- Dental problems in cats can be defined as any issue with the teeth or gums that can affect a cat’s health.
- These problems include plaque and tartar buildup, tooth decay, FORL, fractures, misalignment, gum disease (gingivitis, periodontitis), stomatitis, tumor, abscess, and halitosis.
- Signs can vary from bad breath and discolored, loose or missing teeth to inflammation and swelling but abnormal salivation and change in behavior or eating habits can also occur.
- Treatment and medication will vary according to the cause.
- Since the consequences can be very serious (sometimes even fatal) it is important to take preventative actions.
Did you know that cats’ teeth can be just as problematic as human teeth and they also can develop different dental problems over time?
As it turns out, dental problems are among the most prevalent issues seen by veterinarians when treating cats. In fact, the American Veterinary Dental College reports that dental disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem in cats, affecting more than 70% of cats by the age of two to three.
And, while this problem tends to be more common and more severe as cats get older, it can actually affect cats of any age with different severity – ranging from a mild accumulation of tartar and bad breath to severe infection, tooth loss and even potentially life-threatening systemic illnesses.
What is dental disease in cats and how does it develop?
Dental problems in cats can be defined as any issue with the teeth or gums that can affect a cat’s oral health.
How do dental problems develop in cats?
In a nutshell, just like us, cats also have oral bacteria which adheres on the surface of the teeth. When in contact with saliva and food particles, these bacteria cause the first stage of dental problems in the formation of plaque buildup. Without proper dental care, the cat’s teeth get covered in plaque as it forms daily in the cat’s mouth.
If this plaque is not removed, it begins to mineralize and harden into tartar that can eventually cause tooth decay and inflamed gums: gingivitis. If left unattended, the bacteria that cause gingivitis under the gum line will then cause deeper infection and breakdown of the tissues (periodontitis) that hold the teeth in the root socket. The breath becomes very odorous and the teeth will eventually become very unstable and loose which can lead to potential tooth loss.
Apart from bad breath, gingivitis, periodontitis and tooth loss other possible dental problems and diseases can also occur if the teeth and gums are not cared for properly, such as stomatitis, feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions, fractures or oral ulcers and tumors.
What factors affect the development of cat dental problems?
There are several factors that contribute to the development of cat dental problems. These include:
- Age: Typically, older cats are more prone to plaque and tartar buildup.
- Breed, genetics: Many purebred cats have inherited poor dental quality, thus allowing plaque to build up even more rapidly.
- Tooth alignment: Teeth that are positioned abnormally in the cat’s mouth are more likely to accumulate plaque and tartar.
- Diet: There are special diets available that can help in keeping plaque from building up on the cat’s teeth.
- Grooming habit: Cats that have hair stuck between their teeth are more likely to develop plaque and tartar.
- Dental care: While lack of any home dental care can greatly increase the risk of dental problems, regular dental care can reduce the risk of plaque and tartar accumulation.
- Chemistry in the mouth: Bacteria and other local changes in the cat’s mouth can increase the development of tartar.
- Injury and extant diseases: There are some diseases in cats that have been known to cause or worsen dental problems, such as feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline calicivirus (FCV), and chronic kidney or liver failure.
What are the most common cat dental problems?
Dental problems are usually categorized into 3 primary groups depending on what part of the cat’s mouth is affected: the teeth, the gums or the whole mouth.
The first group includes those diseases that mainly involves the teeth, like formation of plaque and tartar, cavities and tooth decay.
Dental problems in cats typically begin with the accumulation of dental plaque that develops on the surface of the cats’ teeth after meals.
Cat dental plaque
From the moment teeth erupt, they are exposed to food particles, saliva, and oral bacteria. Typically, without proper dental care, small particles of food remain in the cat’s mouth after eating, because of which bacteria begin to grow and the cat’s teeth get covered in a thin film of plaque.
Dental plaque is actually a thin complex film that is composed of saliva, food particles and bacteria which builds up on the surfaces within the cat’s teeth.
Early in the dental disease, the plaque is not more than a sticky colorless deposit that is fairly soft, and usually easy to remove. However, this condition can easily result in bad breath and it takes as little as a day for plaque to start building up and left unattended can lead to even more serious problems.
