A Proper Dental Cleaning
By: Patrick Hafner, DVM
Recently I have been asked by several clients what my opinion is of the availability of non-anesthetic dental cleanings for their pets. This procedure is also known as non-professional dental scaling. I did not recommend these procedures for many reasons. A complete examination of the dental health of our patients always requires the patient be anesthetized for adequate evaluation.
I know that the anesthetic requirement for proper evaluation can be concerning for the owners with regards to the risk of anesthesia. However, pre-anesthetic evaluation by physical examination and performing any necessary testing to reduce anesthetic risk is always a primary consideration for the safety of the complete dental procedure. While the risk of anesthesia cannot be completely eliminated it can be reduced to a level that the benefit of optimal oral health far outweighs any risk of anesthesia. If we were able to effectively examine and clean the teeth of our pets without anesthesia many would be in every 3 months for cleaning just as many people have to do to prevent gum (periodontal) disease.
After the concerns about anesthetic risk have been addressed my real issue with non-professional dental scaling is the inability of complete dental evaluation during the cleaning. Radiographs are a vital part of the dental evaluation of our patients and these cannot be taken without our patient being anesthetized. After our initial complete oral examination under anesthesia, dental issues seen only in x-ray images of the teeth are frequently discovered. Dental x-rays are required to address issues below the gum line revealing periodontal pockets between adjacent teeth. Digital Dental radiology has revolutionized the practice of veterinary dentistry since we began using dental x-rays almost 3 decades ago. These frequently discovered abnormal findings underscore the absolute necessity for using dental x-ray images in all dental procedures being performed on our pets.
There is no question that tartar and calculus on the surface of the teeth can be removed by non-anesthetic dental scaling procedure. This improves the appearance of the visible tooth surface but unfortunately, this is cosmetic in nature and may allow important unseen dental issues to go untreated. With the potential of undiscovered dental issues going unaddressed, over time these issues will manifest themselves in a major way frequently requiring tooth extraction and gum reconstruction. Perhaps the most important issue with incomplete examination and treatment in a timely regular fashion is the persistence of infection within the mouth that affects the inflammatory burden of the entire body. This burden is significant and otherwise undetected aging stress on body function.
Maintenance of pristine oral health, in my opinion, does more for the overall health and longevity of the body than anything else we do for our pets. Great nutrition, exercise, and continuous love will not overcome the effects of chronic raging infection on the rest of the body.
So, in summary, I recommend complete and comprehensive professional dental care under anesthesia and with the availability and utilization of dental radiography as part of the procedure. Don’t let anesthesia be a barrier to this vital service to our pet’s health. Both of my dogs had dental procedures right into their ripe old ages of 15 and 17 years. Both of them lived their entire lives in remarkable health and in the absence of any chronic disease. If you ever have any questions regarding oral health do not hesitate in contacting the office and asking to speak with me or any one of the doctors on staff. We all take oral health very seriously and are passionate about promoting its beneficial effects on the health and longevity of all of our pets.