The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) warned pet owners of the health risks posed by lay dental practitioners offering "anaesthesia-free dentistry".
An increasing number of non-veterinary companies are offering cleaning and scaling on conscious pets, but the AVA said the practice does not provide adequate dental care and can be harmful to the animals.
Anaesthesia-free dentistry involves the fully conscious pet being physically restrained so dental instruments, and sometimes power scalers, can be used to remove calculus from the teeth.
Dr Tara Cashman, President of the Australian Veterinary Dental Society said that the term "anaesthesia-free dentistry" is misleading for pet owners as the procedure is purely cosmetic and fails to identify serious problems such as dental disease. Dental disease is common in Australian pets. If untreated, it can be painful and lead to chronic health concerns.
"Cleaning the visible surface above the gum line makes the teeth look superficially clean but will not detect dental disease present below the gum line, and thus provides no medical benefit," Dr Cashman said.
She said it is impossible to complete a thorough oral examination including checking every single tooth especially sub-gingivally (below the gum line), the tongue, palate and oropharynx (back of the throat) in a conscious animal. X-rays cannot be taken when the pet is awake.
"Most lay operators have no animal handling qualifications and are certainly not licensed to diagnose, medicate or radiograph any pet. They may have the best intentions, along with the pet owner to care for the pet's oral health but anaesthesia-free dentistry is not best practice for the animal," Dr Cashman said.
But it's not just dental health that should be concerning pet owners, restraining an animal and forcing it to undergo an uncomfortable procedure over an extended period of time can increase anxiety and make it more difficult for future examinations to occur.
"The animal must be physically restrained, which can lead to significant anxiety. As the animal is conscious, it will be fully aware of any pain involved in the procedure and this can lead to longer-term anxiety and aversion to being touched around the face and muzzle," Dr Cashman said.
Dental instruments need to be very sharp to debride calculus and plaque from the teeth and could easily injure a handler or patient as the patient moves. Fractious animals mayscratch or bite also. There is no way to protect the airway from aerosolised bacteria or fluids including blood, saliva and scaler coolants further endangering the patient.
The anaesthetic ensures the experience is a positive one for your pet because it is unaware of the pain during the procedure and doesn't need to be physically restrained.