Dental month is now over but dentistry is important throughout the year.  Veterinarians have long told pet lovers about the importance of good dental care. However, danger is lurking.  Conscientious pet owners are being misled by aggressive marketing of a ‘fad’ option, “Non-Anesthesia Pet Dentistry” (NAPD).

This trend, using unlicensed and unsupervised individuals, advocates non-anesthetic techniques that may actually be harmful to pets.

 Statistics from the American Veterinary Dental Society report at least 80% of pets by age three show signs of periodontal (gum) disease. 

Good dental hygiene should start at home. A healthy oral regimen includes brushing, good dental diets, dental chew materials, and other effective techniques to retard accumulation of dental plaque.  

This regimen should be augmented with regular dental exams by a licensed veterinarian.  According to American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), dental exams for cats and small dogs should start at one year of age and large-breed dogs at two years.   

While the concept of a non-anesthetic dental initially appears to make sense, a pet dental exam without anesthesia is purely cosmetic in nature. 

Beneficial or Not? Cosmetic or Preventive?

According to AAHA, “Dental cleanings that are done without an anesthetic will make your pet’s teeth prettier, but not healthier.” 

Non-anesthetic procedures are inappropriate and potentially harmful to the pet for several important reasons: 

  • A comprehensive oral exam is not possible without anesthesia. Under safe anesthetic, veterinarians can probe all areas of the mouth and use appropriate tools to remove plaque and bacteria from under the gum line.  This actually stops the disease process. 
  • Hidden dental disease is present in more than 28% of dogs and 42% of cats. Much of the dental disease can only be detected with the use of X-ray equipment. Dental x-rays can additionally pinpoint other potential problem areas.  Professional dental cleaning requires scaling both above and below the gingival margin (gum line) followed by dental polishing.  Without anesthesia, Non-Professional Dental Scaling does not go below the gum line resulting in a cosmetic only treatment with little to no benefit for the pet.
  • Veterinary dental exams and procedures with anesthesia provide pet safety and comfort.  Pets are not always tolerant of prodding fingers, sharp tools or loud instruments near their mouth.  Injuries have occurred to both pets and people as the animals become frightened or agitated without appropriate sedation.


Legal or Not?

It is pretty clear from a legal standpoint, according to the American Veterinary Dental College, “anyone providing dental services other than a licensed veterinarian, or a supervised and trained veterinary technician, is practicing veterinary medicine without a license and is subject to criminal charges”. 

Lawsuits are on the rise against these illegal clinics.  Some horrific cases have gone to court and even border on “malpractice” such as in this California case:  Veterinary Medical Board (VMB) of California vs. Canine Care Inc., involving a citation by a pet owner for injuries sustained during a teeth cleaning process at an NAPD “salon”.  The pet’s jaw was broken in three places by placing a splint in the animal’s mouth while removing plaque and tartar with a dental scraper and, of course, without anesthetic.

According to presiding Judge Dash, “Under California law, these types of procedures MUST be performed or supervised by a licensed veterinarian.”  Judge Dash ruled that Canine Care was in essence practicing medicine without a license.

Despite the ruling, Canine Care continues to provide this work to the tune of about $7.5 million per year.  Obviously, proponents of these illegal NAPD businesses continue for revenue purposes rather than the proper and humane care of pets. 

By providing a service that is cosmetic and not preventive consumers are left with a false sense of accomplishment.  At best, this is an incomplete process and most do not know it is being done against the law. 

Dr. Brett Beckman, a fellow in the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry, says that “these (NAPD) procedures do much more harm than good.  Pets that have had this done actually need to return for more frequent cleanings as a result of enamel damage done by these people.  This might be good for the business, but it is certainly not good for the pet.”

Scare tactics regarding the use of anesthesia are the primary marketing tools for NAPD services.  Although anesthesia will never be 100% risk free, most patients—even older pets– can safely be anesthetized.  Chronic oral infection, often precipitated by these unsupervised people, is actually a much greater risk than anesthesia.

Pet owners might choose to follow recommended guidelines for anesthesia because of legal, preventive or comfort reasons, but, ultimately it is in the pet’s best interest to use the veterinarian. Good oral care can only be done by licensed veterinarians and with proper anesthetic procedures.

To learn more about pet dentistry, visit the Pet Library at