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Dog Teeth Cleaning: Procedure, Costs, and What to Expect

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Toothbrushes, floss, whitening strips, braces, retainers, biyearly exams – we do so much to keep our own dental health good because we know the importance. So why is the health of our canine’s chompers so easily ignored or their bad breath just dismissed? 

Sure, it’s not always fun to try to stick your hand near your dog’s mouth with unfamiliar objects that could freak them out a little, but that doesn’t make doggie dental care less important. 

And even if you are on top of at-home dental care for your dog, some dogs just need extra help with their oral health – not just for their breath, but their overall health and wellbeing.

Why Dog Dental Care Is So Important

Holding open dog's mouth for dog teeth cleaning

Dr. Jean Herrman, owner of Companion Animal Dental Services in Bolton, Connecticut, likens an unclean or uncared for mouth to taking an IV of bacteria. “It’s the only part of a dog’s body where the bone is completely exposed,” she says. “You have sores in there, and the bacteria then gets introduced into other systems of the body.”

What can that lead to? “Locally, severe dental disease can cause pain from abscesses; nasal infections; eye infection, gum loss, tooth loss, eye loss, or blindness; increased risk of oral cancer; and jaw fractures,” says Dr. Brook Niemiec, who is a Diplomate for the American Veterinary Dental College and runs Veterinary Dental Specialities’ 20 practices across the U.S. “Systemically, periodontal disease has been shown to have negative effects on the heart, liver, and kidneys. In addition, it has been shown to affect cognition, as well as increase systemic inflammation.”

These potential problems are why prevention is so important, and one step in that direction is home dental care. Herrman advises a slow, patient, phased approach if you’re attempting to brush your dog’s teeth for the first time. 

“Start by petting your dog’s face and talking to them nicely,” she says. “Next you can try lifting the lip and gently looking around. Then rub your finger along the teeth. Pick up some dog toothpaste and put it on your finger. Try using a soft wipe or gauze to gently touch the surface of the teeth. Once your dog is comfortable and accepting of this, then you might be ready to move onto actually brushing.”

All of these steps can be taken during separate attempts if necessary, and you should reward your dog with praise, play, or whatever he likes in order to create a positive association with brushing and build trust, Dr. Herrman says.

Dr. Niemiec recommends practicing home dental care daily because plaque, which is the bacteria-laden sticky film that coats the teeth and under the gums, forms in just 24 hours. Meanwhile, tartar, which is hardened plaque that is much more difficult to clear away, forms in three days, he adds.

Home dental care for your dog, however, doesn’t always need to take the form of brushing. “The most effective means of home care is brushing, but dental treats, dental diets, oral rinses and dental wipes can also be effective,” he says.

When it comes to professional dog teeth cleaning, both Dr. Niemiec and Dr. Herrman say it’s ideal to have it done roughly annually for dogs of all sizes, but smaller dogs (ten pounds or fewer) may want to consider cleaning closer to every nine months. It’s also important to start having your dog’s teeth cleaned early in his life, as the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) says most dogs will have developed some degree of dental disease within the first three years of their lives.

Signs You Should Schedule a Dog Dental Cleaning

Vet checking a dog's teeth for signs of needing a teeth cleaning

Usually, when you start noticing signs that suggest it’s time to schedule a dog teeth cleaning, it’s actually past time to schedule a dog tooth cleaning.

Dr. Niemiec notes that most other areas of medicine, including human, human dental, and veterinary non-dental all practice preventative care, but veterinary dental care instead is reactive. “We need to move towards prevention,” he says, which means more regularity in both home and professional dental cleaning.

That said, one sign that it’s definitely time to schedule professional dental care is bad breath. 

“Bad breath is a sure sign of periodontal disease in dogs,” Dr. Niemiec says. “‘Doggy breath’ is not normal. It is a sign of severe infection.”

Other signs that you should seek out immediate veterinary dental care, he says, may include yellow or brown teeth (which are indicative of tartar buildup), red or swollen gums, bleeding from the mouth, changes in the way your dog eats food or treats, facial swellings, or any visible growths.

