Choosing the Right Vet for Your Pet

Dentistry with Anesthesia: The Right Pairing for Your Pet's Oral Health Care

Veterinary practices are successfully anesthetizing patients almost every day to perform spays, neuters, mass removals and other surgical procedures. When it comes to dental procedures, however, many owners are inquiring about anesthesia-free dentistry for their pets. While some of these owners are seeking to minimize the cost of the procedure, most of them voice concerns that reflect their fears of potential anesthetic dangers. Understanding why a dental procedure cannot be performed without anesthesia and what veterinarians can do to maximize the safety of anesthesia in your cat or dog will enable you to make a confident decision when it comes to scheduling your pet's dental procedure.

Without Anesthesia, It Is Not Dentistry

When a dental procedure is performed on your pet, a series of steps must take place to achieve the goal of restored oral health. These steps typically include the following:

  • A visual inspection of your pet's teeth is made, observing for broken, worm or cracked teeth, loosened teeth, gingivitis, missing teeth, dental crowding and retained baby teeth. Each tooth is probed at the gum line to measure its gingival pocket depth. Any abnormalities, along with the level of tartar accumulation on each tooth, are notated on a dental chart.
  • The crown of each tooth is scaled on all surfaces and just underneath the gum line with a combination of ultrasonic scaling equipment and hand scaling instruments.
  • If your veterinary clinic is equipped with a dental x-ray unit, x-rays are taken of your pet's teeth to evaluate the structural integrity and health of the roots, which cannot otherwise be visualized.
  • If your pet requires any extractions, these will be performed.
  • Your pet's teeth are polished and rinsed.

This entire procedure cannot be performed on an animal that has not been anesthetized. The pet does not understand what is happening, and it will be less than cooperative. The only part of the procedure that is performed on a patient without anesthesia is the scaling and polishing of the front surfaces of the teeth. For this reason, the American Veterinary Dental College refers to anesthesia-free dentistry as non-professional dental-scaling (NPDS), and it equates to little more than a cosmetic procedure that offers no medical health benefits.

Benefits of Anesthesia

While your dog or cat is under anesthesia, it is immobilized. Your veterinarian can move your pet's head freely and carry out the necessary tasks in the mouth. This eliminates any danger of your pet being accidentally injured with sharp instruments as a result of sudden movement. Additional benefits of using anesthesia during dental procedures include the following:

  • Dental x-ray plates can be properly positioned in your pet's mouth for diagnostic quality radiographs.
  • Your pet will not feel pain if extractions and suturing are performed.
  • Periodontal disease can be treated since an anesthetized patient will not fight against scaling under the gum line. This is where most dental disease occurs.

Anesthesia Safety Guidelines

It is natural to be worried about your furry friend's safety when it comes to anesthesia. Have a conversation with your veterinarian, and ask if the following protocols are carried out for pets that are undergoing anesthetic procedures:

  • Pre-anesthetic blood panels to screen the pet's overall health status beforehand
  • Intravenous catheter placement and fluid administration
  • Pre-anesthetic sedation to reduce the pet's stress level
  • Intubation with an endotracheal tube
  • Administration of pain management medications so that the anesthetic plane can be maintained as low as possible
  • Administration of heat therapy during the procedure and during recovery
  • Use of monitoring equipment to monitor all vital signs, including blood oxygen saturation levels, heart and respiratory rates, blood pressure and body temperature. 
  • Continued patient monitoring throughout post-anesthesia recovery

If your veterinarian ensures that these tasks are performed, and if he or she refuses to perform a dental procedure without anesthesia, then you can rest assured that you have a reputable veterinarian who will carry out your pet's dental care with your pet's safety and long-term oral and overall health in mind.

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