Overview: Dental disease is a common feline illness, but it often goes undetected. Few cats are willing to keep their mouths open long enough for their owners to search for evidence of a potential problem. It is essential to take a cat to the veterinarian for regular check-ups so that any signs of dental disease will be identified while in their earliest stages.
As with humans and other animals, cats frequently get diseases of the gums and teeth. Build-ups of plaque and tartar cause gingivitis and periodontitis. Also, feline diseases such as kidney failure, feline leukemia virus, and feline immunodeficiency virus can lead to dental disease.
Unlike any other animal, however, cats can develop a potentially serious dental condition called external root resorption, sometimes called "neck" lesions, in which holes or cavitations form in the teeth at the gumline. Chronic gingivitis and periodontal disease can cause external root resorption. This condition, which can be intensely painful for the cat, sometimes will lead to the tooth breaking off, leaving the root behind. A common dental disorder affecting up to 50 percent of domestic cats, external root resorption can be treated and possibly prevented through good dental care.
Most dental problems can be prevented through professional dental cleanings performed by a veterinarian. Certain cat foods also can aid in the prevention of tartar. Cat owners should consult a veterinarian about providing feline dental hygiene.
Other tests that may be done include a complete blood count, or CBC; a blood chemistry profile, which will detect problems with the function of organs such as the kidneys, thyroid, and liver; a urinalysis; and tests for feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus. Many diseases that affect the organs can cause problems with the mouth, such as ulcers. The veterinarian may need to take x-rays of the head to see if there are any problems with the teeth and the bones surrounding the teeth.
Transmission or Cause:
Treatment: Treatment always begins with a professional dentistry performed by a veterinarian. The cat is placed under general anesthesia to allow the teeth to be cleaned, polished, and checked for any abnormalities. Sometimes the veterinarian will need to remove teeth to prevent future problems with pain or infections. Antibiotics occasionally are given to cats with severe gingivitis or periodontitis.
Home dental care often is very helpful in decreasing dental plaque and tartar; it also stimulates the flow of blood to the gums. Veterinary toothpaste must be used because human toothpaste foams and can cause vomiting when swallowed. There are various fluoride gels that can be applied topically to the teeth to help prevent gum disease. A veterinarian can provide information about the different products that are available for home dental care and can set up a plan to maintain good dental care for the pet.
Prevention: To help prevent the common dental diseases -- gingivitis and periodontitis -- it is important to provide good oral hygiene, maintain good health, and provide a quality cat food that is well balanced and helps keep the teeth clean. Generally, hard, dry cat food is better at breaking down tarter and plaque than soft varieties, but talk to a veterinarian about which of the different diets that are available might be best for the cat's dental health.
Home care of the teeth is very beneficial in reducing the amount of plaque and tarter buildup. Owners can attempt to brush their cat's teeth with a small toothbrush and toothpaste made especially for animals; human toothpaste can make animals sick and should never be used on cats. Unfortunately, most cats will resist having their teeth brushed or their mouth examined, so it is often necessary to have the teeth evaluated professionally every year and cleaned by the veterinarian as needed.