Why is it important that I look after my cat’s teeth?
Over 80 % of cats over two years of age have dental disease. Poor dental hygiene can be a source of chronic (long-term) pain and discomfort for cats. Most owners are unaware of this discomfort because most animals will just tolerate it. Dental disease in an older animal can cause ill-thrift which the owner may mistakenly attribute to the animal ‘getting old’. If there is infection in the mouth it can allow bacteria into the body via the blood stream and cause infections elsewhere. Kidney, heart, lung and liver infections can all be caused by poor oral health.
What types of dental disease do cat’s get?
The most common cause of dental disease is tartar and gingivitis. Tartar is the hard brown discolouration on teeth. It is caused by mineralisation of plaque which in turn is caused by bacterial action against food particles in the mouth. The presence of tartar leads to gingivitis (gum inflammation). The gums become red, sore and prone to bleeding when touched. Chronic tartar and gingivitis will eventually lead to periodontal disease where infection and inflammation causes destruction of the tissue around the tooth. Affected teeth loosen and may eventually fall out.
Cats can develop erosions of their teeth called ‘neck lesions’ or ‘feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions’ which can be very painful. They are caused by the body’s own immune system attacking the enamel of the teeth causing holes to develop in the tooth. Affected teeth require extraction. Fractures of the teeth are a common injury. Any fractures which extend into the pulp cavity (where the nerve is) will cause pain and eventually tooth-root abscesses. Cats often sustain tooth fractures from fighting and road traffic accidents.
Some cats can retain their temporary (‘milk’) teeth. Retained temporary teeth cause problems for the erupting adult teeth and predispose to tartar and gingivitis in adulthood. Retained temporary teeth require extraction.
What are the clinical signs of dental disease?
Tartar is evident as a brown discolouration and build up on the teeth. Halitosis (bad breath) may be noticed by the owner. Excessive salivation and bleeding into the mouth can be observed. If the dental disease is severe, affected animals may eat on one side of their mouth, rub their mouth, lose weight or generally fail to thrive.
How can dental disease be prevented?
Frontier Veterinary Services recommends feeding a good quality dry food rather than wet (tinned and sachet) food, as the latter tends to stick to the teeth, allowing the more rapid build-up of tartar. Some diets are especially designed to help clean the teeth by using an increased kibble size and a texture which scrapes down the tooth rather than just breaking up, as a conventional biscuit might.
Tooth brushing is the best way of keeping the teeth clean. Cats will generally allow tooth brushing, especially if it is started at an early age. It is very important to use pet toothpaste. Human toothpaste is bad for animals as is not designed to be swallowed. You can brush with a finger brush or a tooth brush. Do not start cleaning your pet’s teeth while there is gingivitis present, as this will be sore and result in your pet disliking this procedure.
Some mouth washes are available for pets. Where the pet is compliant, these antibacterial washes reduce bacterial load, so reducing the ability of bacteria to create plaque or form bacterial toxins which can cause inflammation.
What can be done if my cat has dental disease?
Cats require a general anaesthetic to allow a thorough examination and cleaning of the mouth. Once the pet has been anaesthetised, a full dental examination is performed. Any abnormalities are noted and documented in the pet’s medical record.
The veterinary surgeon then performs the dental cleaning. We use an ultrasonic scaler very similar to the one used on human teeth. A hand scaler is also used in addition to the ultrasonic scaler. Plaque and tartar are removed from the every surface of every tooth. Subgingival (below the gum line) scaling is done to remove any debris that may be sitting below the gum line. Any teeth that require extraction are removed.
The veterinary surgeon then polishes the tooth surface with a polisher similar to the human dentist’s. During the scaling process, small grooves are made in the enamel coating on the tooth. Polishing fixes these grooves, making a smoother and hence more difficult surface for plaque and tartar to build up on in the future. The cleaning and polishing is just the start of your pet’s dental treatment. Without homecare, dental disease will reoccur.
Frontier Veterinary Services advise that you have your cat’s teeth checked by the vet at their annual health check and vaccination.