In many ways, dental procedures for our fur-babies are handled similarly to dental procedures in humans. In many other ways, they are very different and these differences can really influence the price of procedures performed within our pets’ mouths.
We call the dental procedure a COHAT – or Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment. Like the human procedures, a COHAT involves a thorough cleaning, polishing and examination of the mouth and teeth. Unlike the human procedures, veterinary dentistry, when done properly, requires the use of a general anesthetic to accomplish. Many dogs and cats are resistant to even having their mouths opened for a quick inspection let alone accommodating the discomfort associated with a thorough examination, cleaning and possible extractions.
Prices can be shocking if a client does not know what to expect. An uncomplicated COHAT in a small pet that does not require any special procedures or extractions begins at about $300. This may seem like a large amount of money, but it is important to remember what occurs within this price.
The pet will spend the day with us as we prepare for, perform, and monitor the patient after the COHAT. They will be given an examination by the veterinarian before the anesthetic process begins. Special attention is given to the cardiac and respiratory systems – the healths of which are critically important for a successful anesthesia.
We require blood testing to make sure the pet is a good anesthetic candidate. A Complete Blood Count will look at the amounts of different types of blood cells. Potential problems with the pet that may be revealed are: infection, anemia, bleeding/clotting disorders, cancer, and dehydration. A Chemistry Profile is run to look at the performance of various organs of the body, such as the liver and kidneys which the pet will need to metabolize the anesthesia properly. This test can also pick up electrolyte imbalances and diabetes. The results of the bloodwork may change the anesthetic protocol that we choose to use on the pet or cause us to reschedule or cancel the procedure for the safety of the pet.
The pet will have an IV catheter placed and will receive warmed fluids directly into their veins throughout the procedure. This accomplishes a couple of things. First, there will be an ‘emergency port’ available should the pet have a reaction during the anesthetic process. Second, the warm fluids will help the animal maintain its hydration and prevent hypothermia from being under anesthesia for lengthy periods of time.
The pet may receive any of a variety of medications prior to the start of anesthesia. These medications are selected specifically with the needs of the individual pet in mind and may include any or all of the following: anti-nausea medication, antibiotics to fight infection, sedative to reduce anxiety and smooth out the anesthetic process, and pain medication to reduce discomfort of the pet upon waking. They will usually be anesthetized with an intravenous injection and will then have an endotracheal tube placed directly into the pet’s trachea which will be attached to a gas anesthesia machine. The anesthetic machine will provide continued anesthetic and oxygen throughout the procedure. The pet will be monitored (heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, oxygenation rate of blood, blood pressure, anesthetic plane, temperature) throughout the procedure.
During the procedure the mouth is examined for any abnormalities such as gingivitis and oral growths. Each tooth is cleaned with ultrasonic and hand scalers, examined for mobility, pockets, crown and root abnormalities; and polished with a revolving prophylaxis head and a special tooth polish. X-rays may need to be performed to completely assess the teeth. Damaged teeth are extracted when deemed necessary by the veterinarian with permission by the client. Extractions are performed when the teeth are anticipated to cause the animal pain or health complications. Extractions are primary culprits for raising the prices of a ‘normal’ dental. Tooth extractions vary from the very easy removal of a single-rooted incisor that may cost as little as $15 up to a triple-rooted premolar that may require drilling, suturing and an hour or more of work and cost $110. If a pet receives routine dental care, it helps to prevent catastrophic losses of teeth. But when we get a pet in that has not had dental care in a long time, the requirement of several extractions can turn into a 2-3 hour procedure that runs several hundred dollars.
In human medicine, dental procedures usually do not require anesthesia and they are performed in segments. The x-rays and cleaning/polishing are done at one visit. Cavities are filled in one or more subsequent visits. Extractions are performed at even later visits. This divides the work (and fees for services) up into less conspicuous bites. When we work on a pet, which we do not want to anesthetize multiple times, the services are most often performed in a single visit. This must be considered as you think about the price.
In short, are COHAT’s expensive? They certainly can be. Most importantly they are a set of procedures that can make a significant difference in the health and quality of life of your pet.