When I took a temporary leave from my college coursework to work full-time at a busy veterinary practice, my primary responsibility was radiology, but I also substituted as treat nurse, surgical nurse, and lab technician when needed, and sometimes I assisted in the exam room. But my favorite assignment was to perform dental cleanings under general anesthesia. Removing every single speck of plaque and tartar from every surface, nook and cranny, and the transformation of a grungy mouth to spotless, was very appealing to my somewhat obsessive side.
Non-anesthetic dental cleaning does not always allow the obsessive removal of every single speck of plaque and tartar from every surface, nook and cranny of our pets’ mouths. Nevertheless, it is a valuable option for safely, responsibly, and humanely avoiding the risks of routine dental cleanings under anesthesia for our healthy pets, and, as well, for safely, responsibly, and humanely improving the quality of life of our pets with advancing dental disease who, for reasons of systemic illness or advanced age, are not good candidates for dental cleaning under anesthesia.
In the past, veterinarians could (and often would) remove plaque and tartar from a pet’s teeth without using general anesthesia so long as there was no indication of advancing dental disease nor the need for extractions, and so long as the non-anesthetic procedure could be accomplished without overly stressing the pet. However, new American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) accreditation requirements are rapidly regulating non-anesthetic dental procedures out of existence, at least insofar as those procedures’ being performed on-site at veterinary clinics and hospitals.
Effective November 2013, the AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats mandate general anesthesia with intubation for all dental procedures (including routine dental cleanings), and deem the cleaning of pet’s teeth without general anesthesia and intubation to be an unacceptable practice. Not surprisingly, the AAHA Guidelines are supported by generous grants from a number of entities with vested interests beyond the simple health and well-being of our pets, and whose “generous support” in a variety of areas holds great sway in any number of mandates and accrediting guidelines put forth by AAHA, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and individual State licensing and regulatory agencies.
AAHA’s justification for its sweeping mandate on pet dental care is that, “Techniques such as necessary immobilization without discomfort, periodontal probing, intraoral radiology, and removal of plaque and tartar above and below the gum line that ensure patient health and safety cannot be achieved without general anesthesia.” While I would certainly agree that intraoral radiology (x-rays) cannot yield acceptable results without the use of general anesthesia, I would vigorously contest the notion that plaque and tartar removal above and below the gum line cannot be humanely and acceptably accomplished without general anesthesia and intubation, and I would suggest that those who claim otherwise either have a vested interest beyond the simple health and well-being of our pets, and/or simply have never witnessed non-anesthetic dental cleaning procedures performed correctly.
For my own part, I first witnessed non-anesthetic dental procedures being performed correctly about a decade ago when the holistic veterinary practice I used for my pets (and later worked at) brought in HoundsTooth dental technicians several times a year to provide non-anesthetic dental cleaning services. It was amazing to watch. The HoundsTooth technicians sat on the floor working quickly and quietly. Cats were gently swaddled in bath towels to both restrain and calm them during the procedure. Dogs were gently persuaded to lie quietly with their heads on the technician’s lap throughout the cleaning. No brute strength was applied. No raised voices were heard. There was no whining, whimpering, yelping, or growling. There was only the occasional insulted lashing of a cat’s tail, or the repeated thumping of a wagging dog’s tail. Nobody was stressed, hurt, or otherwise traumatized, and the results inside the mouth were truly impressive.
Since that day, I have continued to work with HoundsTooth, both as a pet owner and as a host location for their veterinarian-supervised clinics. What started out as a small pool of Berkshire County HoundsTooth devotees has now grown, through little more than word of mouth advertising, to become an essential service option for pet owners and referring veterinarians from as far away as Boston, southern Vermont, western New York State, and southern Connecticut into Long Island, New York City, and New Jersey. It is indeed an honor to be able to bring this essential service option to so many individual pet owners and referring veterinarians. Good dental health is of utmost importance for good overall health.
Please visit the www.houndstoothpetdental.com website for more information on their non-anesthetic dental cleaning service, and please visit the www.bensdotters.com website to join the mailing list for notification of southern Berkshire County HoundsTooth dental clinics.
This article by Kristina Dow appeared in the February-March 2014 issue of 'Our Berkshire Times'.