A visit to the dentist leads to fear and anxiety in most people. Like people, animals need to go to the dentist regularly too. Dental disease is the most common condition affecting pets, with 70% of cats and 80% of dogs experiencing some level of dental disease by 3 years of age. Although at-home dental care is an important part of being a responsible pet owner, most pets will need a regular dental check-up and occasional professional scale to ensure healthy teeth and gums.
Veterinarians are trained in animal dentistry just as they are trained in surgery and medicine. Veterinarians can professionally assess an animal’s teeth, probe the gum line looking for signs of disease, scale and polish teeth, radiograph to check the health of the tooth root and extract teeth, if needed. All of this must be done while a pet is fully anaesthetised.
Why can’t pet dentistry be done whilst they are conscious?
Dentistry is often painful. Probing under the gum line, scraping scale and tartar off teeth with an ultrasonic scaler, examining cavities, touching exposed tooth pulp and extracting teeth will induce pain. Examining the mouth of an animal is uncomfortable and may be perceived as threatening. Animals must be immobile, especially the head and during examination, swallowing and panting are restricted. The whole procedure can be very lengthy and may take up to an hour. This leads to fear and anxiety. Therefore, ensuring that dental work is only conducted under general anaesthesia will prevent your pet from suffering pain and stress.
People who offer ‘anaesthesia free dentistry’ often restrain pets by wrapping them tightly in towels or holding them firmly between their legs, which is stressful for most animals.
What about the risks of anaesthesia?
Modern anaesthetic agents used by veterinarians are very safe. Many of the sedative drugs and anaesthetic gases used by human anaesthetists, are used by veterinarians. Anaesthetised animals are closely monitored by veterinary staff and deaths due to anaesthesia complications are rare. Even older pets and those with chronic diseases including heart or kidney problems, can undergo anaesthesia safely.
Good dental health means good welfare
Dental disease, particularly as it advances and causes pockets of infection, inflammation and bone loss, is painful. Think about how uncomfortable it is when you have a sore tooth. Ensuring your pet has regular dental checks with your vet and receives dental work under general anaesthetic when required, is good for your pet’s health and welfare.