Dentistry is the branch of medicine that involves the study, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases, disorders, and conditions of the mouth (oral cavity.) This also may include some facial structures around the oral cavity.
In the state of Florida, as written in the Florida Statutes, “veterinary medicine” includes, with respect to animals, surgery, acupuncture, obstetrics, dentistry, physical therapy, radiology, theriogenology (reproduction), and other branches or specialties of veterinary medicine.
Dentistry is included in the above definition of veterinary medicine. This means that anyone doing dental procedures with specific dental instruments and/or ultrasonic scalers on an animal, who requires payment for these services, is practicing veterinary dentistry. Anesthesia or anesthesia-free dental work must be done under the supervision of a veterinarian, just as dental hygienists only clean teeth under the supervision of a dentist. In order to do a thorough job of evaluating the oral cavity, a probe is needed to check for pockets around each individual tooth, and x-rays need to be taken to look for problems under the gum line. No one, not even your veterinarian, can see all these problems by just looking in the mouth in a conscious dog or cat.
Anesthesia-free dental cleanings only provide a false sense of proper dental care and treatment because the teeth look cleaner. These types of cleanings do not address the pathology, pain, or the infection that is occurring in the mouth and spreading throughout the entire body. Dental infections need to be treated with antibiotics, and their underlying cause must be addressed.
Many of our companion animals will not tolerate ear cleanings and/or nail trims, let alone cleaning and probing inside their mouth when they are fully awake. Forcing animals to remain calm while being restrained for an anesthesia free-dental procedure is not only dangerous for the animal but can also be dangerous to the person performing this procedure. This is a very stressful situation to be in. Ultrasonic scalers get very hot to the touch and can destroy enamel if not used properly. In order to cool the dental scaler tip during a teeth cleaning, water needs to be constantly spraying from the scaler. Aspiration pneumonia may result if a dog or cat is not intubated while this water, bacteria, and tartar are being dispersed throughout the oral cavity. Anesthesia is very safe for healthy companion animals.
Prior to any anesthetic procedure, your veterinarian should perform a thorough physical exam and blood work to determine if your dog or cat is a healthy candidate. Postponing proper dental care for whiter teeth at a minimal fee could prove more costly and problematic down the road. Proper home dental care products and instructions can be provided to you by your veterinary health care team. Their goal is to do what is in the best interest of your companion animal.
Kim Donovan, D.V.M. is the medical director at Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital in Seminole. She has over 16 years of experience. She has a special interest in feline medicine.