Tartar or cat dental calculus
The next step in dental disease is the formation of tartar.
As in humans, in the early stages of bacterial accumulation, the material is a hardly visible soft film called plaque. However, left unattended (even only for one or two days), the presence of sticky plaque allows more bacteria to adhere to the cat’s teeth causing the plaque layer to grow and become thicker, forming a harder yellowish deposit on the teeth using minerals – mostly calcium. This yellowish or brownish mineralized plaque layer or coating on the sides of the teeth is called tartar also known as dental calculus.
Once tartar forms, it cannot be loosened because of its thickness and hardness. It can only be removed at the veterinarian’s office using special dental equipment under anesthesia called dental scaling and polishing.
However, if this procedure is not done, tartar will adhere to the cat’s teeth – sometimes even covering the whole tooth – allowing more bacteria to thrive, leading to more and more tartar build-up. In addition, tartar can also produce nasty toxins resulting in infection and other cat dental problems.
Tooth decay and tooth loss
Tooth decay is one of the most common dental problems for cats.
When plaque isn’t removed from the cat’s teeth, it hardens into tartar which throws off the balance of healthy bacteria in the cat’s mouth promoting bacterial infections.
When this bacteria-filled tartar gets under the gum line, it can cause inflammation and infection which will irritate the gums and damage the supporting bone structure and tooth roots.
As a result, the cat’s teeth will decay, separate and loosen leading to eventual tooth loss.
Cat cavities or Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesion (FORL)
A comparatively common dental problem that affects 25-50% of cats around the age of four to five is feline odontoclastic resorptive lesion, also known as cat cavities, tooth resorption or neck lesions.
FORL occurs when tartar is allowed to remain on the tooth’s surface for a longer period which will form a shallow pit on the tooth generally starting at the gum line. If the resorption is obvious, it can appear as a hole in the tooth, which is why the condition is sometimes referred to as a cavity.
Over time, this cavity-like crater gets worse resulting in a slowly deepening hole and the affected tooth (most commonly the lower premolars) progressively erodes to the point where it breaks off at the gum line leaving the root behind. Once this sensitive part is exposed, these lesions are extremely painful.
Tooth fracture is a relatively common disorder in cats that can occur as the result of a direct traumatic event or injury, or in rare occasions, chewing on hard objects.
Fractures most commonly affect the cat’s canine teeth and usually occur on the top portion of the tooth (the crown) or below the gum line (the root) involving damages to the tissue around the teeth: the enamel, dentin, and cement.
In minor cases, when only the tip of a crown is fractured, it may not even bother the cat showing no apparent symptoms. However, in severe occasions, the tooth pulp – the living connective tissue located in the center of the tooth – can be damaged which can result in painful inflammation and infection leading to further dental problems.
Another possible dental problem that can occur in cats is tooth misalignment or malocclusion which means that the teeth or jaws do not fit together correctly inhibiting the teeth’ proper function.
It usually occurs as a result of hereditary defect, growing tooth failure, delayed loss of baby teeth, abnormal chewing or even trauma or injury, and typically begins when the kittens’ baby teeth start erupting and worsens over time as the jaw’s structure and teeth continue to grow.
In less severe cases, tooth misalignment can be temporary and can correct itself over time (as the baby teeth fall out). However, other times, it can also develop to a permanent problem which can result in other health issues affecting various functions and overall health.
The second category of dental diseases involves gum diseases.
Gum disease – also known as periodontal disease – is a very common dental problem in feline practice, affecting around 85% of all cats by the time they turn two years old.
Periodontal disease is a collective term for several progressive inflammatory conditions of the supporting tissues surrounding the teeth near the gum line. It ranges from simple gum inflammation to serious degradation of the tooth, the soft tissue and the supporting bone resulting in major damage to the entire tooth structure.
Just like other dental problems in cats, gum diseases also start with plaque that builds up at the outer base of the cat’s teeth, usually near the gums. If the plaque is not removed, it hardens to form tartar on the teeth. The presence of bacteria in the plaque and tartar near the gum line irritates the gum edges causing them to become inflamed. Over time, the bacteria work their way under the gums leading to further inflammation and more extensive infection.
