By Christie Keith
December 29, 2006
The other day I went to get a haircut, a manicure and pedicure. In order to be licensed to do my hair, my hairdresser had to attend 1,200 hours of training and pass a state board exam, with a couple hundred of those hours spent on issues pertaining to health and safety: Sanitation, recognizing some common diseases of the skin and scalp, how to work safely with chemicals such as bleach, perm solution, and hair color. The manicurist also had to go to school, although only for a few hundred hours total, but much of that was spent learning how to recognize nail and skin diseases and parasites, as well as proper sanitation.
So, knowing all that, I quite naturally asked them if theyâ€™d be willing to clean my teeth, because I didnâ€™t have time to get to my dentist before the holidays.
OK, I didnâ€™t, because Iâ€™m not, you know, stupid. And yet, it seems that pet owners are thought to be that stupid, and some of us apparently actually are, because there are a few dog and cat groomers who market a service they call â€œanesthesia-free dental cleanings.â€
Your ears perhaps perked up when you heard that. Who doesnâ€™t want to avoid the risks of anesthesia for their pets, especially older or sick pets? We donâ€™t need full anesthesia to get our teeth cleaned, so really, why do our pets? And it would certainly be nice to get all that nasty tartar off your dogâ€™s or catâ€™s teeth, and have a fresh, clean mouth breathing in your face first thing in the morning again.
It sounds even more appealing, because many of the people offering this service have invented official-sounding names for what they do, such as â€œpet dental hygienist,â€ which really does sound an awful lot more qualified than â€œgroomer,â€ even though itâ€™s not.
Since there is no such thing as a â€œpet dental hygienist.â€
There are, of course, registered and certified veterinary technicians with special training in veterinary dentistry, who work with veterinarians. And one such specially trained vet tech is Nancy Campbell, RVT, VDT.
Nancy has a terrific blog called Vet Techs, and she posted there one day about the dangers of unqualified people doing medical procedures — which is what dentistries are — on dogs and cats. And in the way of the Internets, eventually her post found its way to the attention of the people whose actions she was criticizing, at which point they engaged in a civil discussion of their differences, allowing pet owners to examine all sides of the issue and make up their own minds, right?
Hi, new around here?
No, they descended on her blog with a storm of abuse and vitriol more appropriate for a serial killer than a vet tech. Nearly every one of these posts was, of course, anonymous, because itâ€™s hard to be quite as vicious as some of these people were and then sign your name.
The thing is, Nancyâ€™s position is basically unassailable. The type of tooth scraping that can be done on a dog or cat without anesthesia is cosmetic only; it might make the owner happy, but it does nothing at all to detect or prevent or treat dental disease in pets.
It also runs the substantial risk of infecting the bloodstream with oral bacteria, which can lead to kidney, heart, and other infections and disease — something that no groomer or â€œpet dental hygienistâ€ can diagnose or treat. And most critically, debris from the mouth can be inhaled, causing pneumonia and other respiratory complications — something that can only be avoided if the pet is intubated during the procedure.
Nancyâ€™s primary concern is that the promotion of such services only makes owner fears of anesthesia worse, making it harder for her to do her job, and setting pets up for serious health consequences. One of the vets who commented on her post included a link to photos of a dog who was getting such â€œanesthesia-free dental cleaningsâ€ for years, who had to have many of his teeth removed, and whose mouth was an infected mess.
The real culprit in dental disease is not the tartar you can see, but the bacterial growth you canâ€™t see, under the gums, in gingival pockets, and in the bone. Itâ€™s not possible to properly examine a petâ€™s mouth while theyâ€™re awake, let alone actually probe gingival pockets and detect infection in the bone. Scraping off the visible tartar may make the teeth prettier; it does nothing for the petâ€™s health. And if it stops an owner from getting proper dental care for a pet who needs it, or masks a serious dental problem, causes aspiration pnuemonia, or worst of all, seeds the bloodstream with oral bacteria, how is this a good thing? How is this safer than anesthesia?
Check out Nancyâ€™s thoughts, and then check out the thoughts of the American Veterinary Dental College â€¦ and think long and hard before letting your
hairdresser petâ€™s groomer clean your his teeth.