Do you have questions about your cat's dental health? We’ve answered some commonly asked questions below:
I learned from my veterinarian that dental disease is common in cats. How do I know if my cat has dental disease?
Dental disease in cats is very common. It is estimated that almost 70% of cats over the age of 3 have some type of dental disease. If your cat has shown less of an interest in eating, is dropping food from its mouth, or now prefers softer food, dental disease and the pain it often brings may be the reason. A “finicky” eater, especially one that’s losing weight, may be in need of a dental check to make sure its teeth are not the reason for its lack of interest in eating. Other signs to look for are foul smelling breath, drooling, pawing at the mouth or head shaking.
How do cats get dental disease?
Poor oral hygiene and the accumulation of bacteria on the teeth can lead to plaque, a sticky film that forms on the teeth. If left untreated, plaque will mineralize to form tartar. Tartar appears tan or brownish as it collects on the tooth. It will press and irritate the gums, causing inflammation or gingivitis. If the tartar is not removed, this process will continue; the gums will become more inflamed and become infected leading to periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is a serious form of gum disease which can lead to gum recession and eventually even tooth loss.
Can cats get cavities like we do?
Cats can get a similar condition called cervical neck lesions, also called feline oral resorptive lesions (FORL), in which the enamel of the tooth erodes into the dentin. The cause of this painful condition is unknown, although poor oral hygiene may be involved. FORL is a common dental disease in cats over the age of four. If caught at the early stage, when the enamel has not worn through to the dentin, the tooth can be treated by smoothing out the defect with a cleaning and polishing. In the later stages, when the enamel has worn through to the dentin, treatment does not stop the progression of the disease and many times the tooth will need to be extracted to relieve pain. A dental check and cleaning may be required every 6-12 months in cats with this condition, so that careful attention and treatment can be given to reduce pain and discomfort.
Do red gums always mean dental disease in a cat?
No, in some kittens and adult cats, a small amount of redness appearing as a line below the edge of the gums may be a normal variant if there are no other signs of dental disease. On the other hand, some cats may exhibit severe gingivitis (and in some cases inflammation spreading to other areas of the mouth) with very few signs of additional dental disease. This condition requires further investigation.
What if I suspect there is a problem with my cat’s teeth?
An appointment with your veterinarian for a dental exam would be advised. It may be determined that a professional cleaning and polishing under anesthesia is needed to remove mineralized tartar and to smooth out any enamel defects. Your veterinarian will also be able to evaluate the cat for further treatment, such as fluoride gel applications or an extraction if a diseased tooth is found.
Is there anything I can do to prevent dental disease in my cat?
Maintaining good oral hygiene is a must to help prevent dental disease in your cat. Most importantly, this would include daily (or at least twice weekly) teeth brushing using a veterinarian approved toothbrush and toothpaste to decrease plaque and tartar buildup. Ask your veterinarian for helpful advice on the best way to brush your cat’s teeth. As challenging as it may seem, with patience, persistence and some ‘TLC’ it can be accomplished and will make a big difference in your cat’s overall health. Additionally, there are special feline dental diets and dental products available to help decrease the amount of tartar buildup and lower the amount of bacteria present in your cat’s mouth. Your veterinarian can best advise you on a home dental care program specifically for your cat.
When it comes to your cat’s dental health, an ounce of prevention IS worth a pound of cure!