One of the first and most popular posts on the blog deals with the lifetime costs of a dog, which can be staggering. A few months ago, I did something I would have never imagined doing as a novice dog owner 5 years ago: I took my dog to the dentist.
Some of you will know exactly what I’m talking about, and some of you are reading this and saying to yourself: are you kidding me? I assure you, I’m not.
Until my fateful encounter with a canine dental professional, I knew very little about caring for dog teeth. Unlike the U.S., many countries around the world (including those of mine and my wife’s families) treat dogs like second-class citizens, and not like a critical part of the family.
That’s just the way thing are, so the idea of getting a “dental” for the dog is beyond anything our parents would have imagined. But it happened nonetheless, and I think it was necessary to a reasonable quality of life for our dog.
Into the Operating Room
Our most recent annual checkup at the vet revealed extensive damage to one of our dog’s back molars. I put two and two together and realized it had been bothering her for a few weeks, since she would paw at the area frequently.
In simple terms, what happens is that plaque from food hardens on dog teeth to form a layer of tartar at the gum line. As this residue builds up, it can start to eat away at the gums and cause nasty infections, and eventually tooth loss.
This is exactly what happened with our dog. After the exam, she was scheduled for a “dental” the next week.
The typical procedure for a canine dental involves putting the dog to sleep first, since cleaning a dog’s teeth (or extracting teeth) is impossible on a dog that’s awake.
Once the dog is out, a special tool is used (like the one in the human dentist’s office) to clean off all the teeth and get them polished up.
A full check-up of the mouth is done, which in our case revealed two additional teeth that needed extractions in addition to the one that was clearly visible on the initial exam.
All the teeth that need to be pulled are usually cut out surgically, especially the back ones, since they have multiple roots and must be cut into smaller pieces to easily come out.
After the procedure is done, you’re sent home with a ton of options for home care, which is supposed to prevent frequent return visits for more preventative and acute care dentals.
Some of the options include:
- Regular brushing with a special “finger brush” and dog toothpaste, at least once a week but as much as daily (tartar supposedly hardens within 48 hours of eating).
- Feeding specialty foods that contain added enzymes to break up tartar and clean teeth.
- Feeding special treats that are shaped to mechanically brush the bad stuff off teeth and also contain those same enzymes.
- When all else fails (and eventually, even with these interventions), regular dental cleanings at the vet’s office.
After doing some research online, I was worried about what this adventure was going to cost us. It turns out that veterinary costs vary widely across the country, and even between vets.
My suggestion would be to get an estimate from your vet before you go forward with anything. Our total for a complete cleaning, three tooth extractions, and the cost of the pain and antibiotic medicine our dog had to take for a week came in about $300, which wasn’t too bad for an entire day of work.
With regular care, we can reasonably expect that she can go at least 3-5 years without having to go in for another dental, if at all, though your mileage may vary.
Depending on the method and intensity chosen for treating teeth at home, I think we can expect to spend about $50-$100 every year in additional costs to maintain her dental health.
That’s not too shabby if it saves us from having to get regular dentals at $300+. What do you think?