Feb 05 2013

More Dental Health FAQ’s from Harbor Animal Hospital



Question:  Why is cleaning my pet’s teeth more expensive than cleaning my teeth?  Why is it more expensive than the last time his teeth were cleaned a few years ago?

The cost of veterinary dental care has increased over the past few years primarily as a result of the advanced care we are now able to provide for our patients.  One example is the use of dental x-rays.  In the past, we had to rely on probing the teeth and intuition to decide which teeth were healthy and which required extraction.  X-rays now allow us to see the roots and accurately assess the health of each tooth.  We have also made significant advances in our ability to control pain.  We now use local Lidocaine blocks and multimodal injectable pain control both during and after the dental procedures.  This, combined with pre-anesthetic blood panels, intravenous fluid support and advanced monitoring equipment for your pet’s safety, all contribute to the increased cost of dental care.  Another factor that leads to the impression of high cost of veterinary dental care is the tendency to compare dental care for our pets to our own teeth cleaning.  This is not a fair comparison.  For the vast majority of us, when we have our teeth cleaned we are have a true preventative cleaning.  We seldom require advanced periodontal care, extractions or anesthesia.  Unfortunately, the majority of our patients already have significant dental disease by the time they are presented for “cleaning”.  The periodontal disease and the resultant need for extractions, pain control and antibiotics do increase the cost of the dental procedures.  Much of the work we do would be done by human oral surgeons and periodontists as opposed to dentists, and their fees, as is usually the case with human medicine, would be significantly higher than the fees for your pet.

Question:  The doctor has recommended extraction of some of my pet’s teeth but will he still be able to eat without these teeth?

 Yes.  Our goal in veterinary dental care is for our patients to have mouths free of infection and pain.  It is much better to have no teeth at all than to have an infected tooth with a root abscess or a painful broken tooth.  We have many dog and cat patients that are able to eat a regular diet with few or even no teeth! Sometimes a veterinary dental specialist can offer root canals or more advanced therapy to save teeth.  Our doctors will always offer referral if there is a possibility of saving teeth.

Question:  I can’t tell that my pet is in any pain even though he has broken teeth and red inflamed gums.  Wouldn’t he stop eating if he was in any pain?

Some pets will stop eating altogether when their teeth, bone, and gums hurt badly enough.  The vast majority, however, will find some tactic to keep eating.  They may chew on the other side of their mouths or swallow their kibble whole.  Pets have an extremely strong instinct to survive no matter what discomfort they feel.   Sometimes the symptoms of periodontal disease are so vague that we don’t notice them.  Pets may be reluctant to hold their toys in their mouths, be less playful, resent having their teeth brushed, have a hard time sleeping, or have no outward symptoms at all. Often, after we have treated broken teeth or extracted infected teeth, our patients’ parents tell us that they act more energetic and playful than they have in years!!

Question:  How often should a routine dental cleaning be performed?

Every patient is different so this is a hard question to answer.  Usually the smaller dogs should have their teeth cleaned earlier and more often because their teeth are more crowded in their mouths.  Bigger dogs may not develop tartar as quickly but their mouths should be monitored closely for any broken teeth.  Cats are all individuals and should be examine closely for any excessive gingivitis which may be an indication of some special cat diseases like resorptive lesions or stomatitis/gingivitis syndrome.  In general, it is not uncommon for dogs and cats over 5 or 6 years of age to need their teeth cleaned annually.

Question:  How can periodontal disease hurt my pet?

Periodontal disease is caused by infection of the bone and supporting structures of the teeth.  This infection causes significant pain for the pet.  The infection in the mouth can also be a source of infection for the liver, kidneys, heart and other internal organs.  These infections can be life threatening if not caught early and treated appropriately.

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