Accusations dog pet teeth cleaning procedure

Veterinarians say 'scaling' is ineffective while practitioners say it's safe, cosmetic option
By: Josh Fernandez The Press Tribune
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An argument played out for years in California between veterinarians and pet businesses has recently reached a new intensity in Placer County. The argument surrounds a teeth-cleaning practice for pets where veterinary dental technicians offer the owners of pet-centric businesses a percentage of their profit if they can set up a makeshift teeth cleaning shop on the establishment’s premises. Sounds harmless, but opponents say the procedure, known as scaling, is performed by people who are untrained in veterinary dental techniques. The anesthesia-free procedure utilizes sonic and ultrasonic tools to remove buildup and tartar from an animal’s teeth. Veterinarian Robert Mansfield, who owns Granite Bay Veterinary Clinic with his wife Karen, says anesthesia is necessary for a thorough dental cleaning. “Under anesthesia, an animal has to have every circumference of a tooth looked at. That’s the only way a scaling instrument can get under the gum line,” Mansfield said. “It isn’t just a crown issue when you’re dealing with dental issues.” A statement issued by the American Veterinary Dental College outlines many reasons why anesthesia-free dental scaling isn’t advisable – including danger to pet’s oral tissue, pain, overall ineffectiveness and the inability for the patient to receive a full examination during the procedure because anesthesia is not used. Mansfield says the practice is unquestionably against the law. “These people need to be fined,” he said. “Or arrested.” That may sound harsh, but the practice – when performed by anyone other than a veterinarian – is technically against the law, according to the California Code of Regulations, which states that it’s unlawful for non-professionals to practice veterinary dental operations by a non-professional. “Anybody can basically use cotton swabs, gauze, dental floss, toothbrushes or anything similar to clean an animal’s teeth. Anything beyond that would need to be under the direct supervision of a veterinarian,” said Monica Ochoa of the Veterinary Medical Board’s enforcement department. But Ochoa says the veterinary board has its hands tied. “We receive a lot of unlicensed activity complaints regarding dentistry,” she said. “However, we don’t have much to go on because they don’t have a license with us. There’s only so much we can do as far as prosecution.” Mansfield said he’s outraged that the Veterinary Medical Board hasn’t shut these operations down. His wife, Karen Mansfield, says she’s appalled by the apathy exhibited by the veterinary board. “They claim they don’t have the manpower,” she said. “These operations are nationwide and they make a lot of money doing it … It’s like they’re getting away with it.” The Mansfields are so upset they’ve taken matters into their own hands by walking into the businesses and warning them about dangers brought on by allowing non-professional scaling into their establishments. “Most of the owners throw them out,” he said. “But a lot do not.” One business the Mansfields visited was The Doggie Bag in Granite Bay. Owner Sherrie Ammirato says the service is simply offered as a cosmetic cleaning and nothing more. “They’re not assuming the role of a vet. All they do is deal with the surface of the tooth. They don’t go below the gum line. It’s purely cosmetic,” she said. “If there’s a problem – if the dog has gingivitis or periodontal disease – then we tell them they need to go to their vet.” The company that sets up shop in The Doggie Bag, Canine Care, is based in Redding, Calif. and has been in business since 1979. Its owner Cindy Collins maintains that what she is doing is completely legal, although she’s had some legal trouble. “I had two court cases with the vet board,” she said. “I won both of them.” The legal dispute hinges on a section of California code that isn’t clear about which tools are permitted by non-veterinarians and which aren’t. In 1988, the Superior Court of San Joaquin County ruled that scaling devices are permitted “as long as those devices are not used between the gum and tooth areas,” according to court documents. Collins, who lost a dog to anesthesia as a child, points to statistics showing that anesthesia can be harmful to pets. According to a 1999 study by the American Animal Hospital Association, one in every 233 dogs died under anesthesia and one in every eight dogs suffered complications stemming from anesthesia. “Veterinarians recommend teeth-cleaning about every six months for animals,” Collins said. “Are you going to put your dog under anesthesia 20-plus times during its lifetime?” But Mansfield insists that non-anesthesia can cause harm, too. “On their websites I think I see them using ultrasonic scalers, which can be damaging if they’re not using the right tips and they get under the gum too long it can actually burn tissues,” he says. “Plus, you’re telling people that ‘Yes, in my estimation, everything is fine.’ Well, your estimation is zip because you have no training on pathology and what oral health actually amounts to.” Josh Fernandez can be reached at