Pet Talk column: Why is pet dentistry so expensive to the owner?
My family teases me, saying I like to stir the pot and I guess they are right. If you thought the answer to the above question is because my profession is full of greedy doctors, then you can guess again. The hard fact is I wish dentistry was not so expensive in pets because it is one of the most important aspects of a pet’s health.
You know me, I’m a bottom line kinda guy, and the bottom line reason it cost so much is that pets need to be chemically restrained to have their teeth and gums adequately cleaned; traditionally that means full general anesthesia.
And your veterinarian is the only person who can adequately do both procedures. Sorry groomers, bathers and pet-watchers, I love you and deeply respect what you do — I have neither the skill or patience to do it — but you are not qualified or licensed to perform dental prophylactic procedures in pets just like I am not qualified to groom them. It’s not a turf thing; it’s a safety thing. I don’t let the person who cuts my hair put sharp objects in my mouth just like I wouldn’t call the person who does my taxes to write my last will and testament.
Read on though, there is good news here on reducing the cost and invasiveness of the procedure.
The American Veterinary Dental College has issued position statements to guide us. I’ve just re-read them and honestly, no one really likes position statements; they sound too much like the word “policy.” Yuck. But these make sense. They are listed on the website http://www.avdc.org (it’s an “org” website — it can’t be all bad).
To have any good effect on oral health, the surface under the gum must be scaled with either very sharp instruments or an ultrasonic scalar, and no Fido or Garfield I know is going to just sit there and let us do it. It’s a miracle us humans just sit there and let our dentists do it; I never trim my fingernails before my dental cleanings because I know I am going to need them to dig into the arm rest.
So no, your pooch is not going to just lie there and take it like a dog. According to the AVDC, “The most critical part of a dental scaling procedure is scaling the tooth surfaces that are within the space between the gum and the root … access to the subgingival area of every tooth is impossible in an un-anesthetized canine or feline patient. Removal of dental tartar on the surfaces of the teeth only has little effect on a pet’s health and provides a false sense of accomplishment. The effect is purely cosmetic.”
So where is the good news on all of this? I have it here for both your pets and your wallet. Recently, we have begun using a twilight sedative-narcotic combination in pets that works great for pet dental cleanings. It is extremely safe and the sedative portion can be reversed if need be. Pets retain their swallowing reflex, so putting a tube in the airway and using gas anesthesia is not necessary. It ends up being about 35 percent less expensive and does not require as many or any pre-op blood tests as using a full anesthetic, so savings add up further.
It is an innovative approach, I will admit that, and you can find veterinarians who will poo poo it (haha, I couldn’t resist) and shoot, even the AVDC might not like it. But my profession is an innovative one, we all know that and I will always put my patients’ best interest first.
We like the results we are achieving with this approach to pet dentistry and it saves people money. I like that combination.
Nonetheless, this procedure is not applicable to every patient, for example, those needing extractions with fully intact roots will still need a general anesthetic to get the teeth out, and patients with severely infected gums and teeth may also still need a general. We also have not yet tried this with our cat patients.
National Pet Dental Month is February, but we feel it’s not enough, so we offer dental month discounts in August, too. You can come in for a free dental exam and we can discuss what is best for your pet.
Stephen Sheldon, DVM, practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital. He can be reached at 970-524-3647 or by visiting the hospital website, http://www.gypsumah.com.