Pet Dental Month; are anesthesia free dentals a good choice? -Dr.Judy Herman

There is a lot of talk about regular dental cleanings for our companions. With the expansion of our knowledge in the area of veterinary dentistry, we recognize the importance of good oral hygiene for our best friends, as it is for ourselves. 

For years veterinarians have hand scaled compliant cat and dog teeth. It allows the veterinarian to see what is under the tartar, so s/he can make needed recommendations in care. This hand scaling is NOT a thorough dental cleaning. The thorough cleaning is done under anesthesia.

The gold standard in the field veterinary dentistry is once or twice a year dental radiographs and cleaning.  This has to be done under an anesthetic. Not every practice has a dental X ray machine, so going to a specialist may be necessary. 

Another option that is being discussed a lot lately is the non-anesthetic dental. These dentals are performed by a veterinary technician trained in dental care and animal behavior. The technicians go to post graduate school to learn the techniques for quality dental cleanings and assessing the integrity of the animal’s mouth. Unless your clinic’s veterinary technician has gone through some additional schooling in dentistry, which some clinics do not have, the veterinary dental technician may do a better job. 

We have hosted 3 non-anesthesia dental (NAD) days at the Animal Wellness Center.  Any animal that is being considered for this procedure is evaluated in advance by me or the guardian’s regular veterinarian.  Mouths are graded from 1 to 4.  The animals with grades 1-2 are scheduled. Some early 3’s may be allowed.  Occasionally a 3-4 mouth, which usually means more dental work is needed, will be allowed so the animal will have less time under anesthesia when extractions and other dental work is needed.  The technician will also give the guardian recommendations on what further diagnostics and treatments are needed.  S/he will also educate the guardian on how to prevent tartar in the future and when the next recommended appointment is needed. 

I have watched the technician work and am amazed on how relaxed the animals are during the procedure. S/he easily gets under the gums and scales off the debris, checks for pockets, cleans and polishes inside and out. 

As the guardian of your companion, you have choices. Ignoring dental care is not a viable option, that will lead to pain and compromising diseases.  I always recommend chewing on safe types of bones or dental toys. If the teeth need a cleaning but no noticeable disease, then a non-anesthetic dental would be a very good, safe, and educated option.