How much should routine pet dentistry cost?

By Patty Khuly, DVM on Apr. 20, 2009

It’s worth thinking about, especially as more and more of us are braving hard times by dispensing with the dentist...for ourselves, our human kids, and our pets, too. 

It’s understandable, all this stress over spending up-front money for non-life-threatening issues like dental care. If the cash is in in short supply, best to save it up for the true emergencies, right? 

I get it. In fact, I’m guilty, too. I usually see my dentist every four months. But I haven’t seen him in seven (this post is a great reminder for me). I also know what happens when I stay away too long. It either comes down to expensive deep cleanings, or worse––uninvited pain and sensitivity at the worst possible moments. 

Same goes for our pets. Problem is, the kind of intermittent or chronic dental pain our pets get isn’t exactly obvious. You may hold your had up to your mouth or wince, but pets typically do no more than shift the kibble from one side of their mouths to the other. Sometimes they won’t even chew. (Ever seen your pet’s regurgitated food? Whole kibbles, right?)

Now, I’m not trying to guilt you into attending to your pets’ teeth, but I am suggesting that there’s more going on there than you may know. In fact, 80% of pets have signs of periodontal disease by the time they’re age 3! That’s why yearly preventative dentistry is what we recommend––even when few visible (to you) signs of dental disease are present. 

But what’s this going to set me back?, you may ask. And that’s a very good question. Because it all depends. 

Just as you can get a no-frills spay and neuter, you can buy your pets a no-frills dental. No, I’m not talking about the groomer’s signs for “teeth cleaning” (which basically means a tooth brushing) or an “anesthesia free” dentistry (which I do not recommend). This is a full-on anesthetic dentistry we’re discussing––so that we can compare apples to apples.

But for some hospitals, dental cleanings are big, juicy Fuji’s, while at others they’re shriveled, old crab-apples. I should know. I’ve worked at both kinds of places (though it’s been awhile since I’ve seen the shrivelly variety). So you understand, here’s the basic difference:

Class A quality dentistry:

  • Current labwork required
  • Physical exam before anesthesia
  • Full day of monitoring (before and after procedure)
  • Individualized anesthetic protocols
  • IV catheter (with or without fluids, depending on the pet’s needs)
  • Pulse oximetry and EKG monitoring under anesthesia
  • Sophisticated dental probing, scaling and polishing equipment
  • Availability of dental X-rays and high-quality drilling tools
  • Charting of teeth for individualized dental records
  • Technicians specifically trained and/or certified in dental hygiene techniques
  • Full dental/oral examination by the veterinarian

Not-so-Class A dentistry:

  • Only basic scaling/polishing equipment
  • Insufficient or faulty anesthesia monitoring tools
  • “Technicians” who are neither certified nor especially knowledgeable in dentistry
  • Little veterinary oversight of procedure beyond anesthesia induction or in-house presence (and sometimes neither)
  • No dental charting or detailed record-keeping
  • Few concessions to individualized pet concerns
  • Few options for diagnosing the need for dental extractions beyond gross pathology 

My goal here is not to explain how poorly some hospitals do things (because, frankly, only a small percentage fall into this category), but to showcase the vast difference between Class A and not-so-Class A dentistries––and to prove that there’s a lot of room in between.

For the most part, it’s these Class A details that define dental price. Sure, in some major metropolitan areas––particularly urban zones and the tonier suburbs––the prices will also reflect retail real estate prices and the demand for higher quality care, but generally speaking, the so-called, frill-factor is what usually runs the show.

So here’s where I give you the bottom line: Routine, non-complicated, prophylactic  dentistry runs from about $100 to $500, with most falling into the $150 to $300 zone. Those at the higher end $300 to $500 may reflect more severe, long-standing periodontal disease or the election/need for full-mouth X-rays as part of the prophylaxis. 

But is expensive always better? Not necessarily. For example, at our hospital, the very basic, uncomplicated prophylactic dentistries run $160. We offer all the high-quality details and, still, we’re pretty darn cheap by most Class A standards. 

The explanation? Every region of the country will have its own supply and demand issues with respect to wellness care. In areas where dental care is not typically considered routine, the prices on dental services will be deflated by lower demand for them. That’s why our prices are lower than they should be––we have to make it cheap if we’re to expect our clients to accept our recommendations.

The converse is also true. I once did relief work in a Philadelphia area hospital where dentistries were run around the clock. The demand was very high. The dental tech had her hands full. Though she was certified (and very good), the veterinarian was never involved at all. No dental charting. Bloodwork, basic monitoring and IV catheters were standard, but there were no special concessions to dental health beyond scaling and polishing. Nonetheless, the prices were sky-high (around $250 to $300 twelve years ago). This, despite the fact that she could get through two dentistries an hour––while inducing and monitoring the animals all by herself.  

Dentistry prices are no different than the prices for other goods and services in any economy. Demand drives their prices, too. But again, YOUR demand for higher quality standards––along with all the bells and whistles we think of as fundamental in human dentistry––is ultimately what you pay for. 


Patty Khuly, DVM


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