The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) is warning pet owners of thehealth risks posed by lay dental practitioners offering “anaesthesia-freedentistry”. An increasing number of non-veterinary companies are offeringcleaning and scaling on conscious pets, but the AVA say the practice does notprovide adequate dental care and can be harmful to the animals.

Anaesthesia-free dentistry involves the fully conscious pet being physicallyrestrained so dental instruments, and sometimes power scalers, can be used toremove calculus from the teeth.

Dr Tara Cashman, President of the Australian Veterinary Dental Society saysthat the term “anaesthesia-free dentistry” is misleading for pet owners as theprocedure is purely cosmetic and fails to identify serious problems such asdental disease. Dental disease is common in Australian pets. If untreated, itcan be painful and lead to chronic health concerns.

“Cleaning the visible surface above the gum line makes the teeth looksuperficially clean but will not detect dental disease present below the gumline, and thus provides no medical benefit,” said Dr Cashman.

Dr Cashman says that it is impossible to complete a thorough oral examinationincluding checking every single tooth especially sub-gingivally (below the gumline), the tongue, palate and oropharynx (back of the throat) in a consciousanimal.

“It is impossible to do X-rays and adequately examine all surfaces of yourpet’s oral cavity while awake. Radiographs and a veterinary oral healthevaluation are vital in detecting problems early while they are relativelyeasy and thus less expensive to treat,” said Dr Cashman.

Anaesthesia-free dentistry also fails to identify another serious dentalcondition in pets. Occurring below gum level, periodontal disease is aninfection that destroys the periodontal ligament anchoring the tooth to thesocket. More infection means deeper probing pockets and bone loss. Removingcalculus from the crown of the tooth does not address the site of diseaseformation and is merely window dressing.

“Most lay operators have no animal handling qualifications and are certainlynot licensed to diagnose, medicate or radiograph any pet. They may have thebest intentions, along with the pet owner to care for the pet’s oral healthbut anaesthesia-free dentistry is not best practice for the animal,” said DrCashman.

But it’s not just dental health that should be concerning pet owners,restraining an animal and forcing it to undergo an uncomfortable procedureover an extended period of time can increase anxiety and make it moredifficult for future examinations to occur.

“The animal must be physically restrained, which can lead to significantanxiety. As the animal is conscious, it will be fully aware of any paininvolved in the procedure and this can lead to longer-term anxiety andaversion to being touched around the face and muzzle,” said Dr Cashman.

Dental instruments need to be very sharp to debride calculus and plaque fromthe teeth and could easily injure a handler or patient as the patient moves.Fractious animals may

scratch or bite also. There is no way to protect the airway from aerosolisedbacteria or fluids including blood, saliva and scaler coolants furtherendangering the patient.

Veterinarians can properly examine, diagnose and treat dental disease in petswith a professional veterinary dental cleaning. They will use a generalanaesthetic because dental disease occurs above and below the gum line and itensures they can complete a systematic inspection of every single tooth, probethe pockets surrounding the tooth and check for underlying disease.

The anaesthetic ensures the experience is a positive one for your pet becauseit is unaware of the pain during the procedure and doesn’t need to bephysically restrained.

The Australian Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS) is the special interest groupof the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA). Further information on AVDS’sanaesthesia-free dentistry policy is available here.

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