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just say no: the dangers of no-anesthesia dentals

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan

 Since February is National Pet Dental Health Month, we’re focusing several of our blogs on dental issues this month. 

With 80% of dogs and 70% of cats over the age of two showing some form of periodontal disease, it should come as no surprise that dental cleanings are among the most-recommended procedures by veterinarians.  As a vet myself, it frustrates me that so many owners are wary to oblige these requests. As we talked about it previous blogs, pet dental health has such a big impact on their overall health, not to mention how much more pleasant it is to receive doggy kisses from a healthy mouth!

I think the thing that gives pet parents the most pause about dentals is the anesthesia. Because many of the dogs and cats most in need of dental cleanings are older, owners are understandably concerned about the potential for anesthetic complications during a dental. Additionally, dentals are expensive, and a lot of that cost can be attributed to the cost of the anesthetic.

Some people take advantage of these fears and concerns by offering “anesthesia-free dentals.” This sounds like the perfect solution, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not – for many reasons.

As a refresher of what we previously discussed about routine professional dental procedures under anesthesia, after a thorough exam (which may include X-rays), your vet or trained technician will use an ultrasonic cleaner to remove tartar from the teeth and then carefully polish every surface of the tooth, creating a smooth surface less likely to collect tartar-causing plaque.

To contrast, people who perform “anesthesia-free dentals” often use sharp tools to remove tartar, and in the process, the tooth’s enamel may be damaged. The resultant micro-pitting actually retains more plaque than a polished tooth, therefore causing increased tartar accumulation and the need for more frequent dentals.

More importantly, during “anesthesia-free dentals,” only the parts of the teeth that are visible are cleaned, and bacteria that accumulates under the gum line is ignored. You already know that it is the bacteria under the gum line that contributes to periodontal disease and causes weakening of the periodontal ligament, leading to loose teeth. To ignore this area is to completely ignore the major cause of dental disease.

It frustrates me that people try to take advantage of pet owners’ fears by offering these services, but even more concerning is the blatant lack of concern for the pet’s health. More than once I have seen weak teeth broken during “dentals” performed in grooming salons and elsewhere, and have even had to treat a dog with a broken jaw sustained during an “anesthesia-free dental.”

If your veterinarian recommends a dental, voice your concerns so that your veterinarian gets a chance to address them. Your pet’s health is our very first and only concern.

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Posted by Megan Vrabel
on April 05 2012 09:32

Oh my goodness. I had no idea. They make you think it's the safest option. My dog has to go under anestesia for an ACL reconstruction anyways. Is the best option to add a cleaning while he's under for the ACL?

Posted by reba pownall
on March 19 2012 00:59

A vet at the Diagnostic Center in Dallas, Tx recommended I get Lexie's teeth cleaned with the anesthesia free type cleaning because of her disease. Poly Arthritis...she said it would compromise her immune system to put her under anesthesia which she does not need. Some of us might not have a choice because of other problems our pet has, and she needed her teeth cleaned. I did my best to make sure they knew what they were doing and were experienced. I was happy to have that option. I always pray for anyone that "works" on my girl, and hope they know what they are doing.

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