Dental Disease in Cats

Cats often need a visit to the dentist and we are well equipped to cater for them. If treatment is required for tooth extractions or further dental prophylaxis, a short general anaesthesia is required. This allows complete ultrasonic scaling and polishing of every surface of the teeth. The equipment used in the clinic is the same high quality that you would expect when you visit your own dentist. X-rays can be taken of suspicious teeth and when required we perform surgical extractions using an iM3 dental machine. We can even treat fractured canine teeth with either a root canal therapy or pulp capping.
Prevention is always better than a cure. Various dry foods have been formulated specifically to clean your cat’s teeth as well as a mouth rinse and drinking water additive.

Dental disease is one of the most frequent ailments seen by veterinary surgeons. Most cats over two years of age who are fed exclusively with commercial cat food have some degree of dental disease.

The most common problems are:

  • Periodontal disease
  • Gingivitis
  • Neck lesions (also called resorptive lesions or odontoclastic lesions).

What signs am I likely to see that indicate my cat might have dental disease?

Noticeable Signs:
  • Lack of interest in eating
  • Reluctance to eat after approaching his food bowl
  • Obvious caution or discomfort while chewing
  • Dropping food from her mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dribbling, possibly with blood in the saliva
  • Bad breath
  • Pawing at his mouth or shaking his head
  • Weight loss

What usually causes dental disease?

The most common cause of dental disease in cats is tartar accumulation. Just like people, cats accumulate bacterial plaque on the surface of their teeth. If plaque is not removed, it quickly becomes mineralised to form tartar (also called calculus).

Tartar is easily identified by its light or dark brown colour - it is normally first seen at the gum edge, especially on the back teeth (premolars & molars). In severe cases it may entirely cover the teeth.

The accumulation of tartar and bacteria on the teeth surfaces will, sooner or later, lead to infection and gingivitis (inflammation of the gums). If the disease is caught at this early stage, thorough professional veterinary treatment will permit a full recovery.

However, if gingivitis is allowed to persist untreated, then irreversible periodontal disease will occur. When that happens, the bone and ligaments that support the tooth are destroyed. Eventually, your cat will start to lose her teeth.

Tooth sockets may become infected and your cat can get tooth abscesses, or even more severe problems.

Once periodontal disease starts, the degenerative changes cannot be reversed. These changes make it easier for more plaque and tartar to collect, resulting in further disease.

Is gingivitis always associated with dental disease?

Some kittens and adult cats may show a slight degree of redness, indicating mild gingivitis, just below the edge of the gum. This can be normal if there is no other evidence of dental disease.

Some cats develop severe gingivitis with minimal signs of accompanying dental disease. This usually happens in pedigreed cats, although mixed breeds may develop gingivitis, too. Sometimes the gingivitis extends beyond the gums to other areas of the mouth, such as the throat or tongue. It is probably caused by Feline Calicivirus infection. This condition is often very difficult to control and may require repeated or constant treatment.

What are tooth neck lesions?

Neck lesions result from a progressive destruction of the tooth substance. Slowly deepening “holes” form in the teeth. Eventually the sensitive parts of the tooth are exposed and the lesions become intensely painful. Most of the time, the tooth has to be pulled.

The cause of tooth neck lesions is unknown, but poor oral hygiene is suspected to play a role. Neck lesions are very common, especially as cats get older.

What should I do if my cat has signs of dental problems?

If you can see that your cat has evidence of tartar accumulation, gingivitis or is exhibiting any signs of mouth pain or discomfort then you should take it to your vet for a check-up. Your vet may advise examining and cleaning the cat’s teeth under general anaesthesia.

The rate of tartar accumulation is very variable between individual cats, and some cats may need to have their teeth cleaned on a regular basis (every 6-12 months)

What can I do to help prevent dental disease in my cat?

The best way to prevent dental disease is to keep your cat’s mouth as clean as possible and reduce the rate of tartar build up. You can do this by including things in her diet that encourage chewing. Chewing stimulates the production of saliva, which contains natural antibacterial substances. In addition, the mechanical action of chewing helps scrape plaque and tartar from the teeth.

Some dietary options to help prevent dental disease are:

  • Tough pieces of meat and raw meaty bones, like chicken wings and necks. These can be added to your cat’s diet several times a week
  • Commercially prepared dry food that has been developed to prevent dental disease, such as:
  • Hills Science Diet T/D or Oral Care
  • Royal Canin Dental SO
  • Hexarinse is a mouthwash that is very effective in reducing the number of bacteria in the mouth which can be an effective way of reducing plaque build up and gingivitis. It is administered into the mouth daily. Most cats don't mind the flavour
  • Aquadent can also be added to drinking water to improve oral hygiene

It’s best to introduce these foods at an early age.

Another way to help prevent dental disease is to have your cat vaccinated against Feline Calcivirus.

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