Dog dentist is an often-overlooked but important part of owning a dog.
Here’s a cautionary tale:
I was working as an assistant at a veterinary hospital when we had an owner bring in a small dog for choking noises and pawing at the face.
The veterinarian did a dog dental exam and quickly realized that the problem was being caused by a very loose tooth.
Unfortunately, it looked like his other teeth were following close behind. The dog dentist was able to easily pull out two others while the dog was heavily sedated. A hard, dark brown shell of built-up plaque covered his remaining teeth.
It exposed roots of teeth that are normally far below the gumline.
The dog had not received a dental cleaning in over 10 years, and it was very apparent. Dog dental cleaning cost is high and many owners don’t even know they have to do it.
So how can you avoid the same fate for your companion?
Below you will find everything you need to keep your dog’s teeth healthy and avoid a huge medical bill.
How important is dog dentist?
The health of your dog’s teeth can affect their behavior and overall health, so it is important that owners are proactive in preventative care. Periodontal disease, or a severe gum infection, is the primary cause of many dental problems. Moderate and severe periodontal disease can also affect your dog’s liver, kidneys, or heart if left untreated (source).
Anyone who has had even a minor toothache knows that it is extremely uncomfortable. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell when our furry companions are experiencing pain. It may manifest as undesirable behaviors and a “grumpy” attitude, and a decrease in appetite. So how do you go about finding a dog dentist to fix the problem?
Your Primary Care Veterinarian
Luckily, you already found one if you’ve taken your pet to a veterinary hospital.
Primary care veterinarians perform dental procedures regularly. Annual visits to your veterinarian involve a full physical exam, which includes an inspection of your dog’s teeth.
Veterinarians can estimate the level of periodontal disease and make treatment recommendations. Often, treatment includes a dental cleaning and possibly removal of affected teeth. Doing dog teeth cleaning regularly helps you prevent future health problems and the associated costs.
What Can Dog Dentist Do?
There are some common dental problems that veterinarians encounter almost every day. Veterinary specialists estimate that over 80% of dogs over three years old have some form of dental disease. Further, 66% of dogs over three years old have periodontal disease (source).
Periodontal disease begins with plaque. Plaque occurs when food, saliva, and bacteria in the mouth react and leave a tacky coat over your dog’s teeth. Over time, this plaque can harden and build up until it becomes tartar (also known as calculus). This is a hard substance that can only be removed from teeth by a professional dental cleaning. Plaque and tartar cause inflammation. This leads to gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), gum recession, and infection (source).
Wear and Tear
Another common dental problem in dogs is wearing down their teeth. Wear can happen at varying speeds depending on the dog’s toys and tendency to chew on hard objects.
If the enamel (outer layer of the tooth) is worn down too much, it can cause the exposure of the tooth “pulp.” The pulp is the innermost part of the tooth that contains nerves and blood vessels.
Exposure of the pulp results in severe pain. Wearing down the teeth can also make them more prone to fractures, or cracking (source). The probability of this occurring can be reduced by preventing your dog from chewing on hard objects like bones, antlers, and metal cages.
As mentioned above, fractures can occur due to weakening of the teeth, but can also result from trauma. Dogs can fracture their teeth when hit in the mouth by an object or if they fall. Fractures can also lead to pulp exposure and are often painful.
Unfortunately, sometimes fractures occur below the gumline and out of sight. These hidden fractures are often discovered by veterinarians taking x-rays during dental procedures. The fractured teeth often need to be removed to prevent further complications and ensure that the dog is comfortable.
Infections and Abscesses
Abscesses (collections of pus) and infections are also a frequent problem. These infections occur around the roots of the teeth and, like the previously mentioned conditions, are painful. Beyond causing discomfort, they often occur in the teeth of the upper jaw and have the potential to harm the eyes if they are left untreated.
Tooth resorption is the bone loss that occurs due to infection of the gum tissues. This loss can occur in the tooth’s root, the crown, or both. They usually find resorption when the veterinarian takes x-rays during a dental procedure.
Signs of a Problem
Now that we have gone over some of the most common dental problems, let’s talk about symptoms.
Early symptoms include redness and inflammation along the edge of the gums, and visible buildup or yellowing on the teeth (source). Unfortunately, many pet owners miss the early signs and only realize that there is a problem once more serious symptoms appear.
Bad Breath and Other Changes
Bad breath is one of the most obvious indications that something is wrong. If it goes beyond the usual “doggy breath,” it could mean periodontal disease. Your dog may also be hesitant to eat or have difficulty eating. They may avoid having their head touched, have blood in their saliva, or have nasal discharge. These are all indicators that your dog could suffer from severe periodontal disease (source).
Sometimes dogs may lose teeth during or after pregnancy.
Primary Care vs. Dog Dentist
Now we’ve covered why dental care is important. Next, let’s dive into the difference between primary care veterinarians and dental specialists.
Vet is not a Dog Dentist
Primary care veterinarians can perform routine dental cleanings and procedures. These can also include the extraction, or removal, of unhealthy teeth. They can usually correct the common problems listed above. If your dog needs major surgery or a more complex procedure, they will refer you to a specialist who is a board-certified veterinary dog dentist.
Typically, specialists only see patients on a referral from a primary care veterinarian.
Veterinarians who want to be board certified dog dentists are required to complete extra training in veterinary dentistry / animal dentistry. This training occurs after they receive their doctorate in veterinary medicine. After training is complete, they must pass an extensive exam to be certified by the American Veterinary Dental College.
So, when exactly would your pet need to see a certified dog dentist?
Specialists perform oral surgery. This includes repairing jaw fractures and removing growths or tumors inside of the mouth (source). Specialists also perform root canals and repair severe damage to teeth. Primary care veterinarians may also refer a patient to a specialist if the patient is “high risk.” This means that the patient is at a higher risk of complications during or after anesthesia.
