How do you clean your dog's teeth?
June 3, 2009 1:01 PM   Subscribe

The Vet says my dogs need a teeth cleaning. What are my options? The Vet wants to put both dogs (beagles, 9ish years old) under for a teeth cleaning. The bill will be $500 plus. Does anybody have experience with the various products that are available for cleaning dog teeth? Do they work? I'm having a hard time accepting that cleaning a dog's teeth costs more than my dental cleanings, or more than the annual teeth float for my daughter's horse. Also, older dogs and anesthesia are not a good mix. It's relatively low risk, but still... If I can avoid anesthesia and save money that is a good thing.
posted by COD to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My parents brush their dogs teeth. Not sure if that would be a good substitute for a cleaning from your vet, but I think it would probably be good preventative care.
posted by at 1:09 PM on June 3, 2009

One of our dogs has bad teeth but they've improved immensely since we started brushing them. I'd try that first before scheduling anything with the vet. We've had our toothpaste for a while so my memory's a little foggy but I think we got it directly from the vet. We just use that and a child's toothbrush since our dog's a pug/chihuahua mix.
posted by Atom12 at 1:13 PM on June 3, 2009

Coincidentally, I just had my dog's teeth cleaned as did one of my friends. Both dogs are over 10 and our bills were $450 +/- (different vets). I really don't think there is a realistic alternative unless you have been scrupulous with your dog's dental hygiene. I would guess the cleaning bill for your own teeth would be over $500 if it included anesthesia. At age 67 (me) I wish I could keep my dental bills to $500--work done years ago is on its way out. I have found GREENIES to be the best for tartar management and dental odor. However, they are not a routine snack. Follow directions.
posted by rmhsinc at 1:15 PM on June 3, 2009

Yes, you can brush your dog's teeth yourself, but that's only preventative. You gave no context to their actual problem, so if it is more than slightly bad breath then maybe there's something that needs drastic measures. However, it might be time to find another vet and ask them what they think.

When my old dog got really awful breath, we got this chicken flavored toothpaste and toothbrushing kit directly from the vet, I believe they also had a fake chocolate flavored dog-toothpaste, how cute. The brush was shaped to help get around dog mouths and it was a really annoying chore, but it did help the breath, and probably the build-up of whatever horrible things happen to dog mouths in their old age.
posted by Mizu at 1:17 PM on June 3, 2009

Wow, my vet only charges $115 for this, including the office visit charge. I'm feeling fortunate.
posted by jon1270 at 1:19 PM on June 3, 2009

The Holistic Hound here in Berkeley cleans teeth with no anasthesia- they just do it in shop. I mention it just as evidence that it's possible. I dont' know what they charge, but I'd be shocked if it were anything close to $500.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:20 PM on June 3, 2009

There are lots of dental treats for dogs. My wife and I give our dog a variety of different kinds, and it has made a big difference in our dog's teeth over time. If your dogs will tolerate it, you can also brush your dogs' teeth. Our dog will let us brush the outside of her teeth, but not inside the mouth.

Personally, I would be hesitant to put an older dog under anesthesia for anything that was not a medical necessity. I would try the treats and see if your dogs will let you brush their teeth. Give this some time to work and see if the vet still says they need to get their teeth cleaned.
posted by jefeweiss at 1:20 PM on June 3, 2009

FYI: My JRT's teeth cleaning + 4 teeth removed + putting her under + blood work to make sure she would most likely survive being put under + nail trim (while she was out, you know, might as well) was just over $400. In California.
posted by jeffamaphone at 1:22 PM on June 3, 2009

Brushing teeth is not a substitute for proper scaling, probing and x-rays to check for problems below the gumline, teeth can look great, but have severe problems below the gumline. A vet who uses a modern anesthetic protocol with proper monitoring (AND knows what to do about problems) should not have any concerns about anesthetizing an older dog, as long as pre-procedure bloodwork is done. There is greater risk to health and longevity from bad teeth than from the anesthetic. That said, any vet charging $115 is likely not doing full mouth x-rays, and there is nearly zero point in just cleaning the teeth.

Properly-done dentistry is part of good preventive routine care.
posted by biscotti at 1:24 PM on June 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Your vet is offering deep cleaning (scaling/planing), which only needs to be done every 5 years+. Your dentist probably charges a similar price ($200+ per quadrant)

Personally I wouldn't give any dog anasthesia.
posted by wongcorgi at 1:34 PM on June 3, 2009

I have been using Petzlife Oral Care Gel on my dogs, and have been amazed at the improvement. You just wipe it on every day, and it softens the gunk on their teeth. They say you don't need to brush, but I do brush anyway and it really accelerates the cleaning. I know several other people who have been using this and they are getting equally impressive results. Highly recommended even if you do go ahead and get the professional cleaning.
posted by HotToddy at 1:36 PM on June 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

I used to work in an animal hospital. A lot of people here are right on. You could try brushing your dogs' teeth but if you've never done it before, a 9 year old dog might not be too willing to let you do this to them. Then again, maybe your dogs tolerate things like this. You could also try switching to dry food if they're on wet food. This helps lightly scrape teeth and keep them clean-ish. But really, there's no substitute for a real cleaning.

