Dental disease is very common in cats.
It is thought to occur in at least 85% of cats over 5 years of age! The problem often remains hidden, as looking in your cat’s mouth is not always easy.
Over time, plaque/tartar, bacteria and their breakdown products accumulate around the teeth. Gum disease (gingivitis) then periodontal disease can occur. These can have effects on other areas of the body such as the kidneys and heart. We will also commonly find other mouth problems, including broken teeth, disintegration of the enamel causing pain (resorbtive lesions), and occasionally tumours that need attention.
How do you recognise dental disease in your cat?
Resorbtive or neck lesions are a common feature of teeth problems in cats. These can start from a young adulthood. The enamel and crown appear to dissolve slowly leaving areas that are very sensitive or painful. Eventually the crown weakens so much it breaks away and only the roots remain. These teeth and roots are best removed to allow relief from the pain.
Apart from bad breath, you may notice a build-up of plaque – which is a soft off-white material on the teeth. This can be removed by brushing. Later this becomes brown and mineralises to form hard tartar (also called dental calculus). The gums may appear red and inflamed (gingivitis), and later the gum margins start to recede exposing the roots of the teeth and larger areas of inflammation and ulcers may be present. When the tissues that support the teeth are involved, it is called periodontal disease and the teeth become loose and eventually fall out. Painful tooth root abscesses may also form.
Unfortunately, cats can also suffer from severe inflammation in the mouth, sometimes associated with some feline viruses. These can be difficult cases to treat, but we have many successes along the way, with perseverance and the support of their owners.
Is dental disease serious?
YES, dental or mouth disease is serious for two main reasons:
1. Cats with dental disease will be in discomfort or pain. Animals always try to hide problems. Therefore, only some will show obvious signs of pain including:
- They may be irritable
- Difficulty eating, especially hard kibble, or pawing/rubbing at the mouth
- Resent being handled around the head
- The jaw may ‘chatter’ when touched
2. Bacteria associated with dental disease can travel via the bloodstream to cause infections in other parts of the body, including the kidneys and the heart.
Dental disease is preventable
Brushing to remove plaque and tartar is a good idea in theory, some cats will accept it. If you want to learn how to brush your pet’s teeth, make a nurse appointment and we can try to teach you.
If you suspect your pet already has dental problem, you should make an appointment with your vet.
Your vet or nurse can advise you on the best way to prevent dental disease.
Treating dental disease in cats
If dental disease has reached an advanced stage, there are a number of treatment options:
- Your vet may recommend a blood sample prior to having dental work to check that your pet is fit and well enough for an anaesthetic; that there are no other underlying problems that could be making things worse, e.g. kidney disease.
- A dental, scale and polish, plus extractions if needed, are performed under a general anaesthetic.
- x-rays may be needed to assess the crowns and roots.
- If infection is well established, antibiotics may have to be prescribed before and/or after dental treatment.
- Pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications are also often required.
Cats can still eat a wide variety of foods, often including hard pellets, even with no teeth. The most important thing is that they have a comfortable, healthy mouth. However, as some of these procedures need a general anaesthetic, it is best to try to keep their teeth clean, rather than rely on anaesthetics and dental scaling, if possible.