Effective dental care for pets requires anesthesia


Q: My holistic vet says my 10 year old cat Moses has rotten teeth and at least one tooth has fallen out. Due to his age, I don’t want him anesthetized for dental work, so the vet said he would clean his teeth using only essential oils and light. I’m afraid Moses is feeling stressed. What should I know about dentistry without anesthesia?

A: We veterinarians have a saying: age is not a disease. So, as long as a physical exam and lab work show that Moses is healthy, anesthesia poses no more risk to him than to a younger cat.

Unfortunately, non-anaesthetic dentistry (AFD), also called non-anaesthetic dentistry (NAD), does not treat dental disease. He only cleans the visible crown of the tooth, giving the false impression that Moses’ mouth is healthy.

Most dental diseases hide in the roots of the teeth and in the plaque just below the gums. Plaque is a sticky bacterial film that spreads infection to the gums and, through the bloodstream, to the kidneys, liver and heart.

Removing plaque from under tender gums is a delicate and demanding procedure requiring the use of sharp instruments on an animal that remains motionless. The only way to do an effective job is with anesthesia, which will spare Moses the stress of being restrained and any pain associated with the procedure.

Teeth that are too damaged to salvage will need to be removed so they don’t continue to harbor bacteria and cause pain. Anesthesia is required for dental x-rays and extractions.

Experts who have evaluated the research on dentistry without anesthesia take a strong stand against it. The American Animal Hospital Association says this is “unacceptable” (see arkansasonline.com/627no/). The American Veterinary Dental College also opposes this and provides a wealth of useful information on afd.avdc.org.

If your holistic vet is not comfortable with Moses’ anesthesia, dental x-rays, and all necessary dental treatment, please consult with a dentistry vet or general vet who loves dentistry and uses anesthesia. Moses will receive the care he needs without the stress and pain associated with ineffective dentistry.

Q: We adopted Princess, a little puppy who is a mix of a few toy breeds. Now about 6 months old, she has extra fangs and probably more teeth. Is it a problem?

A: Yes. Princess’ mouth only has room for one set of teeth, and any extra teeth will cause trouble.

It looks like she has a condition called retained baby teeth, which occurs when baby teeth don’t fall out but persist where permanent adult teeth should erupt. The fangs, or canines, are most commonly affected, but all baby teeth can be retained.

The disorder is very common, especially in miniature breeds and other small dogs.

Puppies normally have 28 milk teeth. By 6 or 7 months they should all be gone and all 42 adult teeth should be in place.

When a baby tooth remains, the corresponding adult tooth is forced to erupt in an abnormal position, usually inside the baby tooth. The exception is the adult canine tooth, which erupts closer to the incisors, the frontmost teeth.

Food gets stuck between overcrowded teeth causing periodontal disease. In addition, the adult root does not have room to form properly, so the “permanent” tooth is more likely to fall out.

Make an appointment with your veterinarian now, as it is best to extract retained baby teeth as soon as possible so that adult teeth can develop properly.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at



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