We all want what’s best for our furry friends, especially when it comes to their health. However, your veterinarian will tell you that too many pet owners routinely overlook one of the most crucial areas of pet wellness: dental health.

You know how important your own teeth are, and you take measures to care for them every day (we hope). Shouldn’t your pet’s oral health be treated the same way? We’re not saying you have to start brushing your dog’s teeth twice a day, but there are simple things you can do to improve your dog or cat’s dental health.

Here are three reasons why taking care of your pet’s mouth may be more important than you realize.

Bad breath could be a sign of bigger problems.

Dogs and cats aren’t exactly known for their fresh-smelling breath, but a particularly bad case of dog breath could be caused by a buildup of bacteria in the mouth. That bacteria could lead to further problems down the road, including plaque buildup, gum disease, and even tooth loss. Addressing these issues early is the best way to prevent more serious complications.

85% of pets have periodontal disease by the age of three.

Gum disease comes in two stages: the first is gingivitis, which can be reversible with proper care and treatment. The more advanced stage is called periodontal disease, and the damage can be permanent. An astounding majority of pets will have periodontal disease by the time they’re three years old, and those odds increase as pets get older. Most veterinarians recommend twice-yearly checkups for older pets, partly because of the great risk of tooth loss from advanced gum disease.

Dental problems can lead to more health problems.

Some veterinary research suggests that periodontal disease in pets is linked with diseases of the organs, too, particularly in the liver, kidneys, and heart. Loose teeth may also be signs of a pet emergency, as this can be very painful for the animal and indicate larger problems with their physical health.

Finally, because our pets can’t tell us what’s wrong or where it hurts, it’s up to us to be proactive about their health. If your beloved pet has been acting strange, changing their behavior, or avoiding food, it could be a bad toothache or another serious health problem.

Despite the dire consequences, there is good news about dental pet health: These problems are entirely preventable through good practice. Talk with your local animal hospital or veterinary services about how to practice good dental hygiene at home, or where you can find a veterinary specialty center to give your fur baby a proper dental cleaning. You’ll be rewarded with your pet’s healthy smile for years to come!