Do Dogs Need Dental Cleanings? Yes, Says Dr. Aberman.

To celebrate National Pet Dental Health Month, Dr. Aberman will introduce you to your dog’s teeth’s new best friend: The COHAT.

Image of dog, courtesy of Modern Animal.
Image courtesy of Modern Animal

Throughout my veterinary career, a question dog owners have always asked me is “What do I have to do to make sure my dog has healthy teeth?” The answer to this type of question is probably more straight-forward than you might think: brush your dog’s teeth regularly (try for 3 times each week) and bring them to see their vet for a regular dental cleaning under anesthesia, also known as a Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment (COHAT).

CO-WHAT? COHAT. Your Dog’s Teeth’s New Best Friend.

A COHAT is basically a dental cleaning performed under anesthesia and includes an oral examination, x-rays to identify underlying dental health issues, and scaling, polishing, and extractions (if needed).

A COHAT is your best bet to prevent a wide range of dental health issues, including tooth infections, tooth loss, tooth pain, and jawline fractures.
COHAT: Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment (for dogs)

What Are the Benefits of a COHAT?

Although your dog’s teeth may seem to be in good shape, most dental health problems are invisible to the naked eye (under their gum line) and probably require a closer look. Here are six reasons why I recommend regular COHATs to members.

1. They’re the best way to treat and prevent periodontal disease

Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection that destroys the tissues supporting your dog’s teeth 🦷. This disease leads to gum inflammation and tooth decay, and in some cases, tooth loss and destruction of underlying bone. COHATs help prevent periodontal disease by removing plaque and tartar build-up beneath the gum line, which reduces your dog’s risk of severe dental issues.

2. They help save teeth (and money) in the long run

Dental cleanings under anesthesia may seem costly upfront, but they can help preserve your dog’s healthy teeth, which reduces the need for more expensive treatments, such as tooth extractions, down the line.

3. They decrease your dog’s dental pain

Bleeding, sore gums are a sign of gum disease. This condition can become painful for your dog if left untreated. Dental x-rays and dental cleanings under anesthesia are the only way to fully diagnose and treat the root cause of dental pain.

4. They help improve dog’s appetite

Dogs with dental problems may have difficulty eating, which can lead to weight loss and malnutrition. COHATs identify the source of pain, and are an opportunity to remove painful, damaged or abscessed teeth. This can improve your dog’s ability to eat, leading to a healthier appetite and weight.

5. They boost your dog’s overall health

We’re just beginning to understand the link between oral health and general health, but the preliminary findings are clear: dental health protects your dog’s overall health! Dogs with periodontal disease are more likely to suffer from more serious health problems, including jaw fractures, kidney disease, and heart disease.

6. They improve bad breath

Let's face it: no one likes bad breath! COHATs are the most effective way to remove the build-up of bacteria in your dog’s mouth.

What’s the Deal With Anesthesia-Free Dental Cleanings?

I’d steer clear of anesthesia-free dentistry. Here's why. While they may improve the appearance of your dog’s teeth, they are anxiety-inducing for your dog, do very little for their oral health, and do not treat below-the-gumline issues such as fractures or tumors. If your dog has severe dental health issues, they may need surgery or extractions, which cannot be performed during this type of cleaning.

I’m Scared of My Dog Getting Anesthesia. Is It Safe?

Anesthesia is often a fear-inducing word, and not without reason—its one of the most high risk parts of any veterinary procedure. That being said, the risks associated with anesthesia are greatly minimized when administered by a highly-trained and experienced veterinarian or veterinary technician.

How Often Does My Dog Really Need a COHAT?

The frequency at which a dog needs a COHAT depends on the individual dog and their oral health. A healthy adult dog may only need a COHAT every 1-2 years, while a dog with existing oral health issues may need them more frequently, sometimes as often as every 6 months.

It's best to consult with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate schedule for your dog.

How Much Do COHATs Cost?

The average cost for a canine dental cleaning  (without an extraction) at Modern Animal is $950. However, pricing for surgeries can range, and is dependent on many factors like your pet’s size, health, and age. A healthy 9-month-old Dachshund will likely have a lower invoice than a 7-year-old diabetic Great Dane.

The Bottom Line

In order for your dog’s teeth to be both healthy (and pretty), I recommend receiving a Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment (COHAT) every 6 to 12 months. COHATs not only improve the appearance and smell of your dog’s smile, but they also diagnose and treat serious dental health issues such as cavities, fractures, and tumors. By catching and treating your dog’s dental health issues early, you can prevent more costly procedures down the road.

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