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How do the costs add up so quickly for a pet’s dental procedure?

Catherine Hageman, MS, DVM           February 8, 2020

 

This is a common question faced by small animal veterinarians and in order to best answer, this article describes the many components of a dental procedure that contribute to its cost. 

First, though, we should discuss the common follow-up question, “Why should I care if my pet’s teeth are clean?” It’s actually not just about sparkling white teeth and fresher breath, though they are certainly included in the positive outcomes. Oral health matters for pets for the same reason that it matters for us: it's all connected. The mouth can act as a port of entry for bacteria, allowing infection and inflammation to shower through the blood stream to the rest of the body. Pets also suffer significant oral pain related to fractured teeth, infection of the gums, and abscessed or loose teeth. 

Knowing what will happen before, during and after your pet’s dental procedure is helpful in understanding the total cost. (Note: these items can vary greatly between clinics and this article describes specifically what is employed at Westgate Pet Clinic.) 

 

  1. Much of the procedure’s cost is related to the use of general anesthesia. In order to thoroughly examine your pet’s mouth, they must be put under anesthesia. Some of the molar teeth are tucked so far back in the mouth, they can’t be seen well in even the nicest and most compliant pet. You can imagine then that thoroughly assessing the teeth and gums for inflammation and infection in an awake pet would basically be impossible. Think about the in-depth exam, use of a dental probe to measure pockets along the gumline, dental x-rays and cleaning (above and below the gumline) that your dental hygienist often performs BEFORE your own dentist even walks into the room to discuss your oral health and formulate your dental plan – None of this is possible without anesthetizing your pet. Anesthesia also facilitates safe and comfortable polishing, extractions and other oral surgery.

 

  1. Pre-anesthetic blood tests may be performed on either in-house equipment or at an outside laboratory. These tests help us better understand a pet’s overall health, identifying concerns that could impact their anesthetic, pain relief and / or fluid support plans. In-house lab equipment also allows immediate evaluation of important blood parameters if your pet should have a problem during or after anesthesia.

 

  1. Calming and pain-relieving pre-anesthetic medications, which may be provided in oral and/or injectable formulations, help reduce the amount of other anesthetic medications needed to complete your pet’s procedure. These medications improve safety and comfort, as well as smooth each individual’s recovery after general anesthesia. 

 

  1. An intravenous (IV) catheter is placed in every pet undergoing a dental procedure at Westgate Pet Clinic, though the presence of catheters varies between clinics. The IV catheter is used to administer drugs that induce anesthesia (complete loss of consciousness). A fluid pump helps administer and monitor IV fluids that maintain pets’ hydration, electrolyte balance and blood pressure. This is turn protects the heart and other major organs. The catheter may also be used to administer medications that are tailored to each pet’s pre-anesthetic blood test results, health concerns and response to anesthesia. Crucially, the catheter provides immediate access to the blood supply for administration of emergency drugs in the rare event of an adverse reaction. 

 

  1. Next, a special endotracheal (ET) breathing tube is placed to deliver oxygen and gas anesthesia. The ET tube also ensures that a pet’s airways are protected from liquids, medications and dental cleaning debris that could otherwise be aspirated into the lungs. Inhalant gas maintains pets’ unconsciousness and allows rapid adjustment in the depth of anesthesia. At Westgate Pet Clinic, the type of gas is chosen according to the individual patient’s underlying health concerns.

 

  1. Anesthetic monitoring equipment and protocols also vary from clinic to clinic. At Westgate Pet Clinic, all pets are monitored by multiple staff members using a variety of advanced equipment to increase the safety of anesthesia. Pulse oximeters measure the heart rate and concentration of oxygen in the blood. Additional equipment tracks heart rhythm and blood pressure, alerting the team immediately to dangerous changes and facilitating rapid adjustments in anesthesia and intravenous fluid administration. Body temperature is also monitored carefully, as hypothermia (dangerously low body temperature) delays recovery significantly and can impact the metabolism and safety of anesthesia.