If left untreated, the condition progresses and the bacteria will spread throughout the gums, ligaments, and bones which will eventually destroy the entire supporting tissue around the tooth leading to tooth loss.
The above mentioned entire progress of periodontal disease is categorized to different conditions (types).
Types of periodontal (gum) diseases in cats:
Gingivitis – inflammation of the gums – is an extremely common dental problem found in cats of all ages. It is the first, early stage of periodontal disease that varies widely in severity.
As with most of the dental problems, this condition is also caused by bacteria in plaque and tartar. The first stage occurs as quickly as two days after plaque formation has begun and appears as a dark red line along the gum line. While in mild gingivitis the bacteria found in plaque causes damage, inflammation and sometimes swelling to the gum tissue, it does not affect the tooth root, and can easily be reversible with appropriate treatment.
As time progresses, the entire gum line will become inflamed and swollen, and the gums start to separate from the teeth causing gingival pockets. This stage is called moderate gingivitis.
In the third stage – severe gingivitis – cats have a lot of tartar on their teeth, their gums are usually cherry red, extremely inflamed and often bleed, and the gingival pockets are very deep. This is a very painful condition for a cat, not to mention that it can lead to further problems (like periodontitis, ulceration, abscess or even tooth loss) if not remedied.
Periodontitis is a very advanced gum disease that is more common in older cats. It occurs when gingivitis is left untreated and all of the structures surrounding and supporting the teeth become inflamed.
When gingivitis is left unattended, the teeth are covered in large amount of tartar and the gums are usually very sore, sometimes even recessed. The existing bacteria deep below the gum line spread from the gums to the ligaments and tissues that surround and support the tooth causing deeper infection. At this point, there will likely be some bleeding as well as pus surrounding the tooth. Eventually, all the supporting structures will be diseased and have usually begun to break down exposing the tooth root because of which the tooth will become very unstable. As a result of loss of support, the tooth can even fall out.
Please note that the bacteria causing this chronic infection can get into bloodstream and travel to the internal organs causing blood poisoning and wider spread of disease.
The third group of cat dental diseases consists of those issues that affect the cats’ mouth, like stomatitis, oral tumors, and cancer.
In addition to gum diseases, a cat can face other severe dental issues affecting any part of the mouth and throat like cheeks, lips, gums, tongue.
Feline stomatitis is a severe inflammation of the cat’s entire oral cavity (the mouth tissues, throat, and even underlying bone) and can affect cats of any age or breed.
While the exact cause is unknown – may result from a foreign body in the mouth, dental disease, or certain viruses – an underlying autoimmune disorder is strongly suspected where the cat’s immune system has an abnormal, aggressive inflammatory response to the presence of bacteria or other infectious agents in her own mouth.
As a result, the inflammation spreads from the gingiva (gums) to other areas of the mouth (particularly at the back, behind the molar teeth) causing severe inflammation and sometimes even mouth ulcers.
The outward signs of this condition are red, raw, inflamed, and often ulcerated and bleeding gums. In worst cases, the inflammation can even extend to the roof of the mouth and down the cat’s throat.
This is one of the most painful and frustrating conditions cats can develop and can be quite difficult to manage.
Oral tumors, cancer
Unfortunately, oral tumors are relatively common in cats having the cancer of the oral cavity the fourth most commonly diagnosed in feline practice. While many types of cancer can be found in cats, the most common oral tumor is squamous cell carcinoma.
Oral tumors are very serious and can occur in the gums, lips, tongue, jawbone, or palate but most frequently start under the tongue.
Cats with any form of mouth cancer will show the signs of masses in the mouth, swelling, drooling or bad breath. Since oral cancer can grow rapidly and early diagnosis is key for successful treatment, any swelling of the mouth associated with bad breath should be checked immediately by a veterinarian.
Other common dental problems
Just like humans, cats can also experience dental abscess which is a localized collection of pus. Typically, two types of dental abscesses can form depending on the location:
- Tooth abscess occurs inside the tooth usually affecting the pulp. It is most commonly caused by severe tooth decay, FORL or trauma to the tooth like fractures or injuries.
- Gum abscess is usually caused by gum diseases (gingivitis or periodontitis) and occurs when either the gum or the surrounding tissues are affected.
