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Veterinarian Technician February 2009 (Vol 30, No 2)

Editor's Letter — Is Anesthesia-Free Dentistry Really an Option?

by Jeanne Perrone, CVT, VTS (Dentistry)

    When dental procedures are performed on companion animals, they should be anesthetized, but unfortunately anesthesia is among the most common concerns expressed by pet owners. To alleviate their apprehensions, some owners turn to other options to get their pet's teeth cleaned, which has opened a market for anesthesia-free dentistry that caters to clients worried about the risks associated with anesthesia.

    If you search the Internet, businesses offering anesthesia-free services are prevalent and, in some instances, the service is available at veterinary clinics. In some clinics, certified technicians perform the anesthesia-free cleanings with or without the supervision of a veterinarian, whereas others are unclear about who does the work. The one bright spot is that these services recommend taking a pet to the primary care veterinarian if any dental pathology is detected.

    The American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) has issued a position statement on anesthesia-free dentistry (www.avdc.org/Dental_Scaling_Without_Anesthesia.pdf) that states that anyone other than a veterinarian or veterinary technician who provides dental services is practicing veterinary medicine without a license and could be subject to criminal charges. The position statement, however, also cites reasons that anesthesia-free dental cleaning is dangerous for the patient as well as the operator, regardless of whether he or she is a certified technician or a veterinarian.

    Pet owners need to understand that dentistry is an invasive procedure requiring the use of instrumentation that can damage tissue and cause debris to be dislodged, thereby placing the unprotected patient at risk for aspiration or injuring the operator if anesthesia is not involved.

    As a veterinary technician who has restrained hundreds of animals and has attempted to clean a patient's teeth without anesthesia, I know that this increases the stress factor to the patient and the operator. A thorough oral examination cannot be completed around each tooth in the absence of adequate anesthesia, so the patient is being shortchanged and the cleaning is not as complete.

    On the flip side, some veterinarians, technicians and assistants have not been properly trained to do a dental cleaning. Part of the blame rests with the lack of standardized dental training in veterinary and technician schools. If you want to practice proper dental techniques, you need training.

    So throughout 2009, let's continue to bring the benefits of good oral hygiene to our patients by providing safe, thorough dental care.

    NEXT: FDA expands peanut butter recall to include pet food products