There is a recent fad emerging in the realm of veterinary dentistry which is being performed by unlicensed and unregulated individuals who have marketed the term "anesthesia-free dentistry". This terminology is misleading to the public and plays on the fears of anesthesia and the costs involved in the dental treatment and care of their pets. "Anesthesia-free dentistry" provides no benefit to the pet. Although the teeth may appear whiter, they are not healthier because it is impossible to perform an effective dental analysis and procedure, let alone position for xray and then formulate the treatment in an awake animal. The areas under the gum line and the inside areas of the tooth (next to that slobbering tongue) or close to the roof of the mouth are simply not fully accessible on the awake patient. In addition, a recent California case involving a jaw fracture led to a ruling against the party performing "anesthesia-free dentistry".
Accordingly, the American Veterinary Dental College has adopted the official position statement: "in the United States and Canada, only licensed veterinarians can practice veterinary medicine. Veterinary medicine includes vetrerinary surgery, medicine, and dentistry. Anyone providing dental services other than a licensed veterinarian, or a supervised and trained veterinary technician (read nurse), is practicing veterinary medicine without a license and shall be subject to criminal charges."
This position statement addresses dental scaling procedures performed on pets without anesthesia, often by individuals untrained in veterinary dental techniques... the term "anesthesia-free dentistry" has been used in this context. The practice of "anesthesia-free dentistry" is inappropriate for the following reasons:
1. Dental tartar or calculus is firmly adhered to the surface of the teeth. Scaling to remove tartar is accomplished using ultrasonic and sonic powered scalers, plus hand instruments that must have sharp working edges 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 pet reacts! Technically this could be charged against the pet owner as a liability, too.)
2. Professional dental scaling involves scaling the surfaces of the teeth both above and below the gum line... followed by dental polishing. The most critical part of a dental procedure is scaling the tooth surfaces that are within the gingival pocket where there is active periodontal disease. Removing dental tartar from the visible surfaces is purely cosmetic and does nothing for the health of the tooth and/or the mouth. (Disclosing solution or blue wavelength light indicators, anyone?)
3. Inhalation anesthetic with protecting the airway provides important safety advantages-cooperation from the patient in a procedure they do not understand and elimination of pain resulting from examination and treatment of affected dental tissues during the procedure (count me in on this one point alone: pain is NOT fun and should be avoided at all costs), and protection from accidental aspiration of debris which can lead to much more serious concerns should this event happen.
4. A complete oral examination, which is an important part of a professional dental procedure is just not possible in an awake animal.
By the way, safe use of anesthetic medications in a dog or cat (or other species) requires evaluation of the general health of the patient to determine appropriate drugs and doses for each individual, every time! There is also the obligation for continued patient monitoring from start to completion. Veterinarians are trained in all these procedures. Prescribing or administering anesthetic, sedative, and pain relieving medications by a non veterinarian can be dangerous (e.g., a Tylenol tablet can kill a cat!).
Although anesthesia will never be 100% risk free, our anesthetic and patient monitoiring techniques used in veterinary medicine minimizes the risks and millions of veterinary dental scaling procedures are performed each year in veterinary hospitals.
Further information can be obtained from the American Veterinary Dental College website at www.AVDC.org. Additionally an informative video is available highlighting the dangers of "anesthesia-free dentistry" at www.youtube.com/watch?v=52brRO-2M7w.
As a New Jersey veterinarian, I cannot support individuals involved with "anesthesia-free dentistry" not only because of the ethical and potential legal ramifications, but because I refuse to put my pets and yours in jeopardy! I would rather provide safe and effective therapy for the pets because that's the responsibility you have given me.
Just ask my own dog, Mia, she'd bark her approval after her proper dental procedure 2 weeks ago: she didn't feel a thing while she was getting her mouth healthy and clean!