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Why Anesthesia-Free Dental Care is Wrong, Cruel, and Medically Inappropriate

In Canada (and the United States), only licensed veterinarians can practice veterinary medicine. Veterinary medicine includes veterinary surgery, medicine and dentistry. Anyone providing dental services other than a licensed veterinarian, or a supervised and trained veterinary technician, is illegally practicing veterinary medicine without a license and shall be subject to criminal charges.

We are seeing an increase in “Anesthesia-Free Dentistry”, or more accurately “Non-Professional Dental Scaling” (NPDS), at pet stores, grooming facilities, and more. The following is a concise, clear cut explanation on why NPDS should be avoided at all costs, written by Dr. Fraser Hale – a local board certified veterinary dentist:

  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. (As in human dentistry, water is often required for the rinsing of tissues. This water, along with dangerous pieces of removed calculus can be accidentally inhaled (aspirated) into the airway in an awake patient, which can cause massive inflammation and infection of the lungs and associated tissues).
  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.

At our hospital, a procedure requiring general anesthesia begins with a thorough examination by the veterinarian. Pre-anesthetic blood testing is performed for an overall impression of organ health, including the liver and kidneys, important in the metabolism of anesthetic drugs. An anesthetic plan is then carefully tailored to each patient, ensuring the absence of the sensation of pain, stress and anxiety, and a quick and uneventful recovery for the patient. A technician is present at all times, carefully monitoring the patient and anesthetic depth both with technology (the many monitors that we have here on site – see our Anesthesia and Patient Monitoring Page for more details) and with their hands and ears, frequently listening to the heart and lungs, assessing the pulses, gum colour, and more. This results in a safe, uneventful procedure that results in the improvement of the health of your pet, with no undue harm. As Dr. Fraser so rightfully states, NPDS = Fraud + Theft + Malpractice+ Animal abuse + Rotten PR. To quote him further:

Regardless of who provides the NPDS, it is wrong. It is wrong for a groomer to do it. It is wrong for a breeder to do it. It is wrong for an owner to do it on their own pets (even if they are a registered dental hygienist – they should know better). It is very very wrong for any employee of a veterinary facility to offer this service and it is even more wrong to accept payment for such harmful treatment. When offered within the context of a veterinary facility, even if it is at the grooming centre next door, the client has a right to assume that the treatment is safe and medically beneficial. Since NPDS is neither, it is wholly inappropriate to offer it.



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