Dental Health Awareness Month Has Gone to the Dogs

February is Dental Health Awareness month, and we’d like to offer a new spin on it this year: dental care for your pets! Did you know that by two years of age, 70% of cats and 80% of dogs have some form of periodontal disease?1 Help keep your furry friend’s teeth pearly white with proper prevention and dental care.

What is Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease is a condition in which inflammation and infection from bacteria and dental tartar break down the tooth’s support structures, such as the gums (“gingiva”), ligaments attaching the tooth to the jaw bone, and the surrounding bone itself. Some periodontal disease is reversible, but only with proper and prompt treatment, such as a dental cleaning. Over time, periodontal disease can lead to loose, diseased teeth, infection, oral ulcers (open sores in the mouth), and even heart or kidney disease.

What is Involved in a Dental Cleaning for Pets?

A pet’s dental cleaning usually consists of a thorough cleaning and polishing of their teeth while they’re under anesthesia. Anesthesia is necessary because veterinarians need to check and clean beneath the gums in order to prevent and treat periodontal disease.

The visible tooth is usually just the “tip of the iceberg” and more severe tartar, infection, and ligament or bone disease can be present below the gum line. Your veterinarian may also want to take dental radiographs or X-rays to ensure no underlying fractures, bone loss, or tooth re-absorption (“resorption”) is present or occurring.

Sometimes, a tooth has become so diseased that it is infected and no longer attached to the bone. Veterinarians will extract such teeth to let the mouth heal and prevent infection from going into the blood stream.

In general, adult dogs have 42 teeth and adult cats have 30 teeth, so extracting the occasional diseased tooth will not prevent a pet from being able to eat normally once they have healed. In fact, the mouth of a dog or cat is so tough that most could continue to eat hard or crunchy food without any teeth at all! Your pet may actually eat better after a dental cleaning because diseased teeth are often quite painful, so removing them can be a huge relief for a pet.

Does My Pet Need a Dental Cleaning?

Pet dental cleanings aren’t like a human’s to be scheduled every six months – and your pet certainly won’t remind you to schedule them. Instead, here are some ways to tell if they need a dental:

  • Crusty or discolored material (tartar) on the teeth
  • Bleeding in the mouth
  • Red or puffy gums, especially near the tooth
  • Loose teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Chewing only on one side of the mouth
  • Drooling
  • Pickier appetite

If you notice any of these symptoms, have your veterinarian check your pet’s mouth and help you determine if a dental procedure is needed and what to expect from it.

How Often Should Pets get Dental Cleanings?

Every pet is different, so there is no hard and fast rule about how often your pet should have their teeth cleaned. Some veterinarians recommend every six to twelve months while others suggest every two years or so. Keep the following in mind when thinking about your pet’s dental care:


Older pets usually need more dental attention than younger ones – but that’s not always the case. Pets as young as two years old might need a dental cleaning (especially smaller dogs). But keep in mind: although many pets don’t need a dental cleaning before age of six or seven, getting started early is a good way to keep up on their oral health.


Breed is not as much of a contributing factor for cats, but smaller dogs need dental cleanings more often than larger dogs – and there are several reasons why. First, their teeth, relative to their mouths, are big, which causes major overcrowding.

Smaller breeds are also known for hanging onto their baby teeth in addition to their adult teeth (seen a lot in Yorkies), which adds to the crowding. That, in turn, leads to more places tartar can build up. Given that their roots are very shallow, any level of periodontal disease can impact them more severely than larger dogs. Short-nosed dogs like Pugs, Brussels Griffons, Shih Tzus, and Bulldogs are particularly afflicted.

Daily Maintenance and Routine Care

Brushing your pet’s teeth and letting them chew on raw bones and hard toys is an important part of their dental health. There are tons of options out there, so find something that works for you and your pet.


Your pet’s diet influences their oral health. Be careful with starchy foods that can get caught in the crevices between their teeth. If your pet has a diet of starchy kibble or that’s a bit more grain-based, they will need more dental care. Regular brushing helps with this.

How Can AFI Pet Insurance Help Manage Your Pet’s Dental Care?

Armed Forces Insurance has partnered with Embrace Pet Insurance to protect your pets in every season of life. Embrace’s comprehensive accident and illness insurance has your furry friend covered when the unexpected happens, including breed-specific conditions, chronic conditions, cancer, and, you guessed it, dental diseases2 and trauma like broken teeth, gingivitis, periodontal disease, and more. Plus, their optional Wellness Rewards plan can be purchased in addition to the insurance policy to cover routine and preventative care – including dental cleanings. Get your free quote in minutes.

1 Brooke Niemiec, veterinary dentist; World Small Animal Veterinary Association meeting 2016

2 Dental accidents are covered up to your policy limit and dental illnesses up to $1,000 per policy year.