Small as they mostly are, the teeth of a dog or cat can cost as much or more to treat as human ones — and paying attention to them should be part of your health care priorities as a pet owner. Pet insurance may help when it comes to paying for that care, and to keeping your pet’s oral health — and, in turn, its overall health — high.
Unlike insurance for humans, where dental coverage requires a separate policy, pet dental insurance is folded into customary pet insurance coverage — at least from some pet insurance companies.
Common Pet Dental Issues
Here’s a rundown of the dental problems a dog or cat can suffer. Signs that your pet may be suffering from these include notably bad breath or drooling. While there are dentists that specialize in pet care, much veterinary dentistry can be performed by the same professional that attends to your pet’s other health care.
Dental problems in dogs
Dogs rarely get cavities, but are otherwise susceptible to the same dental issues as their owners. And, as with humans, many of these problems can be detected during a dental exam or with the help of X-rays or radiographs.
Here are some of the dental issues that most frequently bring dogs to veterinary clinics:
- Periodontal disease, which occurs along the gum line
- Mouth cysts or tumors
- Misaligned teeth and/or bite
- Broken or fractured jaws
- Cleft palate or related problems
- Extraction or repair to broken or damaged teeth, and roots
- Infected teeth or abscesses
Dental problems in cats
Cats are susceptible to much the same oral diseases as dogs, so most or all of the health problems for canines also apply to felines. But cats are also prone to what’s known as resorptive lesions. These eroded areas in the enamel of the teeth can be very painful and resemble cavities in humans.
What Does Pet Dental Insurance Cover?
Pet insurance usually covers at least the following dental problems:
Extraction or repair of broken teeth
By one estimate, 10% to 20% of dogs and cats will fracture their teeth at some point in their lives. If this happens to your pet, retain the lost tooth and bring it along to the vet with you, preferably immersed in some milk — which can help keep the tooth viable in case it can be replaced into the socket.
A root canal is considered a less invasive procedure than extracting a tooth, and a more beneficial one — since it often saves the tooth for the remainder of the dog's life. (If the mouth would still be well supported without a tooth, however, extracting it can be a viable option.)
Dental crowns are a restoration option for dogs or cats as well as humans. The material most often used for pets’ crowns is metal. It’s not only durable but requires less tooth structure to be removed than other crown materials.
Stomatitis is a painful inflammation of the mouth, often including the gums, tongue, inner surfaces of the lips, and the floor and roof of the mouth.
Gum disease, including gingivitis
In contrast to stomatitis, diseases of the mouth such as gingivitis affect the gums only, and involve inflammation. According to the American Veterinary Association, more than four of every five dogs three or older exhibit at least minor gum disease. Cats, too, are not immune to these conditions.
What pet dental insurance won’t cover
Dental pet insurance has some of the same coverage limitations as apply for policies for humans. But it also adds some other exclusions, too, such as preventive care (at least with standard coverage).
Here’s a list of dental work that typically isn’t covered by pet insurance plans:
- Pre-existing conditions
- Cosmetic, endodontic or orthodontic services such as caps, implants and filings
- Routine care such as regular dental exams and dental cleaning
How to Choose the Right Dental Insurance for My Pet
Here’s a rundown of insurers whose plans include pet dental insurance, along with some tips on how to buy pet insurance if dental coverage is important to you.
Companies that offer pet dental insurance plans
Here are companies that offer comprehensive dental coverage — as in both for illnesses and accidents.
- Healthy Paws
- Nationwide Whole Pet with Wellness
- Pets Best
- Prudent Pet
Tips to selecting a pet dental insurance plan
If you want to buy pet insurance that covers dental care, read on for some pointers on what a policy will and won’t cover. These will help you to minimize the cost of pet insurance and better save money on a policy that's right for your pet.
Puppies and kittens may be excluded
Some insurers disallow claims on dental coverage for the youngest animals. For example, policies from Lemonade exclude dental care in animals younger than 2 years old. Also, provisions can change from time to time, so pet owners should check the details in published advice before you sign on.
Existing dental problems won’t be covered
As with other aspects of coverage under pet insurance, you won't be reimbursed for the cost of treating dental problems that predated you getting a policy. Indeed, pets over the age of three may require an oral inspection by a vet to identify existing dental concerns for enrollment. Even if no problems are found, those that arise soon after the policy begins may not be covered, due to waiting periods (usually of a few weeks) after coverage first kicks in.
Restrictions on covering pre-existing conditions is one reason to consider insuring your pet as soon as it is eligible for a policy. (That said, insuring a young pet still may not pay off in the long run.)
Routine dental cleanings require an add-on wellness plan
Vets recommend an annual teeth cleaning for your animal. The procedure isn’t inexpensive. Cleaning a dog’s teeth at the vet often costs $500 and up, while the procedure for a cat might range between $100 and $400. Costs may soar in part because the uncooperative patient requires general anesthesia in order for the cleaning to be completed.
Unfortunately, that expense will only be covered by insurance if you add a wellness rider to your policy, at a typical cost of $10 to $25 a month. Even then, you’ll likely be on the hook for part of the cost, and sometimes more than even the regular — 20% to 30% — co-pay for your policy. That’s because insurers sometimes cap the maximum fee on which they will reimburse part of the cleaning cost at a level below what the dentist actually charges.
Cleanings prescribed by the vet should be covered
If teeth cleaning is prescribed for your pet, the expenses should be eligible for reimbursement. Let’s say your dog develops gum disease after you enroll him for insurance, and your vet thinks a teeth cleaning should be part of the treatment regime. The cost of the cleaning should then be eligible for reimbursement — provided the insurer doesn’t believe neglect on your part contributed to the conditions.
Preventative care can help limit dental costs
You can limit your pet’s need for dental care — and so for insurance that covers its cost — through routine dental care you can carry out yourself at home.
That starts with brushing much like you do for your own teeth. Vets recommend a regime of three times a week or more. Get a toothbrush and toothpaste, both specialized for pets, from your dentist, who can also instruct you on how to carry out the procedure.
Dental chews for your dog or cat can also aid in dental health, since they help break down plaque, the damaging material that arises in the mouth and can damage the teeth and gums.