Dog Dental Cleaning Procedure: Step by Step

Dog smiling looking up to sky

The full name for the procedure more commonly known as a dog dental cleaning is a “complete oral health assessment and treatment” or COHAT, says Dr. Herrman, and the biggest difference between this and what humans receive for dental care is that the pet version must be done under anesthesia.

Dr. Niemiec says any “anesthesia-free” or “non-anesthesia” cleanings are not effective because vets cannot clean under the gums without the help of anesthesia. In addition, if you’ve ever had your teeth professionally cleaned, you know it isn’t the most comfortable procedure and may be painful in some instances. We know what is happening and can psychologically deal with it, but a dog cannot. Anesthesia-free dental cleanings are not only ineffective but could also be considered inhumane.

Before the anesthesia is given, the veterinarian will measure your dog’s blood pressure and take an EKG. The vet will often also check bloodwork to make sure your dog is safe for anesthesia. Vitals will be monitored throughout the procedure, and once the dog is asleep, Herrman says the vet will take X-rays of the mouth, do a complete oral exam, and probe each tooth one by one to assess if there is a problem.

Most of the tools used are the same ones that are used on humans, Dr. Niemiec says, including scalers and curettes (both scraping tools that remove plaque and tartar from different spots in the mouth, including under the gums). An ultrasonic scaler, which vibrates, is also used for cleaning.

If there are problems with any teeth or the gums that will require further surgical work, which happens often, Dr. Herrman will inform the dog parent of what she’s found and, with their permission, conduct any necessary extractions, grafting, gum alterations, or other procedures while the dog is still under anesthesia.

Dog Dental Cleaning Cost

There’s a wide range in professional dog dental cleaning costs based on a variety of factors, including location and level of care, says Dr. Niemiec, but the starting price for a cleaning might be around $500 and top out near $1,500. 

Dr. Herrman adds that if additional work is done during the same procedure, the cost will rise. “Brushing your dog’s teeth at home is the best thing you can do to avoid extra costs associated with dental disease,” she says.

On average, the cost of treating dental disease in dogs is $600.”

Source: Pets Best claims data from 2017 – 2021 for average 1st year condition costs.

A basic pet insurance policy may not cover the costs of routine dental care unless you have wellness or preventative care add-ons. The CareCredit health and pet care credit card is a solution that can help you feel more prepared. It allows you to pay over time with flexible financing options.* The card is accepted at most veterinary hospitals** and can be used for any type of care your dog needs, including teeth cleaning.

Flexible Financing for Veterinary Care
CareCredit Fast Facts
CareCredit Fast Facts
  • Pay over time with flexible financing options*
  • Use your card again and again for any type of care your pet needs
  • Accepted at most veterinary hospitals**

    Dr. Niemiec adds that it’s important to know everything that goes into the procedure you’re agreeing to pay for. Best practices include pre-anesthetic exam and bloodwork, full anesthesia with vital monitoring, full mouth radiographs, cleaning, and polish.

    What to Expect After a Dog Dental Cleaning

    Your dog should be monitored pretty closely for the first 24 to 28 hours after anesthesia, Dr. Niemiec says, adding that dogs tend to bounce back quickly. 

    “If extractions were necessary, some bleeding should be expected for the first few days,” he says. “Soft food is generally recommended for two weeks if any oral surgery is performed.”

    Some vets like to see the dog about two weeks after the procedure, but that’s not required, he says.

    Herrman says if there was pain or other problems that stemmed from oral health issues, you should see your dog resume his happy, healthy behavior very quickly after the post-anesthesia recovery. 

    “Most dogs tend to eat amazingly and are jumping around afterward,” she says. “Toothaches hurt. If you alleviate that for them, they’ll look, feel, and act so much better.”

    *Subject to credit approval. See carecredit.com for details.

    **Internal estimates based on publicly available market sizing information, as of Feb 2023

    This information is shared solely for your convenience. Neither Synchrony nor any of its affiliates, including CareCredit, make any representations or warranties regarding the products described, and no endorsement is implied. You are urged to consult with your individual veterinarian with respect to any professional advice presented.