Reading time: 5 min.
When people find out that I’m a veterinarian, they often tell me that they couldn’t do what I do. They couldn’t put animals down. The euthanasia part of a veterinarian’s job is well known and well understood. A lesser-known hard part of a veterinarian’s job has to do with #dentalhealthmonth: dentals. There are three aspects of this difficult part of a veterinarian’s job: getting pet owners over the financial hurdles, helping pet owners overcome the fear of anesthetizing their pets, and pulling teeth.
“Does my pet really need a dental, or did the vet recommend it to make money?”, asked a pet owner when she came to me for a second opinion.
I know she’s not the only person asking this question. It’s just that most people don’t ask this question out loud.
Most pet owners find the cost of dental cleanings for their pets expensive, but did you know that the dental X-ray probe alone costs C$10,000? The dental tub table costs C$7000. The adjustable chair costs hundreds of dollars. Don’t forget the dental machine, the dental instruments, the kennels that pets are kept in, the specialized veterinary software, the anesthetic machine, oxygen tanks, monitoring equipment, support staff to help monitor the pets while under anesthetic… Running a veterinary clinic is expensive. Running a fast food place like Tim Horton’s can be much more profitable and much less stressful. Plus, you don’t need 6+ years of grueling schooling to run a Tim Horton’s.
Pet owners who work at dental offices don’t even blink an eye when they are presented estimates for their pets’ dental procedures. They know how much the same or similar procedures cost in human dentistry. The difference is that most people who go to the dentist have dental insurance whereas not enough pets have insurance that covers dental procedures.
The last dental cleaning that I had cost $350, (covered by my dental insurance), but my dental cleaning was done with me awake, not under anesthetic. Pets won’t sit still for a thorough dental cleaning. It would stress them out so much to have an instrument scraping or buzzing in their mouth on every surface of every tooth and under the gumline.
Fear of the Anesthetic
Once the pet owner has gotten over the financial hurdle, there is still another hurdle: the fear of putting a pet under anesthetic. The stories of pets dying under anesthetic understandably scare people. Nevertheless, when you weigh the risks against the benefits, the benefits usually outweigh the risks. Clean teeth = less bacteria spreading in the bloodstream, less pain, less halitosis (bad breath)
“The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) considers that all procedures comprising veterinary dentistry must be performed or delegated and directly supervised by a duly licensed veterinarian. The CVMA acknowledges that supra-gingival scaling and polishing and some other procedures in some species may be delegated by a veterinarian, however, such procedures must always be performed under veterinary supervision in accordance with regulations of the relevant jurisdiction. The CVMA does not support anesthesia-free dentistry.”
“Veterinary Dentistry Position Statement.” Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. 2018. https://www.canadianveterinarians.net (26 February 2019).
Like Pulling Teeth
—used to say that something is very difficult and frustrating
Getting him to make a decision is like pulling teeth.“like pulling teeth.” Merriam-Webster.com. 2019. https://www.merriam-webster.com (8 February 2019).
There is a reason why this idiom exists. Pulling teeth can be very difficult and frustrating.
Tip of the Iceberg
There’s A LOT more under the gum line that you can’t see without dental X-rays. Dog and cat canine teeth have long roots in comparison to ours. Have you seen this picture circulating on Facebook?
Also, some teeth have multiple roots (up to three). These teeth often have to be sectioned (one section per root) in order to be able to extract them.
Not only are the roots long and not only can one tooth have up to three roots, but the teeth often break into little pieces when they are fractured or diseased. Leaving pieces of teeth behind is a no-no that can lead to infection or abscesses forming.
Pulling teeth takes patience and wrist strength. It’s not uncommon for vets to have shoulder/neck/back pain after hours of bending over a dental table, sweating and swearing (ahem).
Dentals are one the hardest parts of a veterinarian’s job.
Veterinarians work really hard to help keep pets healthy. Moreover, there many behind-the-scenes costs associated with dentals. Please remember these facts before you complain about the cost of pet dentals. And please share this blog post with fellow pet owners! If you haven’t read my other two #dentalhealthmonth blog posts, here are the links:
It would be better to not have to extract teeth in the first place. Prevent dental disease starting at a young age: daily tooth brushing with pet toothpaste, daily dental chews that won’t crack teeth, dental food, dental water additive, and having your veterinarian check our pet’s teeth every 6 months.