This Trendy Dental Procedure May Do Your Cat More Harm Than Good

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By Dr. Karen Becker

Nonprofessional dental scaling (NPDS), also known as anesthesia-free dentistry, is gaining popularity with an increasing number of pet owners. These are well-meaning pet guardians who may be fearful of anesthesia or may not be able to afford professional veterinary dental care. They want to provide some form of oral care for their pets, so they opt for NPDS.

However, anesthesia-free dentistry is essentially a cosmetic procedure that addresses only the parts of your pet’s teeth you can see. The question many pet healthcare professionals are asking is whether NPDS procedures are doing more harm than good. One of the biggest concerns many veterinarians have with just scraping teeth is that the mouth is full of blood vessels, which can launch oral bacteria into the bloodstream. Once the bacteria is in the bloodstream it can infect other organs like the valves of the heart, resulting in a disease known as vegetative valvular endocarditis. (Read the American Veterinary Dental College’s (AVDC) position statement on dental scaling without anesthesia.)

Why Anesthesia is Used for Dental Procedures

The fact is, a truly thorough oral exam and cleaning can’t be accomplished on a pet who is awake. Anesthesia has several benefits when it comes to caring for your pet’s mouth, including:

  • Immobilizing your cat to insure his safety and cooperation during a procedure he doesn’t understand and is stressed about.
  • Allows for a thorough exam of all the surfaces inside the mouth and the taking of x-rays.
  • Allows for scaling below the gum line where periodontal disease is most active.
  • Pain management.

A cat who isn’t sedated simply won’t tolerate a thorough inspection of his mouth. He’ll move around a lot, making the use of sharp instruments extra dangerous. Cleaning below the gum line of a fully alert animal is something that should never be attempted. Pets won’t stand for it because not only does the procedure cause tremendous stress, it’s also extremely painful. And if tooth extractions are necessary, they are out of the question for un-anesthetized pets.

How Anesthesia-Free Dental Procedures Might Do More Harm than Good

Non-professional dental scaling can potentially give pet owners a false sense of security about the state of their dog’s or cat’s oral health.

Even though your pet’s teeth – what you can see of them – may look clean and fresh after an anesthesia-free dental procedure, what you can’t see is actually more important. Problems like tartar buildup below the gum line and gingivitis aren’t addressed during a procedure that only scrapes and polishes the teeth. Most oral disease happens below the visible surfaces of your dog’s or cat’s mouth.

NPDS is an aesthetic procedure that doesn’t deal with gum problems or other risks to your pet’s overall health that can develop from disease that starts in the mouth. It doesn’t allow for probing of the gums to look for the presence of deepening periodontal pockets or bone destruction resulting from gum disease.

The majority of older pets that have undergone anesthesia-free dental procedures for years wind up with significant dental disease requiring multiple extractions as they age.

With all that said, there are certainly situations in which I remove plaque and tartar from a pet’s teeth without using anesthesia. Each pet and situation is different. I don’t do it in lieu of a thorough dental exam, and I don’t do it on pets for which I have no dental history. But if, for example, I have a pet with a large chunk of tartar that is irritating his mouth, I’ll remove that tartar without anesthesia if I can do it easily and without stressing out the patient.

When Putting Your Pet ‘Under’ is a Concern

The prospect of making a beloved pet unconscious with anesthesia is a distressing worry for many people. If you are among them, Dr. Brett Beckman, writing for dvm360, offers this advice:

“Veterinary practices that routinely perform dental radiography and probing on all dental patients practice at an advanced level of care. They’re also likely to be well-equipped to safely monitor patients and handle any problems they encounter.

Administration of premedications and nerve blocks enables patients to be kept at anesthetic depths consistent with that of a light general anesthesia. This keeps patients close to waking, even when extractions or other invasive procedures are needed, thus maximizing cardiac output and tissue perfusion and maintaining blood pressure.”

For more information on the safe use of anesthesia in pets, read my recent article What You Must Know Before Your Pet Goes “Under.”

Don’t Forget All Important At-Home Care!

You can help maintain your pet’s dental health with

Dr. Becker is the resident proactive and integrative  wellness veterinarian of HealthyPets.Mercola.com. You can learn holistic ways  of preventing illness in your pets by subscribing to MercolaHealthyPets.com,  an online resource for animal lovers. For more pet care tips, subscribe to the FREE to Mercola  Healthy Pet Newsletter.

This post was republished with permission.

Photo by Fabrizio Monti, Flickr Creative Commons

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9 Comments on This Trendy Dental Procedure May Do Your Cat More Harm Than Good

  1. Sharyl
    November 22, 2015 at 7:56 pm (4 years ago)

    My Holistic cat only vet has suggested a non-anesthesia dental with sedation. does this fall under the above article or is this okay?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 23, 2015 at 7:41 am (4 years ago)

      Yes, that falls under the above article, Sharyl. If your vet finds anything that needs to be addressed while your cat is under sedation, such as extractions, your cat will still need to be fully anesthesized. Don’t waste your money on this procedure.

      Reply
      • Sharyl
        November 23, 2015 at 5:05 pm (4 years ago)

        Thanks Ingrid. I cancelled Sophie’s appt. I was able to get a hold of my other vet and she agrees. Also, I cannot access the video. Is there a different link?

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          November 23, 2015 at 5:17 pm (4 years ago)

          If you’re talking about the brushing your cat’s teeth video, it looks like they changed access – I can’t get it to load, either. Try this one, it’s also a very good one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWAfeZYuhL0

          Reply
          • Sharyl
            November 23, 2015 at 5:29 pm (4 years ago)

            Thanks Ingrid

  2. Evelyn Sharp
    December 5, 2011 at 11:47 am (8 years ago)

    Excellent article! Home-brushing does make a significant difference. It keeps the gums healthy and they are at ease with mouth-handling. The time between true, professional cleanings can be extended, many times, by years! Thanks for an article I can re-post with confidence!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 5, 2011 at 5:51 pm (8 years ago)

      Thanks, Evelyn. I never thought I’d be able to brush my girls’ teeth, and yet, they are letting me. You won’t know until you try – and be patient – whether your cat will allow you to do it or not. I know it’s one of the best things I’m doing for their health.

      Reply
  3. Sammy, One Spoiled Cat
    December 5, 2011 at 7:29 am (8 years ago)

    Excellent info…..Sam has tolerated me brushing his teeth with a little toothbrush pretty well all these years AND his teeth are in great shape according to his vet. Anything we can do to keep our cats in tip top shape is more than worth it! Thanks for this Ingrid.

    Pam (and Sam)

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm (8 years ago)

      I recently started brushing Allegra and Ruby’s teeth and I hope that we can keep cleanings under anesthesia few and far between that way, Pam.

      Reply

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