Finding A Dog Dentist Near Me
The search for the best dog dentist begins by identifying well-liked veterinary hospitals in your area. Read reviews on Google and Yelp, and reviews on Facebook if the hospital has a business page. This will give you a good idea of customer satisfaction and common experiences at each practice. Most hospitals will also have a website with more information about all the services they offer.
American Animal Hospital Association
Another factor to consider in choosing a veterinary hospital is accreditation. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) is an organization that evaluates and accredits hospitals based on over 900 very strict standards for quality and care. Individual practices seek accreditation by AAHA.
This accreditation is not a legal requirement of operating a veterinary hospital. Since it is optional, and a lot of work for hospitals to get and maintain, only about 15% of all veterinary practices in the U.S. are accredited by AAHA (source). These practices are required to undergo a thorough inspection every three years to keep their accredited status.
In two states, they can take part in this inspection instead of an inspection by the state since the standards of AAHA are so high (source). Both general and specialty practices can undergo this process to become accredited. The AAHA website has a helpful tool to search for qualified hospitals in your area.
Opt for Anesthesia
Some veterinarians offer “anesthesia free” dental cleanings. They promote it as a safer alternative for your pet since the pet is not under anesthesia at any time.
Every anesthetic procedure carries a certain amount of risk. However, dental procedures cannot be done effectively while the patient is awake. Dog dentist performing the procedure cannot take x-rays and see hidden problems or clean below the gumline.
Another thing to consider is the stress on your pet. The whole procedure takes place while they are awake and restrained by veterinary staff. This can scare your dog, and their reactions might cause harm to themselves or the people working with them.
Cost of Dental Procedures
The cost of veterinary services can often seem overly expensive to pet owners. When it comes to veterinary dentistry, the price may seem high, but dog dental cleaning cost may be lowered. Regular dental cleanings can save you money in the long run. Preventative dental care can help you avoid the costs of kidney, liver, or heart problems that could come from periodontal disease.
The cost of the procedure depends on a variety of factors. These could include the size of your dog, the anesthetic drugs used, or how many teeth need to be removed or repaired. Dog dental cleaning cost is high and many owners don’t even know they have to do it. Dog dental cleaning cost has a wide range. A simple dental cleaning will be less expensive than a procedure that requires teeth to be removed due to damage, infection, or bone loss.
Paying for the Gold Standard
However, the total cost covers much more than anesthesia, cleaning, and repairs. There is a “gold standard” of care that has been outlined by the leading organizations in veterinary dentistry (source).
These standards include an exam by a doctor and laboratory blood tests before the procedure.
During the procedure, the patient should receive intravenous (IV) fluids and heat support from a heating pad. Their vitals (heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, etc.) should be monitored at all times. The veterinarian should take x-rays of the mouth and keep detailed records of any findings.
After the procedure, the patient should be sent home with pain medications (if needed) and later return for a recheck examination.
Get a Dog Dentist Cost Estimate From Your Vet
Due to many factors and differences in hospital prices and policies, it is hard to determine how much a dental procedure will cost. The total price can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. The best way to get an accurate number is to ask your veterinarian at your dog’s next exam. They can create an estimate that lists all the included items and their respective prices.
Your veterinarian can also talk with you about pet insurance, and which companies cover dental procedures.
Steps to Keep the Dog Dentist Away
Luckily, there are things you can do at home to minimize the possibility of serious dental disease for your furry friend. All you need is a toothbrush, treats, and patience.
Always make sure you give your dog food made from quality ingredients.
The most important step you can take at home is brushing your dog’s teeth. Studies have shown that brushing their teeth every day is best for gum health and preventing plaque from forming (source 1, 2). This has been clinically shown to keep the gums healthy and prevent periodontal disease for up to four years (source 1, 2).
You can find a toothbrush and dog-friendly toothpaste at pet stores or online. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) suggests using a toothbrush approved by the American Dental Association. It should have soft bristles and a flat head.
Toothpaste and oral gels that are formulated for dogs can be added to your brushing routine. However, toothpaste is not required to reap the benefits of daily brushing.
It is important to brush all surfaces of the teeth, as any surface that is not brushed will accumulate plaque. Pay special attention to the outward-facing surface of the teeth in the upper jaw. The teeth that are in the “cheek” area build up plaque the quickest.
To make sure you can brush your dog’s teeth, gain trust during dog training and interactions with your dog.
Use Clinically Proven Dog Toothpaste and other products
The VOHC also has a list of toothpaste, oral gels, foods, and treats that can help reduce plaque and tartar buildup if used as directed. You can buy some of these products at a pet store or online, while you can only purchase others from a veterinarian.
The items accepted by the VOHC have met certain standards of effectiveness that were proven through clinical trials. These trials must follow specific protocols to be accepted by the VOHC. Foods and treats can be used in addition to toothbrushing, but are not adequate to prevent dental disease on their own.
Avoid the Wrong Chew Toys
The positive effects of a diligent preventative care routine can be offset if your dog has the wrong chew toys.
As mentioned above, do not allow your dog to chew on very hard objects or toys due to the risk of fracturing their teeth. These include bones, hooves, antlers, hard nylon, pig’s ears, or sticks (source). Some recommend these kinds of toys since they can help to remove plaque, but it is best to speak with your veterinarian about safer alternatives.
Now You Are Ready to Find The Best Dog Dentist
We want to ensure that we can provide the best care possible to our dogs. Dental care is a cornerstone of a healthy, happy life for your companion. The investment of time and money into preventative care not only improves their quality of life but can lengthen their life. Home care, regular exams, and a good relationship with your veterinarian are the key ingredients to maximize your dog’s dental health.
Cover image Pexels