Problems involving the gums and teeth are very common in cats. In fact, surveys have shown that as many as 70% of all cats over the age of two suffer from significant dental disease. Far from being harmless or isolated, mouth disease can eventually lead to serious systemic problems for your cat.
How can you help your cats teeth and gums stay healthy? Two ways, one have a dental cleaning, under anesthesia, every six months. Two, the most important ingredient of dental health is home care. Consistent attention to teeth at home can result in less frequent veterinary cleanings.
Home Dental Care
First, teach your cat to accept daily brushing or wiping of the teeth. Such training should ideally be started at a young age. Using a toothbrush designed for cats (human toothbrushes are too large and stiff), apply the bristles to the teeth at a 45-degree angle to the gums, reaching both the tooth surface and the area just beneath the gum margin.
Do not use human toothpaste, which is designed not to be swallowed. Instead, use specially formulated pet toothpaste, which is flavored appropriately for your cat and is harmless if swallowed. Pet toothpastes contain enzymes, which help remove plaque, and do not require rinsing; alternatively, you can use nothing and simply allow the mechanical action of brushing to remove build-up.
Use small circular motions with the brush, taking care to get the bristles under the gumline. Because plaque does not build up on the inside surfaces of cat teeth, only the outside surfaces need to be brushed.
Alternatively, a gauze pad wrapped around a finger can provide an adequately abrasive surface for wiping teeth; however, wiping is less likely to reach beneath the gum margin, an important area for plaque accumulation.
Since the goal of dental home care is to remove plaque before it hardens into calculus, success depends on your ability to brush your cats teeth each day (or at least twice per week). Start slowly and try to end on a positive note; your cat is likely to learn to enjoy brushing if it is persistent and gentle.
Veterinary Dental Care
Your cats teeth will be examined as part of her annual well visits. Evidence of gum or tooth disease may require therapeutic care such as antibiotics, cleaning beneath the gum line, as well as the visible surfaces of the teeth and, if needed, extractions of some teeth.
Clinical signs of advanced gum disease, or gingivitis, include bad breath, reddened gums, yellowish-brown tartar on teeth, and drooling. When gingivitis is severe, cats may be reluctant to eat, even dropping food from their mouths, and may therefore show weight loss as an indirect symptom of dental discomfort.
A very common dental problem in cats is feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions FORL, sometimes called cervical or neck lesions. Most middle-aged and older cats are afflicted with some degree of this painful disorder. While the exact cause of FORL is not known, it is believed to be an allergic reaction to dental plaque.
Symptoms may include excessive salivation, bleeding from the mouth, and reluctance to chew food. Some cats, however, show no symptoms at all. Your veterinarian can help determine whether your cats teeth show signs of FORL, and will discuss the best approach for treatment.
When needed, your veterinarian will suggest a professional cleaning. Performed at least periodically, this anesthetized procedure is the best way to ensure dental health in adult cats. First, your cats mouth is examined methodically under anesthesia, each tooth evaluated for its individual health.
Plaque and calculus are removed entirely, both from visible tooth surfaces and from the gingival pocket between teeth and gums. If needed, below the gumline procedures such as root planing and curettage are performed to smooth any roughened surfaces and remove deposits at the tooth root. Any loosened or fractured teeth are extracted or otherwise stabilized. After that, teeth are polished and irrigated to smooth uneven surfaces and remove any remaining plaque.
Finally, fluoride is applied to teeth for lasting protection. Your cat may be sent home with a medicated or fluoridated oral spray or gel to help with aftercare.
The practice of professional veterinary dentistry – both preventive and therapeutic – is growing very quickly as pet owners realize the importance of oral health. With the help of good veterinary care and some simple attention at home, you can increase the odds that your cats teeth will stay as healthy as possible.