Pet dental care is going higher tech - but will you pay for it?
Vet hospitals across the US are finally grabbing hold of the most basic dental technology and making good use of it. But most pet owners are still unwilling to pay for it—or are they?
Consider the tried-and-true dental X-ray machine: not even a quarter of vet hospitals in the US offer this simple tool to determine—for sure—whether a questionable tooth needs pulling or deserves a fighting chance. While it may be the standard of care in the human dental realm, we’re not there yet when it comes to our pets…because it’s considered expensive...some might even call it luxurious.
Think: Is your vet’s hospital equipped with a dental X-ray machine? Do you ever wonder how your vet decides yea or nay on the life of your pet’s tooth? Would it make a difference to you whether simple visual inspection or sophisticated clinical evidence determined which teeth should stay and which should go? (Here's a great online primer for those of you interested.)
In theory, we’d all say, “Of course it matters!” But when it comes time to paying our bills, we might all begin to wonder how a simple cleaning turned into a $300 procedure—even before the extractions.
It’s interesting to note that while our own dental care has become monstrously expensive in recent years, our pets’ dental care is still quite reasonable, even when you factor in the cost of the anesthetics required in vet practice. You might disagree with me on that fine point (indeed my clients do) but given the prevalence and severity of periodontal disease in pets, it would be hard to deny that a human in such straits wouldn’t be spending many thousands of dollars a year on his teeth.
“Spoken just like a woman whose income depends on dentistry,” you might well say. And I won’t deny it. But it’s a paltry percentage of my income compared to what I’d like to earn, given the needs of my clients’ pet population.
Though my clients tend towards the well educated and earn reasonably high incomes (a large percentage in academia and the medical professions, for some reason), they often balk at the high cost of higher-tech dental services.
Yet none of us would ever consider subjecting our own teeth to a vigorous yanking—with or without anesthesia. We want X-rays, local anesthetics and a careful, surgical approach to extraction. We envision much the same for our pets, but we’d like to have it for less than the cost of our monthly power bill. And that’s just not possible.
Thankfully, I’ve found that with detailed explanations and descriptions of what dentistry truly entails, my clients almost always come around. They might not go for the root canal and extensive reconstruction, but they’ll concede to the basics: X-rays, thorough pain control, surgical extractions, etc.
It’s a far cry from how I extracted teeth ten years ago (without X-rays, no neat flaps, a semi-brutish prying out of the thing by its roots). And so I have to wonder: How is it that so many vet hospitals still haven’t bought a dental X-ray machine? Sure, it’s distasteful to have to keep selling my clients on the darn thing, but it pays for itself—if not in cash than in better results and more comfortable patients.
There's a great Chinese proverb that applies beautifully here (coincidentally, I swiped it from the dental radiology site I referenced above): "Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still."