As humans, we recognize the importance of good dental care: getting our teeth cleaned and checked each year, taking care of cavities, gingivitis, and wayward wisdom teeth, and following preventative measures such as regularly brushing and flossing. Like us, our pets have teeth that need care and regular maintenance. Poor dental health can make your pet downright uncomfortable, and it can make him or her very sick. Here are a few reasons to add dental cleaning and treatments to your pet’s annual healthcare to-do list.

1. Prevent bad breath and infection

Built-up plaque, tartar, and bacteria can lead to gingivitis, halitosis, swollen gums, and proliferating gum disease. Not only are these ailments accompanied by reeking bad breath, but they can also lead to pain and infection.

2. Prevent dental disease

If your pet has bad breath, discolored or loose teeth, red and inflamed gums or a swollen mouth, jaws, or gums, doesn’t play with chew toys or chew treats as often as he used to, and seems to have trouble eating because of pain, then your pet may have a dental disease.In cats, this could lead to tooth resorption lesions, which eat away at the cat’s teeth. In dogs, broken teeth – a common occurrence – can lead to extra bacteria entering the dog’s bloodstream, which can cause severe pain or infection. In both dogs and cats, periodontal disease is the most widespread dental disease; it is known as the “silent killer.”

3. Prevent periodontal disease

Periodontal disease is one of the most common dental diseases to afflict our pets, and close to three-quarters of all pets older than two years have some iteration of the disease, which can cause pain or infection in the pet’s heart, kidneys, liver, and pancreas. Periodontal disease-related bacteria can also create breathing problems, such as coughing, sneezing, snoring, wheezing, and even heart disease, tracheal collapse, or pneumonia, among other serious problems.

4. Help dogs chew for their health

Many animals, especially dogs, have a natural urge to chew on things. Chewing strengthens their teeth and can also keep their teeth clean. Animals whose teeth become weak, or who lose many of their teeth due to disease or lack of oral exercise, can no longer fulfil this urge. They can also lose the ability to eat solid foods and maintain a normal diet—which could put them at risk for malnutrition.

5. Ensure regular oral examinations by your veterinarian

A veterinarian-performed cleaning not only ensures that your pet’s teeth are clean, but also allows the doctor a chance to give your pet a thorough oral examination. When general anesthesia is administered for an oral cleaning, the veterinarian has an opportunity to screen your pet for broken teeth, cavities, oral cancer, and tooth resorption, as well as to check for periodontal disease and other dental diseases.

All of these ailments can be prevented with regular teeth cleaning and attention to your pet’s dental health. Next time you meet with your veterinarian, discuss your pet’s oral health and come up with a plan to keep your pet’s teeth and mouth in great, healthy shape.