American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) Position Statement on Non-Professional Dental Scaling
In the United States and Canada, only licensed veterinarians can practice veterinary medicine. Veterinary medicine includes veterinary surgery, medicine and dentistry. Anyone providing dental services other than a licensed veterinarian, or a supervised and trained veterinary technician, is practicing veterinary medicine without a license and shall be subject to criminal charges.
This position statement addresses dental scaling procedures performed on pets without anesthesia, often by individuals untrained in veterinary dental techniques. Although the term "Anesthesia-Free Dentistry" has been used in this context, AVDC prefers to use the more accurate term Non-Professional Dental Scaling (NPDS) to describe this combination.
Owners of pets naturally are concerned when anesthesia is required for their pet. However, performing NPDS on an unanesthetized pet is inappropriate for the following reasons:
- 1. Dental tartar is firmly adhered to the surface of the teeth. Scaling to remove tartar is accomplished using ultrasonic and sonic power scalers, plus hand instruments that must have a sharp working edge to be used effectively. Even slight head movement by the patient could result in injury to the oral tissues of the patient, and the operator may be bitten when the patient reacts.
- 2. Professional dental scaling includes scaling the surfaces of the teeth both above and below the gingival margin (gum line), followed by dental polishing. The most critical part of a dental scaling procedure is scaling the tooth surfaces that are within the gingival pocket (the subgingival space between the gum and the root), where periodontal disease is active. Because the patient cooperates, dental scaling of human teeth performed by a professional trained in the procedures can be completed successfully without anesthesia. However, access to the subgingival area of every tooth is impossible in an unanesthetized canine or feline patient. Removal of dental tartar on the visible surfaces of the teeth has little effect on a pet's health, and provides a false sense of accomplishment. The effect is purely cosmetic.
- 3. Inhalation anesthesia using a cuffed endotracheal tube provides three important advantages: the cooperation of the patient with a procedure it does not understand, elimination of pain resulting from examination and treatment of affected dental tissues during the procedure, and protection of the airway and lungs from accidental aspiration.
- 4. A complete oral examination, which is an important part of a professional dental scaling procedure, is not possible in an unanesthetized patient. The surfaces of the teeth facing the tongue cannot be examined, and areas of disease and discomfort are likely to be missed.
Dr. Mansfield's opinion
Regardless of who provides the NPDS, it is wrong. It is wrong for a groomer to do it. It is wrong for a breeder to do it. It is wrong for an owner to do it on their own pets (even if they are a registered dental hygienist -- they should know better). It is very very wrong for any employee of a veterinary facility to offer this service and it is even more wrong to accept payment for such harmful treatment. When offered within the context of a veterinary facility, even if it is at the grooming center next door, the client has a right to assume that the treatment is safe and medically beneficial. Since NPDS is neither, it is wholly inappropriate to offer it.
The only safe way to do a thorough dental examination and to provide therapeutically beneficial dental treatment is with the animal under a surgical plane of general anesthesia with a properly fitted, cuffed endotracheal tube in place.