp working edge to be used effectively. Even slight head movement by the patient could result in injury to the oral tissues of the patient, and the operator may be bitten when the patient reacts.
2. Professional dental scaling includes scaling the surfaces of the teeth both above and below the gingival margin (gum line), followed by dental polishing. The most critical part of a dental scaling procedure is scaling the tooth surfaces that are within the gingival pocket (the subgingival space between the gum and the root), where periodontal disease is active. Because the patient cooperates, dental scaling of human teeth performed by a professional trained in the procedures can be completed successfully without anesthesia. However, access to the subgingival area of every tooth is impossible in an unanesthetized canine or feline patient. Removal of dental tartar on the visible surfaces of the teeth has little effect on a pet’s health, and provides a false sense of accomplishment. The effect is purely cosmetic.

3. Inhalation anesthesia using a cuffed endotracheal tube provides three important advantages… the cooperation of the patient with a procedure it does not understand, elimination of pain resulting from examination and treatment of affected dental tissues during the procedure, and protection of the airway and lungs from accidental aspiration.

4. A complete oral examination, which is an important part of a professional dental scaling procedure, is not possible in an unanesthetized patient. The surfaces of the teeth facing the tongue cannot be examined, and areas of disease and discomfort are likely to be missed.

In my blog on Managing Dental Health, I explain the things I do for Daisy to keep her teeth in good condition.  I recommend professional veterinary care to ensure your dog’s oral health, followed by a preventative regime that minimizes the need for future cleanings and anesthesia.

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