The dental abscess formation is relatively fast. When the inside of a cat’s mouth gets hurt or irritated, bacteria enters and causes an infection forming a cavity: a painful swelling filled with pus (a thick, yellowish fluid). This is known as abscess.
If the pus can’t drain out, the buildup of pressure causes more swelling and a lot of pain. On the other hand, in some occasions, a tiny opening (like a hollow tunnel) forms through the bone and skin to allow pus to drain resulting in reduced pressure and disappeared pain. However, the infection will not go away on its own and still needs to be treated.
If abscess is not treated, it can burst from too much pressure and cause large wounds in the cat’s face not to mention that the infection can also spread throughout the body and compromise vital organs leading to more serious health problems.
Halitosis: bad breath
Bad breath in cats – also known as feline halitosis – is not a natural condition – in fact, it is a dental problem – and is quite a common complaint by cat owners. While a cat’s breath does not need to be perfectly odor-free or minty fresh (as most of the time it will be similar to her recent food), it should not be extremely strong, seriously stinky or offensive either.
In particular, if your cat does have bad breath, it should raise some concern as it is often a warning sign of possible serious health issues. While the most common cause of halitosis in cats is some form of dental disease caused by poor dental hygiene, there are a great variety of other reasons that can lead to bad breath.
It can be caused by different reasons from something as simple as smelly food or teething, or something as complicated as liver disease or lung cancer. It could be a tiny foreign body in the mouth or could also be an indication of many health conditions, like diabetes or gastrointestinal issues.
Since halitosis can be an early sign of underlying serious dental or other health problems, it is important to identify the cause as soon as possible and treat the problem accordingly.
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What are the consequences of dental problems in cats?
Although dental problems usually progress slowly, they can easily get out of control leading to even more serious (sometimes even life-threatening) consequences. When a cat develops dental disease, it affects her health and overall well-being. How?
The oral bacteria and their toxins that adhere on the surface of the cat’s teeth in the form of plaque and tartar not only can destroy the teeth and gums but can also get into the bloodstream causing potentially fatal conditions by damaging vital organs throughout the body, such as the lungs, intestines, liver, kidney and heart.
- Cats with dental problems constantly release bacteria from their mouth and every time they inhale, they inhale bacteria and toxins into their lungs causing significant problems.
- Whenever cats with dental issues eat, they swallow these bacteria and bacterial toxins into their stomach and intestines resulting in gastrointestinal disease or even organ failure.
- When cats suffer from gum disease, the liver has to work overtime, as it is one of the main organs that filters the blood of impurities like the bacteria caused by the diseased gums. In chronic cases, the liver can become stressed and will no longer able to function properly.
- When a cat has dental or gum disease, her immune system has to fight the bacteria which float in the bloodstream. Since these complexes are huge structures, the kidneys have a difficult time filtering them which will cause the kidneys to simply wear out and eventually lead to kidney failure or even premature death.
- When an infection occurs in a cat’s gums, bacteria can easily gain access to the bloodstream as the gums have a rich blood supply. Since the heart valves are extremely vulnerable, the infection originating in the gums often causes permanent damage in the heart, and may eventually lead to heart failure.
Dental problems can become even more severe as the cat ages due to the ongoing dental infections and constant load of bacteria and bacterial toxins, because of which damage to the tongue, teeth, palate, and gums can lead to many other health risks and diseases for cats.
Research has shown that dental disease can weaken the immune system lowering the resistance to non-dental health issues which in turn can worsen pre-existing conditions and can also increase the risk of infections of vital organs, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, arthritis, heart failure, and even cancer.
In addition, cat dental problems are usually painful making cats’ life absolutely miserable. Sore mouth and incredible pain can cause discomfort while eating, chewing toys and playing which can lead to loss of appetite, weight loss, and deterioration of the cat’s quality of life.
On top of it all, as the immune system weakens (because of the continual oral infections), the ability to deal with other diseases decreases which will certainly affect the cats’ health and can even reduce their lifespan.
GOOD TO KNOW
How to know if a cat has dental problem? – What are the signs of dental problems in cats?
Unhealthy teeth and gums can have a great impact on your cat’s entire body. However, if you can catch dental problems in an early stage, you can prevent further damage. Therefore, it is important to know the signs of dental problems and act according to their severity.
