Non-anesthetized dental cleanings in dogs and cats

Article provided by: Animal Dental Care, Tony M. Woodward DVM, AVDC. (Dr. Woodward is Board Certified in Veterinary Dentistry, and is a Diplomat of the American Veterinary Dental College.)

Non-anesthetized cleanings is an inefficient procedure for your pet because:

1. They only provide cleaning above the gum line, which is the least important part of the 12-step procedure.

2. Dental cleaning leaves a roughened surface on the teeth, which hastens future calculus formation. Anesthetized patients can have their teeth polished to a smooth surface.

3. Most animals have some painful areas in their mouth. These areas cannot be cleaned well in a non-anesthetized patient.

4. No diagnostic dental radiographs can be obtained. Most painful dental conditions will be missed unless dental radiographs are obtained.

5. No diagnosis or treatment can be provided at the time of cleaning.

6. Owners have a false sense of security that they provided a quality service for their companion, when in fact inferior care was provided.

7. Human patients having their teeth cleaned provide total co-operation to the hygienist for 45 minutes to one hour. On average, a pet’s teeth are much worse when they are cleaned. No pet will hold still enough for a good cleaning procedure.

8. Services offering this procedure prey upon the owner’s fear of general anesthesia. Good quality anesthesia rarely causes any problems for the pet.
There has been a recent marketing effort by a company called Canine Care, Inc., which has been directed at most veterinarians in the state of Colorado. This company proposes to come to pet grooming shops or veterinary offices and perform non-anesthetized dental cleaning procedures, claiming that their “quality and service compares to human dental hygiene”.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to provide a quality dental cleaning procedure in a non-anesthetized patient. There are 12 steps involved in a dental cleaning procedure. In non-anesthetized patients, you can partially accomplish just one of the 12 steps (removing calculus above the gum line), which is the least important part of the cleaning procedure. Even this step cannot be performed with any degree of quality in a non-anesthetized patient. Think about the level of cooperation that you provide your dental hygienist when your teeth are cleaned. Even though you have no visible calculus, you cooperate for 45-60 minutes while your teeth are carefully cleaned and polished. Does anyone really believe that the vast majority of dogs and cats will allow this level of care?

Keep in mind that the average cleaning for a dog or cat is equivalent to the treatment a person might receive if they did not brush their teeth for 3-5 years. If you went to your dentist with a comparable amount of disease, it would take many hours of professional care to control your dental problems. It is simply not possible to perform a quality cleaning on a pet that is awake or only sedated.

Most dogs and cats over five years of age have at least one painful tooth in their mouth that is not a “wiggly tooth”. Without a detailed exam and dental radiographs this pathology cannot be identified. Non-anesthetized dentistry affords no opportunity to correctly diagnose or treat painful dental pathology. If these hidden problems are not addressed, the pet continues to suffer in silence, rarely showing any overt sign of disease that an owner would associate with dental pathology. Once the problems are corrected, however, owners usually notice a substantial improvement in their pet’s general demeanor.

Owners cannot be blamed for being fearful of general anesthesia in their pet. Many of us who have been in practice for a while, have spoken with owners who have an anesthetic horror story about a pet that died under anesthesia. There is a wide variety in the quality of general anesthesia in veterinary practice. The risk of anesthesia can be reduced to very low levels with pre-anesthetic blood chemistry screening, IV fluid administration during the procedure, modern gas anesthesia, judicious selection of anesthetic agents and good anesthetic monitoring technique. If a veterinarian is uncomfortable with anesthetizing a higher-risk patient, they should consider referring the patient to a facility that can better manage the anesthetic procedure. We are fortunate to have access to Board certified veterinary anesthesia specialists in our building, and utilize their services for certain high-risk patients.