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.



Featured Quote:

A little known fact is that 85% of dogs and cats before the age of three already have significant periodontal disease present.

Video Transcript:

Speaker 1: If your pet has never had a dental exam, chances are there could be something lurking below the gumline causing pain and infection.

Dr. Jennifer H.: A little known fact is that 85% of dogs and cats before the age of three already have significant periodontal disease present.

Speaker 3: Good morning Lily, how are you?

Speaker 1: And that is why evaluating oral health plays a role in every physical exam at the Drake Center for Veterinary Care in Encinitas.

Dr. Jennifer H.: The oral exam is really part of our full physical that we do on every dog and cat and it involves really opening up the mouth, looking under the lips and getting a really good look at all the teeth.

Speaker 1: It doesn't stop there.

Dr. Jennifer H.: Here we do full mouth dental X-rays on every patient which is something that most veterinary hospitals do not do.

Speaker 1: X-rays are routine when people go to the dentist, but veterinarians have been slow to adopt the same standard of care for pets. Very few veterinary practices have the equipment to obtain dental X-rays and it is so important to be able to see what is going on below the gumline.

Dr. Jennifer H.: This tooth, both roots of this tooth are severely abscessed and you wouldn't know that without taking a dental film.

Speaker 1: In dogs, fractured or abscess teeth are common and often go unnoticed.

Dr. Jennifer H.: Just looking at the teeth, this tooth actually looks pretty normal. The gum tissue comes up to a normal space that it should but with this X-ray you can tell this tooth is very diseased and also probably a source of significant pain for this dog.

Speaker 1: Your cat could also be in pain. Studies show 60% of cats six years and older suffer from a painful oral disorder called Tooth Resorption.

Dr. Jennifer H.: Sometimes you can see them just looking at the tooth, but a lot of times you need a dental X-ray to reveal what's really going on. They're kind of like a cavity, they eat away at the enamel and they're very painful. The only treatment for this condition is extraction of the tooth. From this X-ray you can see this is a resorped lesion and you can see the whole crown of the tooth is being eaten away by this process and needs to be extracted.

Speaker 1: In order to fully evaluate effectively and treat disease both above and below the gumline, general anesthesia is required.


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 semi-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 and x-rays under anesthesia 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 lesion 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 veterinarian 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, 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:

  • 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 cat's 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 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 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 may include hospitalization, anesthesia, pain medication, x-rays and surgical supplies. Therefore, it's best to always take preventive measures to avoid surgeries and cat tooth extraction procedures.

Common Cat Dental Problems

  • Plaque build-up
  • Gingivitis
  • Periodontal disease
  • Tooth loss
  • Mouth sores and ulcers
  • Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions (FORL)
  • And, like in humans, 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
  • Drooling
  • Problems eating, loss of appetite
  • Red, swollen, bleeding gums
  • Loose, broken, missing teeth
  • Blood in saliva or nasal discharge
  • Lesions in mouth

Your can 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.

Schedule A Cat Dental Care Appointment

Scheduling a cat dental care appointment is as easy as picking up the phone, or sending us an email. Our staff is here to help make taking care of your kitty's oral health easy for you, while making it as painless and comfortable for your feline friend as possible.