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Anesthesia Free Pet Dentistry Brushes with the Law

On its surface, one may hear of the notion of anesthesia free pet dentistry and have their interest instantly piqued!  “Why, a dental for my pet without the need for general anesthesia?  That sounds great!”  Of course it sounds great, but like most other things that seem too good to be true, anesthesia free pet dentistry most certainly is too good to be true.  But unfortunately, it has not stopped thousands of shysters across the country from giving it a try and in the process hurting pets….and seriously breaking the law.

Anesthesia free dentistry is mostly offered by groomers wishing to expand their services.  These groomers are engaging in this activity without a veterinary medical license of any kind, without the supervision of a licensed veterinarian, and essentially winging a highly technical health maintenance procedure of the utmost importance.

Since most dogs will not simply open up and say “AH” as their teeth are scraped with a currette, groomers simply take advantage of the whole “perception is reality” aspect of customer service.  With patience and tenacity, they can often manage to scale off calculus from the most visible teeth (canines, incisors, and front premolars) on the surface that is visible to the owner (the buccal surface).   However, they are largely unable to scale the teeth far in the back of the mouth (the rear premolars and molars), nor can they successfully scale the inner surfaces of the teeth (the lingual surface).  When the pet is discharged back to the owner, the groomer shows off the newly white teeth and is the hero for saving the Fluffy from an expensive and unnecessary anesthetic procedure.

Only here is what the pet owner does not see or know:

– There is tartar and calculus remaining on the non-visible rear teeth, as well as the non-visible lingual surfaces of virtually every tooth on the pet’s mouth.

– Having no knowlege of dentistry, the groomer has not probed for pockets that form between the teeth and gums as a veterinary technician would have done.  These so called gingival pockets are regions of detachment of the gum tissue from underlying bone.  While gingival pockets of 3mm or smaller will generally re-attach after scaling, pockets of 5 mm or greater may not.  For these large pockets, dental x-rays must be taken to check to see if the tooth root is still viable.  If it is viable, then deep curretting of the root is necessary to achieve rettachment, something that would be excriciatingly painful with anesthesia.  If the root is not viable, to prevent chronic pain and ongoing loss of the jaw bone, the tooth must be extracted.

– Scaling done without follow up polishing leaves surface scores on the tooth surface.  These scores will actually serve as a matrix for tartar to reform faster.  Polishing with a highspeed polisher and polishing paste smooths out these scores – you can think of it as going from rough sandpaper to smooth sand paper for fine detailed woodwork.

Despite all this the pet owner leaves happy, for the teeth look cleaner; but Fluffy goes home with a mouth virtually as infected, calculus ridden, and possibly as painful as before she arrived.  The overall health consequence of dental disease are not alleviated, and at some point, Fluffy will need to have a serious amount of oral surgery to get her mouth healthy…and hopefully in the process, she does not sustain immune suppression, infection seeded into other tissues such as kidneys and heart, or pathological fractures of the jaw bone.  What Fluffy’s owners are also largely not aware of is that groomers who are offering these low rate services are in violation of the law.

Think about it, would you go to a barber shop or hair salon to have your teeth professionally cleaned and examined?  It is no different for pets.  Do yourself and your pets a favor and refrain from allowing these unlicensed, unqualified people to unlawfully and unethically practice dentistry on your pets’ teeth.  Have their teeth instead cleaned and inspected safely under the expertise of a licensed veterinarian and veterinary technician.

Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL and founder/CEO of

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