Fear of anesthesia and the significantly reduced cost has helped to make anesthesia-free dentistry a popular method of dental cleaning. Unfortunately, many pet owners are unaware that it has risks of its own and may be putting your pet’s health at risk.
The major risk of the procedure is that areas below the gum line cannot be cleaned, leaving plaque and bacteria to fester and cause disease. Another risk involves the tools that must be used to perform this type of procedure. These tools can leave scarring on the enamel surface, which can actually increase plaque retention and tartar buildup. Furthermore, if your pet struggles or doesn’t sit still, his tongue, lips, or gums could be injured in the process of trying to clean his teeth. The last risk that will be discussed involves dental radiographs, which cannot be obtained with anesthesia-free dentistry. Dental radiographs are an important tool used to identify severe dental problems, such as jaw deterioration and tooth decay.
In response to the growing controversy of anesthesia-free dentistry, The American Animal Hospital Association (or AAHA) has edited their Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats and created a new mandatory dental standard. The new mandate states that all dental procedures should be performed under general anesthesia and the pet should be intubated. This change was made because their 2013 guidelines consider a cleaning without general anesthesia unacceptable and below the standard of care. Furthermore, they state that proper assessment and treatment requires anesthesia and intubation because it:
1. Provides immobilization required to obtain intraoral radiology
2. Allows for pain-free probing of each individual tooth’s support
3. Facilitates the removal of plaque and tartar, both above and below the gum line
4. Protects the trachea
5. Prevents inhalation of debris, which can lead to pneumonia and other illnesses
This new dental standard and the 2013 Guidelines have the support and endorsement of The American Veterinary Dental College. You may be wondering how this will affect you and your veterinarian. All AAHA-accredited practices are required to implement this standard to pass their next onsite evaluation and remain accredited. Due to this, many veterinarians may stop offering anesthesia-free cleanings and recommend standard cleanings that include anesthesia and intubation.
It is understandable that general anesthesia frightens many pet owners. This is why it is important to talk to your veterinarian about what risks are involved and how safe it can be when administered properly by properly trained staff.
Keep in mind that home dental care can help to reduce the need for professional dental cleanings. This involves brushing your pet’s teeth as often as possible (ideally once a day) with a soft bristled toothbrush and pet-friendly toothpaste. There are also chews or treats, such as Greenies, that can help control tartar and plaque. You can also consider adding drinking water additives, such as C.E.T. AquaDent, to help maintain oral hygiene and freshen your pet’s breath.