Frequently Asked Pet Dentistry Questions

Some of the most frequent questions we get are: Does my animal have to be anesthetized to get its teeth cleaned?  Why is dentistry so expensive?  Why is there such a range in the estimate you provided?

First, appropriate dental care requires anesthesia.  If you have ever been to a dentist yourself, you know how uncomfortable it is for them to probe around in your mouth.  You also know what it is like to have X-rays taken of your teeth and holding bite-wing x-ray films in your mouth.  A dog or cat will simply not tolerate these procedures awake.  To clean teeth appropriately, they must be cleaned above and below the gumline.  Again, a dog or cat will not tolerate the ultrasonic or hand scaler being inserted below the gums.  The teeth have to be polished after they are cleaned or tartar will form even faster than before the cleaning.  All of these procedures are done on the lip side and the tongue side of the teeth.  Anyone who tells you they are doing appropriate cleaning on an awake patient is simply not telling the truth.

We use a digital dental x-ray sensor for our X-rays.  This is a very expensive piece of equipment used in the place of film.  We cannot risk the patient biting down on the equipment.
We have our fingers in the mouth and cannot risk having them bitten as well.

Dentistry is expensive because it requires special equipment and training.  It is also incredibly time-consuming.  Some dental procedures can take up to two hours of anesthesia time.  There are many steps to appropriate dental care.  Read on for more about that.

Finally, yes, there is a large range in the estimate.

As mentioned above, a full oral assessment cannot be achieved in an awake patient.  The patient must be anesthetized for several reasons.

1

We need to perform full-mouth radiographs.

You have likely experienced this at your dentist. At least once a year they perform dental X-rays. In an animal 1/2 to 2/3 of every tooth is below the gum. By definition, periodontal disease starts below the gums. Probing of these areas may reveal disease but without radiographs, we will miss many disease processes and cannot consider the evaluation complete. If teeth need to be extracted we need to take radiographs after extraction to make sure no root tips are left behind.
2

We need to probe the periodontal pockets.

This is not a comfortable procedure.
3

We need to clean the crowns AND below the gum with our ultrasonic scaler.

An awake patient simply will not let this happen.
4

We need to polish the teeth after cleaning.

5

If one or more teeth need to be extracted it may be simple or surgical extraction.

Teeth with multiple or larger roots need to have the gum elevated, the bone burred away and the roots sectioned and removed one at a time. Then the bone needs to be smoothed and contoured, another radiograph taken, and the gum sutured back in place. This is a time-consuming procedure.

Other procedures like bone grafting and root planing may need to be done.

Until the patient is fully anesthetized, radiographs and probing are complete, we cannot give you a more accurate idea of cost.   A dental procedure can take anywhere from one hour to several hours depending on the severity of the disease.

Potential complications that could occur include:

  • Need for referral if the extent of disease is deemed too severe and potential risk too great to complete here.   For example: If a larger tooth in the lower jaw has severe periodontal disease weakening the bone and the risk of jaw fracture during extraction is too great, referral will be required.   This is true in human dentistry as well.  Your dentist will refer you to a specialist (oral surgeon or endodontist) for more complicated things like extraction of impacted teeth, difficult root canals, etc.
  • Jaw fracture during extraction- is always a potential risk
  • Incomplete extraction – root fragments that are bonded to bone due to a process called ankylosis, etc.
  • Gum flap failure- this is where the sutures where the gum is sutured together fail.   This requires repair under anesthesia
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Infection

This list is not intended to be an exhaustive list of potential complications but a list of the more common complications.

We hope this helps you understand the nature of dental care and the wide range of the estimate.  As always, please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.