Dear Dr. Forsythe: I am writing to you hoping that you will let other pet owners know about my nightmare situation with my mini-dachshunds. I took them, like a responsible pet owner, to get their teeth cleaned by a local company that provides non-anesthetic teeth cleaning. As a pet owner, I thought this was the best way to have my dogs teeth cleaned since they are so small and I thought it would be safer as well. After their teeth were cleaned, I was given an OK that they were fine and there was no need to take them to the vet for six months.
Unfortunately after a week, one of my dogs could barely eat and the side of his jaw was swollen. I immediately took him to my veterinarian, who said the dog needed full x-rays. One day later, many teeth were pulled. Within two weeks my other dachshund had the same procedure with many teeth pulled.
This non-anesthetic teeth cleaning seems like the best procedure, but it has caused pain and infection to my little guys. Even though a retired vet assists while this procedure is done, you really cannot see the damage until your pets have a complete dental x-ray. I do not want other pet owners to go through the trauma and pain that my little dogs endured. Thank you.
Sandra from Sonoma
Dear Sandra: I’m sorry to hear about the difficulty your little pets went through, and I appreciate your taking the time to share your story with other unsuspecting pet owners.
According to the American Veterinary Dental College, “In the United States and Canada, only licensed veterinarians can practice veterinary medicine. Veterinary medicine includes veterinary surgery, medicine, and DENTISTRY. Anyone providing DENTAL SERVICES other than a LICENSED VETERINARIAN, or a supervised and trained veterinary technician, is practicing veterinary medicine without a license AND IS SUBJECT TO CRIMINAL CHARGES.” (All emphasis is mine.)
Some pet care providers use the term “non-anesthetic dental cleaning” to describe the “service” your pets received, however most veterinarians prefer to use the more accurate term “non-professional dental scaling”. (NPDS). This non-professional procedure, which caused them tremendous problems for your dogs, is not recommended by veterinarians.
Owners of pets naturally are concerned when anesthesia is required for their pet. However, performing NPDS on a pet not under anesthesia is inappropriate for the following reasons:
1. Scaling to remove tartar is accomplished using ultrasonic and sonic power scalers, plus hand instruments that must have a sharp working edge to be used effectively. Even slight head movement by the patient could result in injury to the oral tissues, and the operator may be bitten when the patient reacts.
2. The most critical part of a dental scaling procedure is scaling the tooth surfaces that are within the gingival pocket (the subgingival space between the gum and the root), where periodontal disease is active. Access to the subgingival area of every tooth is impossible in an unanesthetized canine or feline patient. Removal of dental tartar on the visible surfaces of the teeth has little effect on a pet’s health, and provides a false sense of accomplishment. The effect is purely cosmetic.
3. A complete oral examination, which is an important part of a professional dental scaling procedure, is not possible in an unanesthetized patient. The surfaces of the teeth facing the tongue cannot be examined, and areas of disease and discomfort are likely to be missed.
Veterinarians are trained in all of these procedures. Prescribing or administering anesthetic or sedative drugs by a non-veterinarian can be very dangerous, and is illegal.
Although anesthesia will never be 100 percent risk free, modern anesthetic and patient evaluation techniques used in veterinary hospitals minimize the risks, and millions of dental scaling procedures are safely performed each year in veterinary hospitals.
It’s good that your veterinarian was able to intervene and provide the proper dental care for your pets after this ordeal they endured. I have often seen patients after such treatments were provided, and I completely understand how dreadful it is to have the swelling and infection in your pets mouth after you attempted to get a procedure that you thought would help. Now that you are aware that the American Veterinary Medical Association has passed laws banning this procedure, you can be confident in trusting to let your veterinarian be the one to provide the medical procedures on your precious little pets in the future.
As for this retired old vet who “assists” while the procedure is done at the “local company” I suggest you go down there with a copy of this column and ask him to read it. I hope that in the future, he limits his dental cleanings to ducks. After all, he really is a quack.
Dr. Vallard C. Forsythe