All throughout January and February, you have seen lots of social media posts about the importance of keeping the mouths of our pets healthy! It is National Pet Dental Health Month and, in January, I posted a little bit about why pet lovers seem reluctant to have this important preventive procedure done.
Part of that post reflected on the concerns that many people have with anesthesia and I can empathize with those concerns. We have a saying in veterinary medicine that "there is no safe anesthesia. Only safe anesthetists." This is very true. There are risks with almost any medical procedure and the simple fact is: anesthesia scares people! But, as I pointed out previously, veterinarians and their teams would not be able to do a thorough and proper assessment and cleaning of your pet's mouth without general anesthesia.
So, how can we do the right thing for our pets, but keep the worries of the owner in mind as well? Some individuals have opted to take anesthesia out of the equation entirely. "Non-anesthesia pet dentals" have become popular across many areas of the country because of their promise to keep your pet safe. Using "proprietary" restraint techniques, non-professional individuals (meaning non-veterinarians in many cases) will use sharp, hand-scaling tools to scrape the tartar from your pet's teeth. While I admit that I know of veterinarians who might scrape tartar quickly from a well-behaved pet's teeth in the exam room, they are not promoting that activity as a benefit to your pet's oral health. I think it's best if we just let this video I helped produce explain the concerns.
Pretty scary, right? Bleeding gums from sharp dental instruments, anxiety from the restraint, and even broken jaws have been reported after these types of procedures. And, here's the bottom line: Your pet's mouth is really not healthier...the teeth are just whiter! There's no way to fully assess the health of the mouth in an awake animal and, with 60% of the tooth under the gum line, how will these folks reach that area, much less understand if there is pathology there?
The American College of Veterinary Dentistry has a strongly worded position statement against these types of services and the American Animal Hospital Association requires that its members utilize general anesthesia for all animal dental patients as "cleaning a companion animal’s teeth without general anesthesia is considered unacceptable and below the standard of care."
The best option for you, as a pet lover, is to talk with your veterinarian about the benefits of a dental cleaning as well as how his or her office provides safety measures for all pets undergoing anesthetic procedures. Ask how the pets are monitored (EKG, Pulse Oximetry, Temperature, Blood Pressure, Respiratory Rate and/or End Tidal CO2). Ask how the pets are kept warm (circulating warm air blankets, circulating warm water pads...NO ELECTRIC BLANKETS) and how the pet is attended during recovery. Ask about the training of the technicians (nurses) and assistants who are caring for your pet...are they familiar with these types of procedures and how to handle an anesthetic crisis?
Look, you trust your veterinarian, right? Be open about your concerns with anesthesia. While they can't guarantee that everything will be perfect 100% of the time, they can help you understand a little more about how your pet's health and safety is everything to them and to their entire team.
What questions did I not get to when it comes to your pet's dental health? What concerns do you still have about your pets and this important aspect of their wellness care? I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences...please comment below with questions, stories, or concerns!