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Last week I received an e-mail query on a topic I couldn't bear to pass up: "Is anesthesia-free dentistry best for my pet?" Well, here's my answer, testy though it might be:

Fear and loathe anesthesia though you might, the answer to the above question is a no-brainer for me. The so-called "anesthesia- or sedation-free" dental cleaning is not an appropriate approach to managing our pets’ dental health.

A variety of companies are now offering this service in Florida. The procedure’s gained some traction among pet owners as a result of:

1. Our heightened understanding of the need for dental care for our pets.

2. The fear of anesthesia (yes, it’s true, anesthesia carries risks).

3. The reduced expense this service entails relative to the standard anesthetic dental procedure most veterinarians recommend for patients.

The problem is that no anesthesia-free dentistry has been shown to do enough good to render it a suitable replacement for traditional anesthetic dentistry. In some cases, nonanesthetic dental cleanings can even be harmful to pets.

Here’s a run-down on why veterinary dentists, specialists in this field, advise against this approach:

1. The necessary, under the gumline cleaning of teeth is painful and poorly tolerated by pets, requires minimal movement for accuracy, and is generally considered ineffective without anesthesia.

2. Polishing the teeth after a thorough scaling is essential to the continued health of teeth and gums, and is considered very difficult to achieve without anesthesia. Failing to polish well after scaling means more tartar build-up in the end.

3. Pets struggle and stress during this procedure. Mine underwent it once as a trial, and consequently, I believe it’s unfair to expect an animal to deal with this level of discomfort while awake.

4. The stated goal of nonanesthetic dental cleaning services is to remove visible tartar for cosmetic reasons. These companies don’t (and can’t) promise health benefits for our pets.

5. For pets with potentially serious dental issues (like yours), there’s no denying it: Teeth must be evaluated carefully with dental probes and X-rays. This cannot be achieved in pets without anesthesia. Period.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Art of the day: "Vampirkatze" by Marvin Siefke

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