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Cat Dentistry/Dental - How Dental Care Affects Cats' Overall Health

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 cat’s overall health and well-being. 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. This is why it is important that all cats see a veterinarian annually to assess their oral health.

How does dental health impact the overall health and wellbeing of my cat?

This is a good question because the teeth are tied to everything. Oral health is a critical part of your cat's overall wellness and wellbeing. We want to make sure that the cat's mouth stays happy and healthy so they can too. When we start to encounter disease in the mouth, that certainly can impact their overall comfort.

If we're talking about an infected tooth, gingivitis or inflammation of the gums can affect how they feel and their ability to eat. So there are many different elements of keeping a healthy mouth in our cats that will help them overall.

Dr. Cason McInturff
Berry Farms Animal Hospital - Cupola Animal Hospital

What types of dental care should I be giving my cat at home?

So this is a great question, and cats are a little unique. When we talk about our dogs, there are several practical things that you can do at home. For our cats, there are some too. One that's helpful is dry food. It decreases the amount of tartar accumulation they have when they're eating soft food. They're going to have more tartar that accumulates.

If your cat has a certain level of dental disease, or we want to make sure that they don't develop that, there are some water additive products that we can use that help decrease tartar accumulation and decay in your cat's mouth.

Just like with anything, one of the most important elements is being visual and aware as an owner, ensuring that nothing out of the ordinary in terms of your cat's mouth is being seen.

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:

  • Age
  • Genetics
  • Diet
  • Lifestyle
  • 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.

Gum Disease In Cats

Gum disease, also known as gingivitis, can become periodontal disease if it spreads into the tooth. This condition affects a cat's gums and the portions of his or her teeth below the gum line and may include feline odontoclastic resorption lesions (FORL). Periodontal disease is the most prevalent illness in cats over three years of age. However, it is also the most under diagnosed, as many cat owners unfortunately just do not realize the importance of cat dental care. Although the 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 has four stages:

  • Early gingivitis
  • Advanced gingivitis
  • Early periodontitis
  • Established periodontitis

Gum disease in cats is only reversible if caught early on, and only the early gingivitis stage is considered fully reversible. Therefore, it is your responsibility to keep your cat's mouth, teeth, and gums healthy and well.

Cat Tooth Extraction

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 it 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.

What are some signs and symptoms of issues with oral health in my cat?

There are several different elements associated with oral health. One of the first ones that you might experience is bad breath, indicating something else going on in the mouth.

You may see your cat drooling more than usual, kind of smacking their mouth or licking their gums more than usual. Occasionally, if they're having discomfort in the mouth, you'll see them chew on one side of their mouth as opposed to the other, so there are several signs that you can pick up at home.

Some cats can be prone to resorptive tooth disease, which is the cat's body deciding that it doesn't like the roots of the teeth anymore, and those roots will start to decay. You can get infections in the mouth when those roots begin to decay.

Other viruses can cause our cat cats to have painful ulcers, and you can have ulcerations in the mouth. Certain immunodeficiency viruses like the FIV virus or feline immunodeficiency virus can lead our cats to have chronic dental and oral issues. We'll need to stay on top of making sure their mouths are as clean and healthy as possible.

Many of these things you can first notice at home. When you see that, certainly we need a thorough exam at that point because, again, the mouth is tied to the rest of the body, and it's an essential piece of keeping our cats happy and healthy.

What are some possible conditions caused by poor cat dental care, and what are the treatments?

So we hinted at these just a bit, but one of them will be gingivitis or severe irritation of the gums. When we see that in our cats, that can lead to poor tooth health. We need to do routine dental cleaning for our cats. With cats that we're concerned that they may have resorptive tooth disease, where the body actually in our cats decides to fight against the roots of the teeth, things like dental x-rays are vital.

We would anesthetize your cat and take x-rays to see the roots of the teeth to see which teeth are affected. At that point, it may be necessary to remove that tooth so that it doesn't cause us further problems down the road.

In our cats that may have underlying immunodeficiencies, keeping the mouth healthy is a critical piece of keeping them healthy overall, so the bacteria do not make it in the bloodstream and affect them. So routine dental cleaning, which I'm sure your veterinarian will recommend, or we would recommend to you at a preventative care exam, would be the most appropriate way to see and make sure that there aren't any underlying issues going on with your cat.

Common Cat Dental Problems

  • Plaque build-up
  • Gingivitis
  • Periodontal disease
  • Tooth loss
  • Mouth sores and ulcers
  • Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions (FORL)
  • And, as in humans, kidney, liver, and heart disease

Cats are very adept at hiding the 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
  • Drooling Problems eating, loss of appetite
  • Red, swollen, bleeding gums
  • Loose, broken, or missing teeth
  • Blood in saliva or nasal discharge
  • Lesions in the mouth

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (615) 224-7776, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

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