What Every Cat Owner Should Know About Dental Care For Cats
Dental disease is a reality for most cats. By age four, many cats have significant gingivitis and many also have periodontal disease. It is a slow progressing but serious disease that causes pain and affects the overall health and wellbeing. Cats will not show signs of oral discomfort. Because the pain associated with dental problems comes on slowly over time, they simply learn to live with it. That is why it is important that all cats see a veterinarian annually to assess their oral health.
During your regular veterinary visits, we will examine your cat's teeth and will show you the obvious lesions that need to be addressed. We are most concerned with signs of gingivitis, broken teeth, periodontal disease and other painful dental and oral lesions. Our doctors may recommend a veterinary supervised dental cleaning.
Cat Bad Breath, A Sign Of Things To Come
Some people think that cat bad breath is a trait inherent to the feline species. This is a myth that cats themselves have contributed to over the years through behaviors including drinking from the toilet, and self-grooming habits. However, these practices alone do not account for cat bad breath. Cat bad breath is generally a result of the bacteria that live in the infected gum and dental tissue in your cat's mouth. This odor is a sign of progressive dental disease. It will not get better without a thorough veterinary dental cleaning and a proper home care plan.
Signs And Symptoms Of Cat Dental Issues
- Plaque build-up
- Periodontal disease
- Tooth loss
- Mouth sores and ulcers
- Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions (FORL)
- And, like in humans, this can lead to kidney, liver, and heart disease
Cats are very adept at hiding symptoms of pain and illness. Bad breath is the only symptom of dental problems that you are at all likely to observe in your cat. If your cat has noticeable bad breath, you should schedule a dental exam with your veterinarian. However, in severe cases you may also notice one of the following symptoms:
- Pawing at the mouth
- Problems eating, loss of appetite
- Red, swollen, bleeding gums
- Loose, broken, missing teeth
- Blood in saliva or nasal discharge
- Lesions in mouth
Your cat may very well have dental issues that require attention and NOT show any of the symptoms listed above. However, if any of the above symptoms are observed, please schedule a veterinary appointment right away.
What Is Proper Dental Hygiene For Your Cat's Teeth?
There are several ways to ensure proper cat dental care. All of them involve diligence and commitment from you as a cat owner. Your feline friend will not tell you if he or she needs dental care, so it is up to you to proactively address their needs.
- Good nutrition is the foundation for good dental health
- When possible establish a cat teeth cleaning routine when your cat is young
- Schedule annual exams for cats
- Watch for signs of possible dental issues such as bad breath
- Tell your vet during the checkup about any behaviors you've noticed, or concerns you have
- Early prevention is extremely important to avoiding or treating serious dental issues
Proper cat teeth cleaning consists of an oral exam in order to properly diagnose any dental disease that may be present. Most of the dental disease in cats is under the gum line. Many cats produce feline odontoclastic resorption lesions (FORL) in their teeth. These are cavity like lesions at the neck of the tooth (where the gum meets the tooth). These lesions cause the roots to be resorbed. These lesions are painful. Unfortunately, your cat will naturally adapt to live with the pain these lesions cause. In these cases, the treatment usually requires extraction of the affected tooth/teeth. Not all cats are plagued with feline odontoclastic resorption lesions (FORL). Only a thorough exam involving x-rays taken by your vet can determine if your cat is living with these lesions. Treatment is curative. However, cats who produce these lesions are likely to produce more in their lifetime and will require annual care.
Other dental issues in cats include gingivitis and periodontal disease that may require medication and or dental work to alleviate the pain. The importance of annual exams cannot be underestimated. In order to remain healthy, cat dental care is something you should trust to your veterinarian.
How Often Is It Necessary To Clean A Cat's Teeth?
The recommended frequency of cleaning your cat's teeth depends upon several factors such as:
- existence of other health conditions
Regardless of signs or symptoms, your cat should have a dental checkup annually at a minimum. While you should be looking at your cat's teeth periodically yourself, it is easy to miss the types of problem signs that a trained and experienced veterinarian will pick up on. It is significantly easier to address and resolve dental issues that are spotted early, compared to dental issues that go unnoticed and are allowed to further develop. Therefore, a proactive approach to feline dentistry is recommended.