While pain would be a key sign that something is wrong in your cat’s mouth, the problem is that cats hide their pain well and usually show no obvious sign of discomfort even though they feel it and they may be silently suffering.
So how do you know if your cat has dental problem? What signs do you need to look out for?
There are numerous of symptoms that should alert you to dental disease or other mouth problems in your cat, including changes related to her mouth, her eating habits and her overall behavior. Here are some warning signs that your cat may have some form of dental problem:
There is no other stronger symptom that you can probably notice than an unusually strong and offensive odor coming from your cat’s mouth. Do not think that a persistent bad breath is normal.
If your cat’s mouth has an abnormally strong, unpleasant odor, that is an early warning sign that your cat is having some form of dental problem.
However, please note that bad breath in cats can also be a symptom of conditions affecting other parts of their body, such as liver (bile-like smell) and kidney (urine-like smell). In addition, bad breath can also indicate feline diabetes if the smell is unusually sweet or perhaps fruity.
Discolored, lose or missing teeth
The next clear sign of any dental problem is excessive tartar buildup. Teeth that are covered in tartar are usually discolored as tartar appears as a yellowish-brownish, hard accumulation on the surfaces of the cat’s teeth (particularly on the molars) along the gum line.
Apart from discolored teeth, loose, broken or missing teeth can be other warning signs of dental disease, while pus discharge may indicate even more severe oral problems.
Inflamed gums and swelling
While a cat’s gums are normally pink, in the case of dental problems the gum line along the teeth can turn remarkably red. This sign points to gum irritation and inflammation which – in addition to swelling – is also likely to cause bleeding, especially along the gum line.
Sometimes, ulcers and unusual lumps can also be seen on the gums or the tongue. In addition, in severe cases, swelling can also occur in the jaws and mouth which could indicate more serious dental problems, like dental abscess or tumors.
Cats with chronic dental problems often drool excessively. Additionally, if the mouth is very inflamed, the saliva may even contain traces of blood which may point to a more serious condition.
Changed eating habits
Apart from discolored teeth, inflamed gums and unpleasant breath, there can be some other changes in eating habits as well.
Cats with any form of painful dental problems often have trouble eating. If your cat hesitates to eat, eats slowly or a bit differently like chewing food only on one side of her mouth, her mouth is probably bothering her. You may also observe that she has a difficulty swallowing or chewing food – sometimes even dropping it from her mouth – or suddenly becoming finicky preferring wet food over the dry one.
Your cat may also eat less or in severe cases not eat at all because she finds it difficult and painful to chew. A reluctance to eat food can then lead to dehydration and weight loss.
Behavior changes are also good indicators that a cat is going through dental problems accompanied by pain.
Due to sensitive mouth and pain, your cat may paw at her mouth, rub it along the ground or shake her head. She may also refuse to play, be scratched or petted around the chin or mouth or she can even hide completely. You may also notice that your cat’s coat is in poor condition looking untidy, dull and matted as her mouth could be too sore to tolerate licking and other self-cleaning activities.
If your cat has severe condition with unbearable pain, her mood and behavior may change accordingly. It can cause lethargy, depression, irritability or even aggressiveness.
What to do if a cat has dental problem?
As cat dental problems can easily get out of control leading to serious (sometimes even life-threatening) consequences and lowered quality of life, it is very important to know what to do if a cat has some sort of dental disease.
Unfortunately, cats usually hide their pain very well showing no obvious signs of discomfort until the situation is literally life-threatening. They will eat, groom, play, and do their daily activities as usual even when their mouth pain reaches extreme level.
Since cats are such masters at hiding pain and neglected dental problems can result in very serious problems, it is our – the owners’ – responsibility to do regular checkups at home and at the veterinarian.
Additionally, if you observe any of the previously mentioned signs of dental problems or you are in doubt by any chance, please be concerned, schedule a dental exam and have a qualified veterinarian perform a thorough oral examination to determine if there is any dental disease that needs to be treated.
What happens if a cat has dental problem?
While we, cat owners, would love to solve our cats’ problems by ourselves in the easiest and quickest way, the veterinarian is the best person to identify the cause, diagnose the medical problem and track down non-dental underlying issues.