 

  1. Dental radiographs (x-rays) are crucial to understanding the health of each tooth’s root below the gumline. Plaque is an invisible sticky film containing bacteria that adheres to teeth and if not frequently brushed away, may cause infection and inflammation at the root. As the roots are considerably longer than the exposed crown of the tooth, we are truly only seeing “the tip of the iceberg” when we don’t look below the surface. Some tooth root infections are obvious, but others are only detectable using x-rays. Also, many teeth have more than one root and x-rays allow the veterinarian to ensure roots are completely removed when extracting diseased teeth. Incompletely removed tooth roots can be an ongoing source of pain and infection. X-rays add time as well as cost to dental procedures, but are ideal to ensure hidden disease is discovered immediately and treated completely. For optimal detail, Westgate Pet Clinic has specialized digital dental x-ray equipment. 

 

  1. Pet dental procedures require similar drills, polishers and hand tools to those found at a human dental office. Ultrasonic scalers are commonly employed to help remove the heavy calculus (mineralized plaque) that can accumulate between dental procedures. 

 

  1. The level of staffing and training required for anesthetized dental procedures also adds significantly to costs. Your pet’s dental team at Westgate Pet Clinic consists of a licensed veterinarian, 1-2 certified veterinary technicians, and 1-2 specially trained veterinary assistants. Yes, that’s correct: 3-5 people dedicated to a pet’s safe anesthesia and recovery, effective pain relief, and thorough dental assessment, cleaning and treatment! The veterinarian assesses your pet’s oral and overall physical health, directs anesthesia and medications, assesses x-ray results, performs dental extractions and other surgical procedures, and determines the post-dental plan. The certified veterinary technicians play multiple roles: dental hygienist, dental assistant, phlebotomist (when drawing blood is needed), anesthesia and analgesia (pain relief) technician, and x-ray technician. Also crucial to the team are the veterinary assistants, specially trained to monitor and support pets’ core body temperatures to prevent hypothermia (as discussed above), as well as heart rates, oxygenation, blood pressure, general attitude, comfort and cleanliness before, during and after anesthetized procedures.

 

  1. A dental intervention often requires procedures in addition to routine assessment and cleaning. The need for extractions and for evaluation and/or surgical removal of oral tumors or other abnormal tissues varies with each pet. Dental extractions may require cutting gum tissue and/or bone to allow complete tooth root removal. Extractions may also require careful reconstruction and suturing for proper healing and prevention of infection. At Westgate Pet Clinic, in addition to oral and injectable pain relievers, local nerve blocks are administered prior to painful procedures for relief during and up to 8 hours after dental surgery. A laser may be used in the removal of abnormal gum tissue – this equipment is a significant additional cost in a veterinary hospital. Also, acupuncture may be offered by your veterinarian for pain, nausea and / or anxiety relief, and to generally speed recovery.

 

  1. Finally, there may be medications sent home with your pet that add to the cost of the procedure – antibiotics, anti-nausea medications, pain relievers and appetite support may be important components of your pet’s recovery.  Additional medications, based upon any pre-existing illnesses, may be added or adjusted after the procedure as well (e.g., insulin for diabetics, diuretics for heart patients). 

 

The items above vary significantly between clinics and also with a pet’s individual needs, but detail some of the many elements that contribute to the total cost of a pet’s dental procedure. However, there’s something else you should know: we here at Westgate Pet Clinic are extremely concerned about costs for our clients. We very much worry about how to provide the best care for the pets and clients we love, while still respecting individual family cost constraints. 

 

So in conclusion, if your veterinarian recommends a dental procedure, listen carefully and ask questions … because we truly want what’s best for your pet and want to help you in achieving that goal.

Our Mission:

We provide the quality care our clients expect and their pets deserve, by relying on the expertise and
compassion of each team member.

 
 
 

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Minneapolis, MN 55410
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