Pet Dental Insurance 101

Lori Zizka, RVT
Written by:
Published: June 7, 2022
Pet Dental Insurance 101

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Dental disease in pets is more common than many pet parents realize—as many as 85% of pets will have dental disease by the age of 3.

And just like in humans, dental disease in pets is more than just about the teeth. It can make existing diseases worse or even cause certain diseases, including heart, liver, and kidney disease, and dramatically reduce the quality of life for your senior pet.

While there are things you can do at home to protect your pet’s dental health, such as daily brushing, your pet also needs regular cleanings at the vet’s office. Dental insurance is a great way to help manage your pet’s dental expenses while providing great dental care.

Does My Pet Need Dental Insurance?

The short answer is probably yes.

Having a pet insurance plan that includes dental cleanings, accidents, and illness can help you manage your pet’s dental care and protect you against expensive surprises.

Even if you practice excellent dental hygiene at home for your pet, they should still be getting professional dental care. It’s also likely that older pets will eventually experience a more serious dental problem.

All dental cleanings should be performed under general anesthesia so your vet can thoroughly assess each tooth and look at gum tissue. The American Animal Hospital Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association caution against non-anesthetic dental cleanings.

Routine cleanings can be expensive, and it can get more expensive if your pet needs oral surgery to remove any teeth. Your vet likely won’t be able to tell if they need to do any extractions until they are able to do a thorough assessment of each tooth during your pet’s regular dental checkup/cleaning.

How Does Pet Dental Insurance Work? Is It Included in Regular Pet Insurance Policies?

Most companies don’t offer stand-alone or add-on dental insurance. If there is any dental coverage, you’ll find it noted in the bullet points or fine print of traditional pet insurance plans. There are three main types of traditional plans: accident-only, accident and illness, and wellness plans.

With most pet dental insurance, you will have to pay the total up-front costs at the vet, instead of paying a copay like you would at your dentist. Then you submit the receipt to the insurance company for approval and reimbursement.  

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What Does Pet Dental Insurance Cover?

That depends on the type of traditional pet insurance you have and what the fine print says about dental coverage:

  • In general, an accident-only pet insurance plan would cover only dental accidents, like a chipped tooth.

  • An accident and illness pet insurance plan may or may not cover both dental accidents and dental illness, such as gum disease. There are exclusions, such as pets that showed signs of dental disease before you got the plan or pets over age 3 that don’t have proof of regular dental exams/cleanings.

  • Pet wellness plans may or may not cover dental cleanings; if they do, it is usually up to a set amount.

You should start taking your pet for dental cleanings no later than age 2, since most pets already have dental disease at age 3. Ask your vet about when to have your pet’s first cleaning and how often to schedule them, because your pet may have different needs.

Some pet insurance companies will decline coverage for pre-existing dental conditions or complications caused by lack of routine dental care. This is why you should keep up with your pet’s dental hygiene and get a dental policy early on.

Your vet will assess your pet’s dental health and assign a grade:

  • Grade 1: No tartar to mild tartar/plaque and healthy gum tissue

  • Grade 2: Mild plaque with slight gingivitis

  • Grade 3: Heavy plaque with notable gingivitis

  • Grade 4: Heavy plaque, gingivitis, and systemic infection

How to Find the Right Pet Dental Insurance

When shopping for pet insurance policies that include dental coverage, ask the following questions. Get your vet’s input as well as you consider the following factors:

  • Do you have a small dog/cat or a larger dog? Dental coverage usually costs slightly more for dogs than for cats, mostly due to size. Larger pets require more anesthetic drugs, higher doses of medications, and longer anesthetic and cleaning times.

  • How old is your pet?

    • Policies for older pets are often more expensive due to management of health issues and supportive care. An accident/illness plan might be best for them. With this plan, you’d still pay out of pocket for routine cleanings, but your pet would have coverage for issues such as mass removals, gingival hyperplasia treatment, and injuries, including broken teeth.

    • For pets not yet 3 years old, consider a plan that covers preventive care/routine cleanings. This type of plan will help you manage the cost of routine dental care for pets that are less likely to have severe dental illness.

  • What’s your pet’s general health? Coverage for pets with pre-existing medical conditions may be more expensive, or those issues may be excluded from coverage. Many health conditions also affect your pet’s teeth and may result in higher dental bills. Apply for coverage when you first adopt your pet, to help avoid these complications.

  • Consider your pet’s habits and lifestyle. If you have a very active chewer, for example, you might consider an injury/illness plan to address broken and damaged teeth.

  • Check a prospective plan to ensure that it covers breed tendencies or breed-associated dental conditions. Boxers, for example, tend to develop gingival hyperplasia, which is an overgrowth of gum tissue that needs to be removed for dental health and cleaning.

Featured Image: iStock.com/RossHelen

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