Many cats will allow you to brush their teeth. You should brush your cat's teeth daily with specially designed brushes and feline hygiene products. Our technicians are trained to provide instructions on how you can brush your cat's teeth at home. Let us work with you to ensure the best possible dental health for your cat.
The Harsh Reality Of Periodontal Disease In Cats
Gum disease, also known as gingivitis and can become periodontal disease if it spreads into the tooth. These conditions affect a cat's gums and the portions of their teeth below the gum line and may include feline odontoclastic resorption lesions (FORL). Periodontal disease is considered the most prevalent illness in cats over three years of age. However, it is also the most under diagnosed, because many cat owners unfortunately just do not realize the importance of cat dental care. Although detection of cat gum disease can be subtle, periodic veterinary checkups every 6-12 months can be effective in helping diagnose cat gum disease before it becomes severe.
Gum disease in cats is only reversible if caught early on, and only the early gingivitis stage is considered fully reversible. The way to successfully do so is to schedule annual cat dental exams and cat teeth cleaning appointments with your veterinary cat dentist. By doing so, you are ensuring that your feline companion remains at a low risk for developing periodontal disease.
Cat Dental Treatments
The cat dental care services provided here at Veterinary Village begin with an examination by one of our veterinarians. If dental issues are found in your cat's mouth, our veterinarian will explain the situation to you and recommend the appropriate dental procedure. During this procedure, once your cat is sedated, our veterinarians are able to conduct a more thorough exam including visualizing the entire oral cavity and throat area, probing gingival pockets to assess periodontal disease and take dental x-rays. It is important to remember that half of the tooth is under the gum line. Therefore, it is imperative that x-rays are performed to compete assessment of the tooth. Quite often a tooth may look completely normal but the roots are abscessed and a great source of pain for your cat. We utilize all the tools necessary to make sure your cat is completely free of dental disease and pain.
Our veterinarians use a comprehensive 6-Step protocol when performing a standard cat dental treatment. This protocol can be amended depending upon factors including preexisting medical conditions, or based on information gleaned during the examination itself. However, for reference, our cat dental treatment protocol includes:
- General anesthesia, which is necessary in all cases for us to do a thorough dental examination and professional cleaning. We use only the safest anesthesia protocols and human quality products. Your cat will be continually monitored during the entire procedure and post procedure for the safest and most comfortable experience.
- A complete dental exam will be performed before we begin any dental procedure. Dental radiographs are taken at this time. Dental radiology allows our veterinarians to view the internal anatomy of the teeth including the roots and surrounding bone. A thorough dental chart is used to record the dental health of your cat, and any procedures done during the dental cleaning.
- Ultrasonic and hand scaling to remove plaque and tartar above and below the gum line. A thorough scaling below the gum line is critical to the success of any dental cleaning, as this is where illness-causing bacteria hide.
- Polishing to smooth the surface of the teeth after scaling, making them resistant to additional plaque formation.
- Flushing to remove dislodged tartar, plaque and bacteria from the mouth.
- If it is determined that an infected tooth requires extraction, or there is a problem with the gums that must be addressed, then and only then will oral surgery be recommended.
Oral Surgery For Cats
Cat tooth extraction is necessary in several cases, including advanced stage gum disease. Advanced periodontal disease can cause loss of viable teeth. The teeth that are severely affected should be extracted before the damage is permanent.
Other reasons for cat tooth extraction include:
- Retained deciduous or maloccluded teeth are less common causes for extraction
- Dental caries, FORLs or teeth that are severely infected are always considered for extraction
- Cats that suffer from root abscess or jaw fractures may be treated with either root canal therapy or tooth extractions based on the severity
The cost of cat tooth extraction is based on the type of procedure performed, and may include hospitalization, anesthesia, painkiller medication, x-rays and surgical supplies. Therefore, it's best to always take preventive measures to avoid surgeries and cat tooth extraction procedures.
How To Schedule Your Cat's Dental Appointment
Scheduling an appointment with one of our veterinarians is as easy as picking up the phone, or sending us an email. Our veterinary staff is here to help make your cat's dentistry appointment easy for you, while making it as painless and pleasant as possible for your canine companion.