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Few conversations about pet health begin with - or even include - dental health. Maybe you give your pup a tooth cleansing bone once in a while, but often that is as far as we, as pet parents, go when it comes to caring for our pup's teeth.
As is the case for humans though, dog dental health is far more important than we often realize. Yet the effects of poor dental health impact more than 75% of adult dogs. Increased awareness of pet dental health is helping to change that though, as is pet dental insurance.
Not only do dogs make use of their mouth, teeth and gums to eat and drink but they also use them to explore their world on a daily basis, meaning they put their gnashers through quite the daily workout. It also means that there are plenty of bacteria living in that mouth, which, if it is allowed to sit on their teeth and gums can develop into gingivitis and/or periodontal disease, the same stuff you have a bathroom cabinet full of human toothpastes to prevent.
Like humans, these dental diseases can cause tooth loss, receding gums, pain, tooth decay and more. The problems can spread far beyond a pup's mouth though, as should the teeth or gums become infected that infection can spread to the rest of a pup's body, leading to secondary infections and even vital organ damage, especially the heart, liver, kidneys and lungs.
Your pup's regular vet can provide most routine dog dental care. Like you they need routine dental cleanings, with scaling as necessary to keep plaque at bay. The initial diagnosis of any dental disease can be made by your usual vet as well. Most dog dental cleanings are done under sedation - for fairly obvious safety reasons - and should be performed every 6-12 months.
Although the average pet parent may not be quite as vigilant about their pup's teeth as they should be dentistry has long been a part of pet medicine. Many vets can perform dental surgeries as well - dogs can, and do, have root canals and similar surgeries as and when needed - and those who do not offer these services will refer on to a colleague that does.
As you might be aware, purchasing pet health insurance is becoming more and more common. For good reason. Keeping your pup healthy is as important as keeping your human kids - and yourself - healthy, but it can be an expensive undertaking. Pet insurance can help keep those costs down while still ensuring that your dog gets the care he needs, when he needs it.
Many pet insurance policies offer very similar coverage and pet parents often make a final decision between policies based on cost, deductibles and coverage for major ailments. If you are shopping for pet insurance, or have been thinking about doing so, pet dental insurance is also something that should be on the list when comparing pet health plans, especially as the major players in the pet insurance industry offer coverage that differs.
A good pet dental insurance plan should offer coverage for basic dental health screenings, x-rays, extractions and root canals and medical care in the case of a dental accident (a tooth that is loosened by a hard toy perhaps, or damaged during a play an energetic play session). Some pet insurance policies also offer coverage for dental cleanings and other preventative dental care.
To see what you might be able to expect when shopping for pet dental insurance we took a look at the offerings from three of the biggest players in the pet insurance industry right now; Embrace, Healthy Paws and Pets Best. All these plans offer varying levels of good coverage for most common physical ailments but what do they offer in terms of dental coverage and how much might it cost?
To help us find out, we enlisted the help of a pup pal of ours, Scott, a Great Dane who is three years old. Great Danes have some of the biggest teeth of any breed of dog, so for him getting great dental care is a must.
Right now Scott the Great Dane's teeth are in great shape, as his pet Mom makes sure he gets proper dental cleanings regularly and does practice preventative dental care at home too.
What she is concerned about is how much it might cost should he develop periodontal disease later in life, as many Great Danes are prone to do, and so is interested to discover what kind of pet dental insurance is available that might be able to offset treatment costs should that happen.
What are those costs?
More than you might imagine. A friend of Scott's from the local dog park, Daisy, who is a Labrador, recently fractured her tooth after chewing on her new toy just a little too aggressively.
To repair the damage her vet needed to safely extract the tooth, which involved an overnight stay at the vet's office and anesthesia. The bill came to $2,000! These are the kinds of expenses that Scott's dog mom is looking for dental coverage to offset. So let's look at what we found.
Moving onto Pets Best, another very popular choice with pet parents, we discovered that the company does offer coverage for periodontal disease as a part of all of its comprehensive pet insurance plans. There are some conditions that a pup must meet at the time the policy begins in order for the coverage to go into effect:
Your pup must be free of all dental disease at the time of sign up. You, as a pet parent, must be able to prove that your furkid has undergone a full, professional dental cleaning under sedation within the previous year if they are three years of age or older. This is not a requirement for dogs aged 0-2.
If your pup meets those requirements, as Scott does, then Pets Best provides coverage for up to $1,000 per year to treat periodontal disease and will reimburse for testing, surgeries and medication as needed.
Pets Best also offers coverage for dental accidents, with no benefit limit, and will reimburse towards the cost of all treatment that might be needed, including surgeries and extractions.
As is the case for all three of the companies on our list Embrace offers good coverage for dental accidents as a part of all of their standard pet health insurance plans. Had Daisy been a member, 60% of the cost of her emergency surgery would have been covered.
Provided that your pup is dental disease free at the time of sign up Embrace will cover dental disease, like periodontal disease, for up to $1,000 annually as well. If your pup does have dental problems at sign up however it will be considered a pre-existing condition and coverage will not apply.
Embrace also offers an additional plan they call Wellness Rewards. Wellness Rewards are an optional offering that works in much the same way as the flexible spending accounts offered by many human health insurance policies do. Should a pet parent choose to participate up to $650 is available to cover things like routine dental cleanings and pet parents are rewarded in the form of discounts and reimbursements when they follow a recommended preventative dental health care plan for their pup.
Healthy Paws offers coverage for accidental injury to your dog's teeth. In the case of an accident they will reimburse pet parents for the cost of any treatment needed to help their pup recover from the injury, including extractions.
Unfortunately for a pup in need of great dental care like Scott, routine dental care is something the company states it considers preventative and does not offer any coverage for such things at any of its plan levels.
As you can see, even with pet dental insurance in place you will have to meet some of the costs related to the treatment of any dental health problems your pup may develop. Therefore, it makes sense that you should do what you can to safeguard their dental health so that problems are less likely to arise. After all, prevention is always better than cure. Here are some tips:
Annual professional dental cleanings are a must for any pup, but pet parents should do all they can to keep their pup's teeth clean on a daily basis too. If you have a small, calm doggo cleaning their teeth with a soft dog toothbrush and an approved dog toothpaste is something you can probably so quite easily. If yours is a larger pup, or one that really objects to teeth cleaning - which many dogs do - keeping their pearly whites sparkling can be more of a challenge.
One of the things you can do is make use of special chew toys, bones and even kibble that are designed to help keep teeth clean.
There are a growing number of such things available, both in offline pet stores and online. If you are not sure which of them is best for your pup ask your vet for recommendations.
If your dog is an avid chewer he probably has a tough dog toy that is designed to stand up to his aggressive gnawing. This is just fine, but do make sure you supervise play and remove the toy if he seems to be gnawing too hard or for too long, as a broken tooth is a common 'side effect' of making use of 'tough' dog toys. You should also take the toy away if it splinters so that it does not cut your pup's delicate gums.
In dogs, the early signs of periodontal disease include excessive drooling, bad breath, blood specked saliva and a tendency to eat on one side of the mouth only. If you notice any of these symptoms, take your pup for a checkup right away, as the earlier dog dental disease is detected the easier, and more efficient, it is to treat (not to mention cheaper).