Dr. Jennifer Challenger DVM, MPH

Proper dental cleanings for pets are exactly the same as they are for humans. People, however, understand what happens during the procedure and hold still, even though they don’t like the way it feels. Pets, however, do not understand and typically will not hold still. They have to be forcibly restrained, which not only is traumatic and stressful, but also may lead to injury of the pet or the person who is attempting to restrain the pet.

Non-anesthetic dental cleanings are not the same as traditional dental cleanings; in fact, they do not even come close to a true dental cleaning. Instead, they are more cosmetic in nature and simply remove as much of the visible tartar and plaque build-up that is possible with this type of procedure. In recent years, a cottage industry has evolved that takes advantage of pet owners’ fear of having their pets placed under anesthesia. Sometimes it is groomers offering to brush a pet’s teeth, which, realistically, doesn’t accomplish anything useful (Imagine if you only brushed your teeth every four to eight weeks.) There are individuals, occasionally veterinary technicians or dental hygienists that travel from town to town, offering non-professional dental scaling’s on animals that have not been sedated.

The cause of bad breath and kidney problems is the bacteria in the plaque that is under the gumline. Periodontal disease originates in these deep, odor-producing pockets that require probing and scaling with sharp instruments. There is a reason why our dentists sometimes use nitrous oxide and novocaine shots while they are working under our gumlines; this degree of probing and scaling, which is necessary to complete a thorough cleaning, can be quite painful.

What most pet owners don’t understand is that anesthesia actually is considered very safe. A recent study conducted nationally revealed that only one in 10,000 veterinary patients had an adverse experience when placed under anesthesia.

Veterinarians have done a great job of educating pet owners about the imperative need for preventative dental care for their four-legged family members. Here’s why it is so important; by three years of age, approximately 85 percent of dogs already have periodontal disease that needs medical attention. In fact, many popular toy breeds lose permanent teeth as early as five years of age if preventative dental care is not performed. The new challenge for veterinarians is to prevent pet owners from being lulled into a false sense of security by these non-professionals offering an ill-advised procedure.