As for actually having them cleaned by the vet. Might not be a bad idea. It's kinda like changing the timing belt on your car. It's a big expensive thing you've gotta do once. But that's about it and you're so much better off doing it. Think about the build up that would accumulate on your teeth if you didn't brush for 9 years. Gross. Plus, they'll be able to tell you if some teeth need to go. This saves you a future problem where your dog can't eat because his tooth is rotten.

As for the cost. I remember our office starting the charge in the $150-$200 range. Bigger dogs=more anesthesia=more money. X-rays, more money. Extractions, more money. Bloodwork (optional) was ~$100. I always thought the bloodwork was sort of a waste. Maybe one out of 1,000 dogs will have a reaction to anesthesia. But while I worked there for four years, I never saw one dog go under and never come back. Nor did I ever see one test result say a dog shouldn't go under. I'm not saying it's impossible but I'm saying your chances seem really slim to me.

$500 for two dogs sounds pretty fair to me. You could always call around and see what you can find. Good luck!
posted by smeater44 at 1:52 PM on June 3, 2009

We had to do this for both our cats. One of 'em has some sort of horrible genetic tooth decay and hardly has any left but his fangs. Since I don't know how bad your dog's teeth are, I can't say for sure, but our vet made it pretty clear that tooth decay and gum disease can seriously shorten your pet's life. My impression is that the various preventative measures being mentioned in the thread will be a great way to avoid doing this again, but may not be sufficient at the moment.

Getting a second opinion is always a good idea, though!
posted by dellsolace at 1:56 PM on June 3, 2009

I was intrigued by your question and reflected on my earlier answer. After several Google searches looking for objective data about safety and necessity of cleaning under anesthesia I am convinced it is appropriate and necessary on a professionally recommended bases or if clinically indicated. If you are curious consider searching " data dental oral dogs pets safety death anesthesia". If you Google "teeth cleaning death etc" you will get almost nothing but advertisements. While there are risks with full anesthesia I would posit based on my search, that the risk is significantly less than the long term health risks associated with no dental intervention, "standing only or non-anesthesia cleaning" or home brushing. This is the opinion of a lay person, who dearly loves his dog, and 45 minutes of research. Also, it is the recommendation of most nations professional veterinary associations. While they may have a self interest in promoting these procedures I will take that against "holistic providers" or commercial enterprises. A professional association that promotes routine procedures with unaccpetably high risks will soon stop advocating it--they have not stopped.
posted by rmhsinc at 2:34 PM on June 3, 2009

We just had our beagle (almost 11) put under for the same thing and he was ok. You are correct about putting them under but as someone else mentioned the risk is higher that the tooth decay will cause bigger problems. Just as a data point our vet charges around $350 for this and sometimes inflates the price a little because while they have the dogs under they may need to extract a bad tooth. If no extractions are necessary they will come in under the estimate.
The best way around this is to brush their teeth at least once a week but if your beagles are anything like ours good luck with that!
posted by Busmick at 2:45 PM on June 3, 2009

We used to brush the teeth of our now 3 year old labrador, and never got good results, she still had brownish spots on the lower part of her molars.
Started given her "knuckle bones"once in a while, they are real bones, that are dried up. I get them at my local pet supermarket.
Her teeth are incredibly clean now!
Just have to keep an eye on the bone, when big pieces start coming off, I throw it away.
Good Luck!
posted by FLHunter3006 at 6:45 PM on June 3, 2009

Biscotti is right on (as usual). I feed my dogs crunchy kibble, hard non-edible chews, and nearly zero treats, and brush their teeth 2-3 times a week, and my 8 year old guy has never needed his teeth cleaned yet, but my 7 year old lab mix still needs hers done every couple-few years. It's a breed or individual thing, just as some people are more prone to tartar build up or gum problems. Your beagles making it 9 years before their first teeth cleaning is doing extremely well, but it may mean there are some periodontal disease issues, possible extractions, etc. And yes, that can be pricey, but untreated dental problems can be just as excruciating for dogs as they are for us.

It's fine to check with other vets for better price quotes if you want, but the cleaning itself is something you don't want to skip if your vet (I assume it's someone whose judgment you trust) considers it medically necessary. YMMV, but even if my longterm trusted vet charged more for a given service, I'd rather have the dogs treated by someone who has known them all their lives than a cheaper (but I'm sure perfectly qualified) stranger.

Older dogs can get used to having their teeth brushed if you take the process slowly and make it fun. My guys are nutty about the C.E.T. malt-flavored toothpaste.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:57 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I know we need to ante up for the cleaning. Thanks for confirmation of that. I was unrealistically hoping for a different answer though :)
posted by COD at 6:58 AM on June 4, 2009

Just as an anecdote, our vet found a tumor in my dog's jawbone during a dental cleaning (which was subsequently removed). It never would have been found otherwise.
posted by radioamy at 11:57 AM on June 4, 2009

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