There is a recent fad that is re-emerging in the realm of small animal veterinary dentistry. Unlicensed and unregulated individuals who have marketed the term “Anesthesia-free” or “non-anesthetic” dentistry (NAD) are exploiting client’s fears of anesthesia and economic hardships to perform dental procedures on awake patients. On the surface, this sounds like a fabulous idea to save owners money and to avoid anesthesia. Some veterinarians across the country are even providing this “service” in their offices. However, just like with dental disease, what we see on the surface is only the tip of the iceberg, and the dangerous stuff is hidden from view.

In reality, these procedures are not only ineffective and potentially more expensive, they are also harmful to the patient. Clients may come into your practice requesting a less expensive, anesthesia-free alternative to dental cleanings. They may have heard about this from a friend or perhaps a groomer or lay person who is doing this. While you will not be able to convince everyone that NAD is not in their pet’s best interest, there are many reasons that the American Veterinary Dental College has spoken out against anesthesia-free dental procedures. Below are a few to help you understand the problems with NAD and be able to comfortably explain those to your clients.

First of all, a dental cleaning is a multi-step process. At a minimum, a thorough dental procedure requires supragingival and subgingival scaling, dental polishing, oral examination and dental charting, and ideally intraoral radiographs. Only the first step of this process, the supragingival scaling, can be performed in an awake patient. Even then, it is simply not possible to clean every tooth surface of every tooth, especially the lingual and palatal surfaces, and the most distal teeth (i.e.the molars).Besides, it’s not enough. The cleaning of the visible crowns of the teeth is a cosmetic procedure, making the teeth look clean, but providing no medical benefit whatsoever. In fact, when the teeth are scraped without polishing them smooth, the plaque and calculus build up more quickly. This is often touted as a reason to need more frequent treatment, but in fact it is actually an adverse complication from the procedure.