Why Anesthesia-Free Dentistry Is Bad For Your Pet

anesthesia-free dentistry is bad for your pet - cat and dog cuddling

Why Anesthesia-Free Dentistry Is Bad For Your Pet

The Dangers of Anesthesia-Free Dentistry


Over the past number of years, you may have heard about groomers, pet shops and even some veterinary providers offering a procedure referred to as Anesthesia Free Dentistry (AFD) or No Anesthesia Dentistry (NAD). These procedures involve the scaling of a dog or cat’s teeth with an instrument without the use of anesthesia. In these procedures, the animal must still be restrained while only calculus above the gingival margin (gum line) is removed. Unfortunately, these procedures are totally inadequate in providing oral health care for pets and the term “cleaning” ends up being quite misleading. And as veterinary dentists in Colorado Springs and Denver, Co., we want to warn you about why anesthesia-free dentistry is bad for your pet.

Humans will often sit in a dental chair for as long as 45-60 minutes while their teeth are completely cleaned and polished by a trained dental hygienist. Dental radiographs are often taken and a complete examination of their teeth and gums is performed. While certainly not enjoyable, we will cooperate and sit still without restraint while these procedures are performed.

Many veterinary dental cleanings for pets are the equivalent of a cleaning for a human who has not brushed their teeth for a year or longer. Just imagine that. So our veterinary patients have significantly greater amounts of dental disease than humans, but they have no way of understanding why an AFD procedure is being performed on them. They are restrained against their will, often with painful dental issues, while their mouths are held open and their teeth are scraped with an instrument.

In addition to all of the trauma these patients might endure, this “cleaning” is far from complete and misses the majority of plaque and calculus that causes periodontal disease. Providers of these procedures will often tell pet owners that their AFD “cleanings” are the same as a human going to the dentist. You can see this is the farthest thing from the truth.


Most Disease Lies Beneath the Surface


Periodontal disease is easily the most common illness diagnosed in animals. Other oral problems, such as fractured teeth, are not far behind. As a board-certified veterinary dentist, I can safely estimate that well over half the oral pathology (disease) I have diagnosed in my patients is while the patient is under anesthesia. It is simply not possible to perform a complete oral examination on an awake patient, just as it is impossible to scale and polish their teeth while awake.

Dental radiographs are an invaluable diagnostic tool for veterinarians. Studies have proven that full mouth dental radiographs in veterinary patients will uncover more than 40-60% of all dental abnormalities. Without dental radiographs, many painful dental problems will go undiagnosed and the pet will remain in pain. Unfortunately, it is not possible to take dental radiographs on veterinary patients that are not under anesthesia and it is impossible to provide quality veterinary dental care without dental radiographs. AFD procedures can do none of this and often leave a pet in pain.


The Benefits Far Outweigh the Risks


If it sounds like we are coming across strongly, it’s because we care about the humane treatment of pets. It is understandable for pet owners to be anxious about placing their pets under anesthesia. However, the risk of anesthetic procedures has been greatly reduced with pre-anesthetic blood panel testing, advanced anesthetic monitoring, IV fluid administration during procedures and the usage of modern gas anesthetics and advanced anesthetic agents. With the prevalence and extremely negative impact of dental disease in pets, I am far more concerned about periodontal disease being the cause of a pet’s demise than the risk of complications in a present-day, safely performed anesthetic procedure.

As you can tell, AFD procedures should not be performed for numerous reasons.

  • Only supragingival (above the gum line) calculus can be removed, while the most detrimental plaque is subgingival (below the gum line).
  • AFD scalings leave a roughened more plaque-retentive surface since an adequate polishing of the tooth surface is not possible. This will only allow calculus to reform faster after an AFD.
  • Dental radiographs and a complete veterinary oral examination is not possible without anesthesia and painful conditions will go undiagnosed and untreated.
  • Pet owners are given a false sense of security because their pets’ teeth may be whiter, while painful problems below the gum line go unchecked.

With these facts in mind, sadly, many of the providers of AFD procedures prey upon the pet owners fear of anesthesia and falsely assure them that their pets are better off with an AFD having been performed.


Why is My Pet Not Showing Pain if They have Dental Disease?


Over the years I have had numerous dog and cat patients who have had AFD procedures performed annually for many years only for me to diagnose countless painful problems, such as abscessed teeth, that have obviously been present for many years. Animals are reluctant to show pain the way a human will. It goes against the very real predator-prey makeup of their genetics. To show pain is to show weakness and to show weakness is to be more susceptible as prey even for a domestic indoor pet. For this reason, pet owners will falsely assume their pets are not experiencing pain because they are still eating. However, the genetic drive to continue to eat is so strong they simply will not give it up in the face of significant dental pain.


We Practice Safe and Thorough Veterinary Dental Techniques


The great satisfaction of my career has been to relieve animal suffering. There are few more impactful ways to do this than through the diagnosis and treatment of previously undiagnosed dental disease. If you have any questions about safe and effective dental cleanings, diagnostics and treatments performed on your pet, please do not hesitate to contact us at Animal Dental Care and Oral Surgery at (719) 536-9949.

Additionally, an excellent resource available to pet owners and veterinarians regarding AFDs at the website for the American Veterinary Dental College (www.avdc.org). This site clearly outlines why the leading organization for veterinary dental care stands firmly against these procedures and how it is committed to helping pet owners and their veterinarians provide the best in oral health care for their pets and patients alike.


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