Anesthesia-free dentistry has become a new fad and advocates have legitimate claims that it is cheaper and that there is no anesthesia risk. Unfortunately, it’s not treating periodontal disease.
Before I get too deep into this subject, I would like to bring something to your attention. In the United States and Canada, a person has to have a license to practice veterinary medicine. Practicing 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 practicing veterinary medicine without a license and is subject to criminal charges. Most individuals promoting and performing anesthesia-free dentistry (Non-professional dental cleaning) are not veterinarians and have not been properly trained.
Anesthesia-free dentistry is an inappropriate treatment for periodontal disease.
In veterinary medicine, our patients are not as cooperative. A person performing anesthesia-free dentistry has a very sharp instrument that has the ability to cut and injure soft tissue in a patient that is awake and moving around. Too much physical restraint or force can actually cause the patient to become more fearful of an oral examination and continued home dental care.
Anesthesia-free dentistry cleans the visible portion of the tooth and not below the gum line and therefore is just a cosmetic cleaning. 70% of the tooth is below the gum line and that is where the infection lurks. The plaque and tartar buildup below the gum line is the cause of periodontal disease and is a huge health risk to the patient. Anesthesia-free dentistry also causes small scratches and abrasions on the tooth’s surface which causes the calculus and tartar to build up even faster.
A detailed oral exam cannot be performed on an awake patient. Only the outer portion of the teeth and gums can be examined. The inside portion of the teeth closest to the tongue is left dirty and not examined. It’s also impossible to use a dental probe and check for deep periodontal pockets in an awake patient.
All dental cleanings should include full mouth x-rays. Several veterinary research studies showed that 22% of lesions in dogs and 32% of lesions in cats were missed when x-rays were only performed in areas that were thought to be abnormal vs. full mouth x-rays. It is impossible to take mouth x-rays on an awake pet.
Many people are afraid of the anesthesia portion of this procedure and this prevents them from this procedure. The benefits of using anesthesia during a dental cleaning include having a cooperative patient, it eliminates any pain they might experience during the procedure and it protects the airway and lungs from aspiration of liquid and particles containing bacteria.
For more information see the American Veterinary Dental College.