We normalize “doggy breath,” but that smell can actually be a sign of disease. Bad breath in dogs comes from an overgrowth of bacteria releasing foul-smelling compounds that can damage the gums. The gums can become inflamed as gingivitis develops, eventually leading to dental disease.
But there’s good news: gingivitis is preventable and reversible. The best way to prevent dental disease is having your pets’ teeth regularly cleaned and examined by your veterinarian. This cleaning removes plaque and tartar above and below the gumline, treating gingivitis and giving your dog a great-smelling mouth.
Here’s what you need to know about how much dog teeth cleaning costs and why canine dental care is so important.
How Much Is Dog Teeth Cleaning?
The cost of a dental procedure varies widely throughout the country and depends on the services provided (for example, tooth extractions increase the cost of your cleaning) and who is providing them (a general practitioner or a veterinary dentist).
Both general practitioner veterinarians and Board-Certified Veterinary Dentists (DAVDC) can provide quality dentistry care. Veterinary dentists—who are members of the American Veterinary Dental College—are veterinarians who underwent a multi-year residency with full-time training in dentistry, pain management, x-ray and CT interpretation, and anesthesia. This allows them to provide the best care.
Teeth cleanings with general practitioners can range from $250-$900, which may or may not include extractions. Veterinary dentists typically cost more based on their advanced training, equipment, and anesthesia. A typical service with with x-rays, exams, and cleanings starts at $800-$1,300. Nerve blocks, extractions, medications, advanced imaging such as CTs, and root canals will increase the price.
You may seek out or be referred to a veterinary dentist if your dog has underlying health issues, needs a root canal, requires cancer removal, has a less-common disease, or has advanced anesthesia needs.
What’s Included in a Dog Teeth Cleaning?
The cost of cleaning dogs’ teeth typically includes:
Anesthesia: The dog is safely placed under anesthesia via sedation and a tracheal breathing tube is positioned. Anesthesia is the safest method for keeping water out of the airway, is not stressful or painful, and allows for complete exam and treatment.
Oral exam: A tooth-by-tooth exam is done, which includes measuring the gum pocket for periodontal health; checking for fractured teeth, cavities, and loose teeth; and evaluating other oral structures.
Scaling and polishing: Scaling removes plaque and tartar above and below the gum line and is always followed by polishing to smooth the surface of the teeth.
Dental x-rays: Dental x-rays show the tooth roots, the bone and tissue around the roots, the pulp canal inside the tooth, and the jaw bones.
Sometimes dental x-rays are optional. However, they are necessary to fully assess the teeth, as they can show your veterinarian any bone loss, dead teeth, oral cancers, infections, or cysts. Taking x-rays before and after dental extractions is the standard of care. The time it adds to anesthesia is insignificant compared to the benefit it provides.
Prior to anesthesia, your veterinarian will do a blood panel on your pet to assess internal organ function, red and white blood cells, and platelet counts. This cost may or may not be included in the dental procedure and ranges from $75-$200.
If teeth are too diseased to be saved and are a source of inflammation or discomfort to your pet, they will be extracted at an extra cost (which can be as much as $400 per tooth). The additional costs of tooth extraction depend on tooth size, type of extraction needed, the number of teeth that need to be removed, and the surgery time added.
How Often Do Dogs Need Their Teeth Cleaned?
The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends a dog’s first dental cleaning should be when they’re 1-2 years old for small- and medium-size dogs and 2-3 years old for large dogs.
Small dogs need a cleaning every year. Their small mouths are prone to gingivitis and dental disease because of crowding (dogs have 42 teeth in those little mouths!). Brachycephalic dogs (flat-face breeds like Pugs, French Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers) also are prone to more advanced disease due to their abnormal bites and crowded teeth. Larger dogs can usually have 1.5-2 years between cleanings, but they still need to have their mouths examined at their yearly checkups.
Signs that your dog needs a professional cleaning include:
Bleeding, redness, or swelling of the gums
Having a hard time picking up food
Dropping food while eating
Does Pet Insurance Cover Dog Teeth Cleaning Costs?
Not all pet insurance policies will cover dental costs. If your pet was diagnosed with dental disease prior to acquiring the policy, the procedure could be excluded as a pre-existing condition. Root canals and extractions can also vary from policy to policy. Be sure to know your coverage prior to scheduling a dental procedure, as most policies do not reimburse pet parents until after the procedure.
How to Save Money on Your Dog’s Teeth Cleaning
1. Schedule Cleanings Early
Starting dental cleanings when your pup is young is a long-term investment both financially and for their oral health. It’s safer (and cheaper) in the long run to have multiple dental cleanings than to have an expensive procedure on an older animal needing extensive treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask your veterinarian at their yearly exam when your pet is due. And if your pet has yearly bloodwork evaluated, try to time their dental procedure in the same month to avoid an additional blood test cost.
2. Start At-Home Preventative Care
You can lengthen the time between dog dental cleanings (and save money!) by brushing your dog’s teeth. If your dog won’t tolerate a toothbrush, there are options such as dental diets, chews, sprays, and water additives that can help keep their teeth clean and healthy.
3. Find the Right Pet Insurance Plan
If you are shopping for pet insurance, find out what the dental coverage is or if it will be excluded as a pre-existing condition in an older pet. Every policy offers different benefits.
Some veterinarians offer discounts in February for Pet Dental Health Month or include cleanings in yearly wellness plans. Your veterinarian may work with third-party financing options as well.
4. Do NOT Go Anesthesia-Free
Anesthesia-free or “awake” dental cleanings do not treat dental disease and are not safe for pets. They may be cheaper, but they do not remove plaque or tartar under the gumline, can’t treat disease, and are stressful for your pet. The AAHA and AVDC do not recommend or endorse these procedures, and the short-term appeal of a cheaper fee will cost you and your pet in the long run.