So, if you are suspicious that your cat has dental problem, get her checked by the veterinarian for diagnosis as soon as possible. The sooner your cat is examined, the earlier the condition is diagnosed and treated, and the quicker she can return to full health.
How are cat dental problems diagnosed?
When you take your cat to the veterinarian, the first thing he will do is to ask you some questions about your cat and her problem.
Be ready to answer questions about your cat’s diet, oral hygiene, habits, recent activities and general behavior. For instance, the questions may include:
- How old is your cat?
- When did you first notice the problem and how?
- What symptoms appeared and how suddenly?
- Were there any traumatic events that may have caused the problem?
- Does your cat feel uncomfortable (weakness, lethargy, etc.)?
- Is your cat taking any medication?
- What type of dental problems has your cat been treated for earlier?
Try to prepare as much information as you can and make sure to inform the vet of all your cat’s symptoms. This can make the diagnosis easier and the treatment more appropriate.
After collecting all the possible information from you, the veterinarian will perform a thorough oral examination of your cat.
During this exam, the veterinarian will assess your cat’s breath, teeth, gums, tongue, lips, roof, and back of the mouth to visually confirm the existence of tooth decay, gum inflammation, dental abscess, ulcers and tooth mobility.
The procedure may also include periodontal probing to determine the degree of gum (periodontal) disease, and full mouth X-ray to check the condition of the dental roots and bones to identify possible hidden problems like bacterial infections, root fragments, bone loss or tumors.
Even though in many cases dental problems are caused by something simple within the mouth, further extensive investigation might be needed to narrow down the cause and determine the real problem. So, after having a thorough oral examination, the following tests could be performed by the veterinarian:
- Blood test to check sugar levels and determine overall health
- Urinalysis to check for diabetes and evaluate organ function
- Fecal sample to check for the presence of worms or parasites
- Ultrasound to check the bone structure and the size of the organs
- Endoscopy to evaluate the digestive tract
- Diagnostic tests to determine liver and kidney function
- Biopsy to check for abnormalities in the body
- FeLV and or FIV tests to check for Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
- Extended physical examination (temperature, heart, mouth and respiration check-up) to check for any associated physical pain with your cat’s condition
These examinations may take some time and can also be frustrating but it is definitely worth it as this is the only way to determine if the problem is solely in the mouth or if there is an underlying condition.
How are cat dental problems treated?
The optimal treatment and medication of any cat dental problem will vary according to the cause (which will be diagnosed by the above-mentioned tests’ evaluations) and the extent and severity of the cat’s trauma.
In some cases, simple professional dental cleaning can be the solution while other times tooth restoration or tooth extraction is the only way to cure the problem. In other scenarios, medication and/or antibiotics may be given while in rare but serious cases surgery may be necessary.
Professional dental cleaning
The most common treatment is professional dental cleaning which is typically recommended when large amount of plaque and tartar (calculus) build up on the cat’s teeth.
While plaque can be removed at home by tooth brushing, tartar is a very solid structure that should not be scratched off with a toothbrush or any other form of metallic instrument. This could potentially harm the cat, not to mention that it will likely damage the tooth surface making the problem even worse. Instead, it is better to leave it to the veterinarian who can perform professional dental cleaning to do the job right.
Apart from removing significant amount of plaque and tartar build up, dental cleaning is recommended if your cat has:
- existing dental disease,
- discoloration on the teeth,
- existing gingivitis, periodontal disease,
- swollen or bleeding gums,
- recession of the gums,
- smelly breath.
Note: It is also wise to take your cat to veterinarian for a checkup and tooth cleaning once or twice a year.
This professional dental treatment (which is similar to a human dental cleaning) involves a full dental examination, charting and scaling both ultrasonically and by hand and then finishing with polishing generally under anesthesia. So, the dental cleaning involves:
- removing visible plaque and tartar from the tooth
- eliminating plaque and tartar from under the gum line
- checking for cavities
- probing of dental sockets to assess dental disease
- dental charting so the progression of dental disease can be monitored
- full cleaning under and above the gum line
- polishing to leave a smooth tooth surface and prevent bacteria and plaque
- assessing the entire mouth (teeth, gums, lips, tongue) to check tooth mobility, fractures, malocclusion, periodontal disease, wounds or other problems.
