Dentistry by the Non-Professional

Would you ever allow your hair stylist to clean your teeth? Then why would you ever allow your groomer or any other self-proclaimed animal expert to clean your pet’s teeth? These services from non-professionals are frequently referred to as “Anesthesia-Free Dental Cleanings.” The truth is, a groomer or anyone for that matter who advertises or solicits you to clean your pet’s teeth without anesthesia is doing a disservice to you and your pet. Most importantly, in the state of Illinois it is illegal for any non-veterinarian to clean a pet’s teeth.

First, these individuals are not medically trained to recognize pathology and treat diseases of the oral cavity. Just removing the superficial tarter or calculus on the teeth is strictly cosmetic. Sure, to the untrained eye the teeth may look “sparkling white,” but they may not be healthy, and this may give you, the pet owner, the false sense of security that your pet’s oral cavity is free of disease and pain.

Recently, I had a client that just had its dog’s teeth cleaned by her groomer. Well, I examined the pet’s oral cavity and discovered a fourth premolar that had a tooth root abscess and an upper incisor tooth that was literally dangling. Sure the tooth surface was free of tarter – but this groomer missed the much larger problem — two obviously diseased teeth that needed immediate surgical attention.

Did you know that more than 70 percent of dental pathology occurs beneath the gum line and is never addressed by these unlicensed “dentists?” By not addressing this pathology, your pet’s health could be in jeopardy. Chronic dental disease can aggravate heart, kidney and liver disease. What’s more, chronic dental disease is painful and will frequently adversely affect your pet’s appetite and general well being.

My second argument: “Cleaning the teeth” or “removing the tarter” is accomplished by using an ultrasonic power scaler and sharp hand held instruments. Even a slight head movement by the pet could result in injury to their gums, and in self defense, the pet may bite the operator. (And rightly so!) Are you 100 percent confidant that your pet wouldn’t squirm even in the slightest if a total stranger came at her mouth with a sharp steel stick? I’ve heard horror stories from clients having their pets being restrained inhumanely just to get the “last bit of tarter” off the tooth. I’ve seen gums bruised and lacerated by non-professionals wielding dental scalers. This is, at least, an inhumane procedure to perform on our pets and at most a form of animal abuse.

Finally, a complete oral examination is an essential part of any professional dental cleaning procedure. This examination can only be performed by a medical professional that is trained to recognize and treat pathology in the oral cavity. And this just can’t be fully performed in an unanesthetized pet. The surfaces of the teeth facing the tongue can’t be examined nor can the teeth be properly probed with an instrument to assess for gingival pockets and oral pathology in an awake animal. Dental radiographs cannot be taken in an awake animal. Without dental radiographs dental root pathology cannot be visualized, nor properly addressed.

When we go to our dentist, we reluctantly, but obediently, open our mouths. But our pets don’t!

We wince when the dentist probes a painful area — but we do not thrash around in the chair and try to bite the dentist. But our pets do!

Imagine if you go to your dentist, he haphazardly scrapes the calculus off your teeth and then sends you out the door without any information regarding the health of your mouth. I believe nothing was accomplished in that situation and that dentist would be liable for practicing substandard dentistry. Well, that’s what it’s like when you have a non-veterinarian addressing your pet’s dental health.

I understand that people are afraid of anesthesia. I’m afraid of anesthesia, but I use it wisely and carefully every day. Fear does not give us the right to subject our pets to substandard care and potential injury by withholding anesthesia and subjecting them to “dental cleaning” by non-professionals. Today, with our modern medicine and sophisticated monitoring equipment, anesthesia has minimal risks to your healthy pet.

Be a compassionate and a smart pet owner. And don’t ever let a stylist do a dentist’s job. Choose a veterinarian who practices quality dental care for your pet’s next oral health examination and treatment.

As always, I welcome your email questions at

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