Anaesthesia-Free Dentistry

The number of non-veterinary practitioners offering cat and dog dental treatment without an anaesthetic is on the rise.

Dental disease is the number one issue we see in small dogs and cats and anaesthesia-free dentistry is on the increase and something of a hot topic at present.

We are often quizzed on why dental treatment is so expensive for pets as compared to humans and the answer is simple – it’s impossible to provide thorough dental treatment in a conscious animal. The cost of an anaesthetic is usually the majority of the total fee when cleaning a pet’s teeth unless multiple extractions are required. Superficial cleaning of teeth in some animals is possible while conscious and at St Francis we often remove stubborn areas of plaque from the outer surface of teeth in cooperative patients without sedation or anaesthesia. Note I mentioned the outer surface as trying to gain access to the inner surface of teeth, even in the most docile of animals, is next to impossible while conscious. The anaesthesia-free dental treatment now offered by lay dental practitioners is very undesirable for three main reasons. Firstly, as mentioned above, it is impossible to fully clean all surfaces of the teeth, including subgingivally (under the gum line) which is the most important area, in a conscious animal. Secondly, even to perform a superficial clean to just the outer surfaces of the teeth requires significant restraint of the animal and usually a high level of stress and/or discomfort. Thirdly, xraying and extracting teeth is completely unfeasible in any conscious animal cooperative or not.

As vets and pet owners we completely understand why many clients balk at the cost of dental treatment in pets. Why on earth would I spend more money on my pet’s teeth than my own? Add to that the fact that many of the pet insurance companies out there will not cover any form of dental treatment at all – this is easy to explain, they know it’s by far the most common issue seen in small animal veterinary medicine.

So why is dental disease so common and how do we help prevent it thus avoiding those nasty vet bills? Medium and large breed dogs rarely suffer from significant dental disease. Why, well largely due to their anatomy. They have larger mouths equipped with bigger, stronger teeth which allows them to get stuck into vigorous chewing of bones and suchlike. Chewing physically cleans the teeth and increases saliva turnover and saliva is the mouth’s natural antiseptic. Small dogs and many cats cannot or will not eat food that requires a lot of chewing thus reducing the natural cleaning processes seen in larger animals. As a result we see rapid build up of plaque, gum disease and tooth decay often from an early age. Every animal is different but by far the best way to avoid severe dental disease is, as with humans, get regular check ups and cleaning if required. We find the worst affected need an anaesthetic and clean every year like clockwork otherwise the teeth can get so diseased many, if not all, need to be extracted. To try and ease the financial burden St Francis offers an annual dental package which includes teeth cleaning, vaccination, and twelve months heart worm, flea and intestinal worm prevention at a much reduced cost of $600 per year. As mentioned many pets will not need a clean every year but when they do the package can help ease the financial burden.

The image below is a before and after cleaning comparison of a very typical small dog with dental issues. The teeth deteriorated to this level only two years after the last clean. As ever give the clinic a call or contact us via our website if you have any queries.