It’s hard to believe we are over halfway through dental month already! I promised an article on feline dental health,so here we go!
Did you know that more than half of all cats over the age of three have some level of dental disease? Although many cats do not display outward signs of disease, it can be incredibly painful. Halitosis (bad breath) or a finicky appetite may be the only sign you notice at home. Shaking of the head, facial swelling, pawing at the mouth, dropping food, and drooling are more obvious signs of oral pain. The most common problems we see are gingivitis, periodontal disease, stomatitis, and tooth resorption.
Gingivitis and periodontal disease are caused by the body’s natural immune response to the mineralization of plaque on the teeth. The accumulation of this tartar on the tooth surface leads to infection and inflammation in the gums. If this tartar is allowed to accumulate, the infection will persist and periodontal disease will occur. Periodontal disease is when the inflammation and infection from the surface travel to the bone. As the disease advances, thesurrounding tissues are destroyed leading to loose teeth, abscessed roots, and bone infections. The bacteria can even travel through the blood and cause infections in the heart!
Aside from gingivitis and periodontal disease, our feline friends also have two poorly understood diseases that can cause serious and severe oral pain. The first one is stomatitis. Some cats will have an allergic reaction to gingivitis and we call this stomatitis. This is a disease that can affect any cat at any age. The only reliable treatment for stomatitis is extraction of all of the teeth (or in some cases all of the teeth behind the canines). Even with this treatment, 40% of cats may require additional follow-up care and some of that 40% may continue to battle symptoms throughout life. The second poorly understood oral disease in cats is tooth resorption. Although plaque and gingivitis can play a role in this disease, all of the causative factors have yet to be identified. Tooth resorptionis when the root of the tooth begins to erode away and small holes are formed. As the resorption progresses, the sensitive areas in the tooth are exposed leading to tooth instability and severe pain. Most often, these teeth need to be extracted in order to alleviate pain and restore oral health.
The best way to prevent dental disease at home is to slow the rate at which tartar accumulates on the teeth. The most effective way to do this is through daily brushing with pet specific toothpaste. There are also many products (water additives, diets, and treats) that can help with this process. Choosing a product can be difficult and confusing. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC.org) is a great resource to find products that have proven their ability to reduce tartar accumulation.
The rate at which plaque accumulates on the teeth is variable from cat to cat. Some cats will need a professional cleaning by your Veterinarian every 6-12 months. It is very important during these cleanings that the teeth are X-rayed under general anesthesia. In many cases, these X-rays are the only way to know your cat has a dental problem that needs to be addressed. If you are unsure if your cat needs a dental cleaning or has dental disease, your Veterinarian can evaluate the teeth on a physical examination and help guide you!
Wishing you and your furry friends a great rest of the month!
Lily Meisner, DVM-CVA