Is Cleaning Your Pet’s Teeth At Home A Good Idea?

Keeping your pet’s teeth clean and healthy is an important part of their overall health.  In fact, many much more serious diseases can begin to manifest directly because of poor oral health, in addition to the classic “bad breath” that many pets have.

Because of this, several companies have begun to operate that provide teeth cleaning in the home, promising to tackle the problem of bad breath and tartar build up.

The Alberta Veterinary Medical Association (ABVMA) has taken a keen interest in these companies, primarily because they consider teeth cleaning and other similar services to be practicing veterinary medicine in Alberta .. and these companies are not operated by licensed veterinarians.

Even though these teeth cleaning companies go out of their way to emphasize they are not intended to replace a veterinarian and that their services are only for cosmetic purposes, it doesn’t seem to matter.  The ABVMA has taken an aggressive approach and issues cease and desist letters to any company offering these services, when they are not being operated by a licensed veterinarian.

We have clients ask us about these services, and whether we recommend them.  And since this topic has been in the media lately, a lot of people are asking the questions.

So where does Vets To Go stand on these services?

First, anything that shines a spotlight on keeping your pet’s teeth healthy and clean is a good thing.  One of the positive results of this media attention is that more pet owners are thinking about their own pet’s teeth and oral hygiene, which is a great thing.

The real question about these services for us is this:  What value do they ultimately provide to a pet?

The issue resolves around the fact that in order to properly clean an animal’s teeth, it’s necessary to get below the gum line and ensure that you’re cleaning all of the tartar buildup and debris that may be present.  Of course, digging beneath the gums is not a pleasant sensation for the animal, and it cause discomfort or even pain if there is any infection or disease.

The challenge is that unless you are a licensed veterinarian, you’re not legally allowed to prescribe or dispense medication such as sedatives or anaesthesia, which reduces or eliminates the discomfort for the pet.  As a result, you either cannot go deep enough to complete the cleaning properly, or you have to pin the animal down and cause pain and discomfort to them.  Clearly, neither alternative is very positive for the animal.

Additionally, someone who is not licensed as a veterinarian or health technician has no formal or recognized certifications or training that can be independently monitored and enforced.  in other words, even though some people claim to have certifications, those certifications are usually provided by a private organization that doesn’t fall under independent scrutiny or enforcement.

The truth is that anyone can claim to be “certified”.  However, it’s important that you look beyond that label and understand what formal, professional training they have, and whether they are licensed by any independent body that has legal standing.

What does this mean to you?  If a licensed professional performs work and you’re not happy or you feel they were somehow negligent, you can appeal to the governing body (like the ABVMA if it’s a vet) and there is a formal process that is implemented.  With someone who’s unlicensed, you’re on your own if something goes wrong, and there’s no governing body that can undertake an investigation or implement sanctions or penalties if problems are discovered.

The other concern is that when you begin to remove tartar build up in a cat or dog, there is a real risk that you uncover more serious problems such as periodontal disease and other issues beneath the surface.  While having tartar is not a good thing, in part the role tartar can play is to keep deeper problems covered up.  If the tartar is removed, it can then expose more serious problems, expose nerves and create significant pain and problems for the animal.

At Vets To Go, we’ve considered what kind of services such as this that we could offer to our own clients, since we regularly get asked.

The position we’ve taken is that while it’s possible to perhaps remove some tartar buildup and do minor cleaning on site, the risks of doing so outweigh the benefits that would be delivered.

Often times when an animal has significant tartar build up, there are other problems with their teeth and/or mouth that require additional work — most of which would require them being under anaesthesia, which cannot be done outside of a proper clinical environment that has the necessary equipment to ensure the animal’s safety and well being.

Vets To Go provides all dental cleaning and oral surgery services to our clients, and we do so by having our doctors perform surgery in a clinic as required.

While it may seem that at least removing tartar is better than doing nothing – and this may sometimes be true – the risk of uncovering more serious problems and putting the animal in unintended pain and discomfort is not a risk we want to take, particularly when we do not have all the necessary equipment right there to deal with whatever issues may be uncovered.  It’s also not a risk that we advise our clients to take either.

As for using any service operating without a licensed veterinarian, we would advise our clients to be cautious and recognize that there are risks that may not be obvious, but are real.

If you have any concerns about your pet in terms of tartar build up or any other oral hygiene issues, or if they seem to be having discomfort with eating or drinking, give us a call and we can perform a complete exam on them.  Part of our “Nose To Tail” exam is thoroughly inspecting their teeth, mouth and throat.  In doing so, we can then provide our advice as to what work may need to be done and how to best treat the issues found.

Keeping your pet’s teeth clean and maintaining their overall oral hygiene is extremely important, and we hope that this article helps you better understand the realities of teeth cleaning and giving you the information to make an informed decision.

If you have any questions at all, or you’d like to schedule an exam for your pet, feel free to give us a call at 1-888-995-8387.

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