As a pet insurance provider, we see hundreds of claims relating to dental conditions every year. So we know these issues can cost a lot to treat and cause owners and pets stress and pain.
Conditions tend to develop over time, which means it's often older dogs that need the most treatment. However, playing a role in looking after your pet's teeth from a young age can help prevent serious dental conditions from developing. Check out our guide to cat and dog teeth cleaning.
And if your pet does need vet care for dental conditions, you might find pet insurance does not cover it. Our Complete policy does include cover for dental illness and accidents as part of your £15,000 vet fee limit. Many companies only include dental illness in their most comprehensive policies.
We looked at our claims data and spoke to our Vet Relationship and Claims Manager and qualified vet nurse Sarah Dawson to find out more about the most common dental conditions pet owners should know about.
The most common dental conditions in cats and dogs are:
- Bad breath (Halitosis)
- Teeth abscess
- Warn or fractured teeth
- Resorptive lesions (usually cats)
If you're a new pet owner it's a good idea to examine your pet's mouth and gums regularly as it will help you to spot signs of disease. And if you've had pets for many years, it's never too late to get into the habit of checking.
Dental diseases can develop without you noticing, which is why regular checks are important.
Gingivitis is one of the most common conditions seen in vet practices. It's an inflammation of the gums and you will notice your pet's gums become red and swollen, and it can lead to bleeding.
It develops because of a build-up of plaque on the teeth and can be painful for cats and dogs.
Plaque builds up on the teeth because of bacteria in the mouth. Bacteria use the sugar found in food to produce acids that eat away at the tooth enamel. As more plaque builds up it can grow beneath the gums, eventually leading to swelling and inflammation.
Thankfully, gingivitis is easily treatable with good home dental care or with professional scaling and polishing at your vet. But don't leave it too long to get it treated, gingivitis can lead to the more serious condition of periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease is a more serious and advanced form of gingivitis. It’s the most common infectious disease found in dogs and cats but with the right dental care and treatment it can be prevented from developing further.
We have found that it costs over £450 on average to treat periodontal issues.
It affects the tissue that supports the teeth and holds them in place and in the most serious cases, your pet may need to have a tooth removed.
In the most extreme cases, the bacteria connected with periodontal disease can enter a pet’s bloodstream causing damage to internal organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys.
Bad breath (Halitosis)
Your cat or dog shouldn’t have really bad breath. If you notice an unpleasant smell, check their teeth and gums and arrange a visit to your vet.
The build-up of odour-producing bacteria is often the cause of bad breath. It's normally a sign of gum disease and there may be other issues that need to be addressed concerning your pet’s teeth and gums.
Having your pet’s teeth scaled and polished will help improve bad smells as it will remove the build-up of plaque and tartar that's responsible for causing the problem.
It isn’t always easy to spot a tooth abscess. They can be very painful, but pets don’t always show obvious signs of discomfort or distress.
An abscess is a collection of pus, usually caused by a bacterial infection. If left untreated it can lead to tooth loss and more serious health problems.
One clear sign that your pet has an abscess is that they may stop eating their usual food or only chew on one side of the mouth.
If you think there might be a problem, look inside their mouth. If there's an abscess, you will notice swelling and reddening of the gum around the affected tooth.
Warn and fractured teeth
Our pet’s teeth can be damaged or worn down through day-to-day activities such as chewing and carrying toys or sticks.
Worn teeth and fractures are more common in dogs but cats can also experience fractures.
The typical objects that can lead to tooth fractures include hard pet toys or balls. Bones, sticks, and pebbles can also cause damage.
It can be a good idea to choose soft toys and dental chews for your dog and if you have a garden or yard, make sure large stones and sticks are kept out of reach.
This condition only affects cats and around a third of all adult cats experience it. After periodontal disease, it is one the most common dental conditions for cats.
When it develops it can be extremely painful. The tooth structure in your cat’s mouth will decay and become weaker. When this happens the affected tooth is likely to break and expose sensitive nerves.
It isn’t always easy to spot in the early stages of the condition as the damage is taking place inside the tooth.
It’s difficult to correct the damage and in most cases, the affected tooth will need to be extracted by your vet.
Keeping your pet’s teeth and gums healthy
Sarah's top tips for avoiding common dental conditions include:
- Feed your pet a healthy diet
- Brush their teeth and give them regular dental care and check-ups
- Choose toys and chews that can combat dental disease
Regularly check your dog’s gums and mouth for any signs of disease and arrange regular dental check-ups with your vet.
A lot of pet owners don't always realise that brushing their pet's teeth is something they should be doing.
Admittedly, it isn't always the easiest thing to do but doing so is a great way to play an active role in your pet's health.
Regardless of how difficult it can be to begin with, it's worth persevering as tooth brushing can prevent the build-up of plaque and tooth decay. You may not have time to brush their teeth every day but it's worth making it a regular feature of your pet's dental care.
Remember, that many pet insurance policies don't cover dental work so it’s important that owners take good care of their pet’s teeth and gums.