Although dental cleaning is pretty expensive, it is absolutely worth the cost as it will not only allow us to start prevention with a clean mouth but will also slow down the progression of dental and periodontal disease and protect our cats’ health.
Tooth restoration – damaged tooth repair –aims to save the tooth while removing dead or infected tissue. The treatment can include:
- Root canal treatment
- Periodontal therapy
- Cleaning of abscess
- Surgical removal of polyps and/or tumors
Since this kind of procedures are quite complicated and rare, many veterinarians will refer the cat to a feline dental specialist to get the job done.
Unfortunately, even with intensive home dental care, there are certain circumstances when tooth extraction is the only way to cure the problem. As a general rule, extraction is recommended if the tooth or root cannot be repaired.
Namely, teeth that are affected by any infection, have greater than 50 percent loss of the supporting bone and gum tissues around them or have fractured through to the dentine or pulp cavity (affecting the nerve and blood supply) will need to be removed as it will most probably be painful and it will be at risk of developing infection and tooth root abscess.
For instance, extraction of your cat’s tooth (or teeth) is in order, if your cat has:
- Retained deciduous or misaligned tooth
- Severe tooth decay
- Dental caries, FORLs or teeth that are severely infected
- Fractured or abscessed tooth
- Loose or rotten tooth
- Severe dental disease
- Severe gum disease: gum recession, gingivitis or periodontitis
The teeth that are severely affected will be extracted which will in return remove pain, relieve excruciating condition, save any unaffected teeth, ensure that the disease does not spread, therefore increase the cat’s comfort and improve her general health.
Please note that every case is different and the extent of the extractions may vary. While sometimes only one tooth will be extracted, in severe cases multiple teeth extractions may be necessary, and in very rare occasions extraction of all the teeth is the only way to solve the problem.
However, you can be sure that the veterinarian will only remove those teeth that are really affected as cat tooth extraction is very difficult – even more difficult than the extraction of human tooth.
While many people are concerned about their cat’s ability to eat after extraction procedures, the good news is that cats do very well with a few remaining (or even without any) teeth as they have an existing mechanism for swallowing most of their food whole – be it soft or even dry food. So, it is guaranteed that a cat will never miss a tooth that has been extracted. She will only feel better, eat better and do better without it.
Other possible treatments
Since dental problems can be caused by several other underlying conditions (other than oral issues, like diabetes, kidney or liver disease), the treatments are just endless. Different problems need to be treated differently – for example:
- Diabetes – regular insulin injections
- Kidney disease – diet and medications, sometimes even fluid therapy
- Liver disease – supportive and nutritional care, some cases surgery
- Worms or parasites – deworming regime
- Cancer – surgery, chemotherapy or radiation
Each condition need to be taken very seriously and treated individually.
Important note: Since cats won’t just sit still, open their mouth, have their teeth examined, cleaned or even extracted, dental procedures (even examinations) require general anesthesia.
Though very small, anesthesia is a real risk for cats, but they are minimized with thorough pre-anesthetic testing like pre-surgical blood work to assess blood count, kidney and liver function, antibiotics to reduce the possibility of complications and electronic monitoring, inhalant gas and intravenous fluids to maintain blood pressure and hydration and support the circulation throughout the anesthesia.
While it may be risky, this is the only way that keeps the cat free of pain during the dental procedure and allows the veterinarian to obtain X-rays, evaluate the entire mouth, clean all the surfaces of the teeth including below the gum line, extract diseased teeth and enable further investigation.
If you are worried about your cat undergoing anesthesia, discuss your concerns with your veterinarian, but note that the adverse effects of bad teeth greatly outweigh the anesthetic risk.
What to do after visiting the veterinarian?
After visiting the veterinarian, the recovery time and treatment will vary dramatically depending on the cause.
If the dental treatment was something simple your cat should enjoy a full and immediate recovery. However, if some serious issue (like cancer) was the problem, your cat may be required to stay in the hospital for recuperation.
Any of the above applies to you, please try to remain calm, consult your veterinarian about the steps you should take and always follow the instructions which could be a change in the diet and/or anti-inflammatory medication or antibiotics to reduce pain and prevent infection.
