The most common dental conditions in pets

5 January 2022 - 6 min read

Here at ManyPets, we handle thousands of claims for dental and oral conditions each year, so we know how much stress and pain they can cause you and your pet.

So as well as revealing what the most common dental diseases are for your pet, we’ll tell you how to avoid them in the first place and how to spot them if you do suspect a problem with your cat or dog’s mouth.

Our Complete policy covers dental illness.

We looked back at how many pet insurance claims we handled for tooth and mouth conditions between 1 November 2020 and 31 October 2021.

Our research showed that these are the most common dental and oral conditions for dogs:

  1. Tooth disorder (32% of all oral/gum/tooth claims)

  2. Tooth structure injury (29%)

  3. Retained deciduous tooth (10%)

  4. Oral mass or lesion (5%)

  5. Periodontal disease (5%)

  6. Gingivitis or gum disease (4%)

  7. Oral pain (3%)

And the most common dental issues for cats are:

  1. Tooth disorder (32% of all oral/gum/tooth claims)

  2. Gingivitis or gum disease (23%)

  3. Resorptive lesion (14%)

  4. Tooth structure injury (11%)

  5. Peridontal disease (6%)

  6. Oral mass or lesion (4%)

  7. Oral pain (3%)

The general diagnosis of ‘tooth disorder’ accounts for almost a third of all dental and oral claims for both cats and dogs and might sometimes be used to describe some of these other conditions before they’ve been further investigated.

We asked out Vet Relationship and Claims Manager Sarah Dawson to tell us more about some of the common dental conditions on our list.

Vet relationship and claims manager Sarah Dawson

Sarah is a qualified vet nurse, so she has plenty of experience of these cat and dog oral health issues and what you can do to avoid them in your pet.

Gingivitis

A dog having its teeth examined

Gingivitis is one of the most common conditions seen by vets, especially for cats where it accounts for nearly a quarter of all dental and oral claims.

Gingivitus is inflammation of the gums. It develops because of a build-up of plaque on the teeth and can be painful for cats and dogs. You might notice your pet's gums become red and swollen, leading to bleeding.

Plaque builds up on the teeth because of bacteria in the mouth. Bacteria uses 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 a more serious condition called periodontal disease.

Average claim paid out for gingivitus: £353

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 the right dental care and treatment it can stop it getting worse.

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 really severe infections, the bacteria connected with periodontal disease can enter a pet’s bloodstream causing damage to internal organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys.

Average claim paid out for periodontal disease: £494

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Tooth abscess

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.

It's not always easy to spot a tooth abscess. Although they can be very painful, your pet might not show obvious signs of discomfort or distress.Look out for them being unwilling to eat their usual food, or only chewing on one side of the mouth.

If you think there might be a problem, look inside their mouth. If there's an abscess, you'll notice swelling and reddening of the gum around the affected tooth.

Average claim paid out for tooth abscess: £461

Worn or broken teeth

Your pet’s teeth can be damaged or worn down through day-to-day activities like chewing, but carrying hard pet toys, balls, bones, sticks, and pebbles can also cause damage.

Because of this, worn teeth and fractures are more common in dogs but cats can also break a tooth, typically in a fall or road traffic accident.

Choose soft toys and dental chews for your dog and try to limit unsupervised play with large stones and sticks outdoors.

Average claim paid out for tooth structure injury: £507

Resorptive lesions

This condition only affects cats, but it's very common. After gingivitis, it’s the most common dental conditions for cats.

Around a third of all adult cats will have resorptive lesions at some time.

A cat having its teeth examined

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 happening inside the tooth.

It’s difficult to correct the damage and in most cases, the affected tooth will need to be removed by your vet.

Average claim paid out for feline resorptive lesion: £427

Does pet insurance cover dental treatment?

Most pet insurance policies will only cover dental accidents, which might include things like broken teeth and injuries to the mouth. A few pet insurance providers include dental illness in their most comprehensive policies.

Our Complete policy includes cover for dental illness and accidents as part of your £15,000 vet fee limit.

How can I keep my pet's teeth healthy?

Pet insurance doesn’t cover routine dental work so it’s important that owners take good care of their pet’s teeth and gums at home between vet check-ups.

Sarah's top three tips for avoiding common dental conditions are:

  1. Feed your pet a healthy diet

  2. Brush their teeth and give them regular dental care and check-ups

  3. Choose toys and chews that can combat dental disease

  4. Examine your pet's mouth and gums regularly to help you spot signs of disease.

you can do this as part of a regular tooth brushing routine.

Signs and symptoms of dental disease in pets

"From my own experience of working in veterinary practices, I've found that dental issues can often be missed, especially for pets with smaller mouths,” says Sarah. “It’s only when the situation gets very bad that owners start to notice changes in their pet’s behaviour.”

Make a quick oral check a part of your pet’s regular grooming routine so you’re more likely to spot problems early.

These are the eight main signs of dental disease to look out for in your cat or dog:

Signs of dental disease in pets

1. Discoloured teeth

Yellow or brown teeth in cats or dogs is a sign of plaque build-up. Cats and dogs can develop plaque on their teeth when saliva, food particles and bacteria come together.

If plaque’s left untreated it combines with minerals in the mouth to become hard tartar which looks like a yellow-brownish crust developing around the gums.

The build-up of tartar can lead to gingivitis, periodontal disease or even tooth abscesses.

2. Abnormal drooling or a runny nose

Your pet might drool if they can’t close their mouth or swallow without pain.

Infections from abscesses (under the gum line) can create a pus pocket and that infection can get into the sinuses and nasal cavities. If this happens, your pet may start sneezing or have a runny nose.

3. Loose, missing or broken teeth

If your pet starts whining when they’re eating or when someone touches their mouth, it could be dental disease.

4. Weight loss

If you notice your pet isn't showing its normal interest in food, it could be down to a dental issue.

They're most likely finding it difficult or uncomfortable chewing their food. If it's an ongoing issue, you might even notice that they've lost weight.

5. Reluctance to chew food

If your pet isn't eating as normal, there can be lots of causes, but don’t rule out dental disease. Check their mouth and see a vet to find the cause before your pet begins to lose weight.

6. Bad breath (halitosis)

Your cat or dog shouldn’t have really bad breath. If they do, it's normally a sign of gum disease or another oral condition that needs investigating by your vet.

The build-up of odour-producing bacteria is often the cause of bad breath. 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 causes the problem.

7. Red gums

Look out for a swollen jaw and heat or redness. This might mean an infection in the gums around the tooth root. Any inflammation along the gum line where the gum meets the tooth is a sign of gingivitis.

Treating dental conditions

Did you know you can use online pharmacies to get the same dental medication your vet would give you at cheaper prices? And it can be more convenient because you can order at any time from your phone or computer and have the medication delivered to your door. Find out more about online pharmacies here.


Rodney Dennis
Content marketing executive

Rodney joined ManyPets in 2018 to specialise in pet health and insurance content. He previously worked in the Financial Services sector writing articles, blogs and thought leadership papers on banking regulation and financial technology.