Whatever the recommendation is, please follow it and do not forget to discuss and start a routine preventative dental health program that includes tooth brushing and using feasible dental care products to avoid ending up with the same problem again.
How to prevent cat dental problems?
As always, prevention is better than cure. And, it is not different for cats either. In fact, while dental disease is the most common disease in cats, it is also one of the most preventable problem.
However, without preventative measures, this disease is likely to cause pain, tooth loss, and infection that can even spread to other organs compromising nearly every aspect of the cat’s health and life. While the whole process can take several years to complete, it is only reversible in the early stages, not to mention that it is always easier to address and resolve dental issues that are spotted early than the issues that are allowed to develop.
Although there is no full assurance to stop the condition from ever developing, we can help to reduce the likelihood of the development by doing our best to make sure that it never arises in the first place.
To avoid dental disease in your cat, early prevention is extremely important which requires a gentle, patient approach and a proactive, consistent, strict routine which – in most cases – is actually easy to achieve at home.
While there are lots of different preventative ways you can choose from, combining several methods will achieve the best results. Here are a few tips of preventative cat dental health care that have been proven to be of benefits for cats:
Provide good nutrition – Diet
Your cat’s oral health can be affected by many things, even the food she eats. While every cat is different and some can be genetically more prone to dental problems, feeding your cat with the right kind of food can guarantee that she will be less likely to develop dental or other issues and can give her the best chance for a healthy mouth.
Establish daily cleaning routine – Regular dental care
Prevention of the most common oral disease in cats does not only consist of appropriate diet but also of frequent removal of the dental plaque and tartar that forms on teeth that are not kept clean. So, apart from providing your cat with good nutrition, you need to utilize a variety of home dental care techniques that can help you keep your cat’s teeth clean: brush your cat’s teeth regularly and use special dental products for better prevention.
Examine your cat’s mouth – Preventative at-home examination
Even though cats generally do not like people touching their mouth, one of the most important preventative method is mouth examination which cannot be done without it. To examine your cat’s teeth and gums, you will need to hold your cat comfortably, lift her lips up, open her mouth gently and physically look inside her mouth. This kind of frequent dental check will help to keep your cat pain-free, prevent dental health problems, and avoid any serious issues from going unnoticed.
Know the signs of dental disease and act immediately – Caution
You can only determine and prevent any problem if you know what is normal and what is considered unusual. So, be aware that your cat’s teeth should be white and clean, her gums should be pink with no redness or swelling, and her breath should not be offensive. Know the signs of dental problems to spot tooth and gum issues, and take immediate steps – contact your veterinarian – if you observe any irregularities.
Take your cat for annual checkup – Veterinary dental care
Since cats usually show no signs of pain and dental disease barely has clearly visible symptoms, it is recommended to visit your veterinarian at least once a year for annual dental checkup (and if necessary professional dental cleaning). A thorough veterinary oral exam can identify potential problems, help to catch and treat them early, unravel if there is any underlying medical condition, and help to keep your cat’s dental hygiene in tip top condition.
Whether you use one of the approaches or all of them, the preventative steps can go a long way towards keeping your cat’s teeth healthy. In fact, being just a bit proactive with your cat’s dental care can protect her from pain, prevent a ton of dental and other health problems, and can actually prolong her life.
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Final thoughts on cat dental problems
Keeping your cat’s teeth in good condition is essential for her overall health as poor dental hygiene can cause a great number of problems not only to her mouth but other parts of her body as well.
Although dental problems usually start with just a little plaque building up on the surface of the teeth, they can easily get out of control causing potentially fatal conditions.
However, if you can catch the problems in an early stage, you can prevent further damage. Therefore, it is important to know the warning signs of deteriorating dental hygiene and the steps that should be taken.
However, instead of waiting for problems to happen, it is better to take actions to prevent plaque from forming in the first place. With daily brushing and regular home mouth exams paired with a well-balanced healthy diet and some dental products, you will end up with a healthy, happy cat.
Please note that this article has been provided for informational purposes only. If your cat is showing any signs of illness or you are in any doubt, please consult a veterinarian as quickly as possible.