Dental problems in cats as well as gum disease are common. Studies show that between 50 and 90% of cats older than four years old have some form of dental diseases.
Cats use their mouths for all kinds of activities, such as eating, hunting, biting and grooming. Their busy teeth are exposed to many different substances and can develop into various forms of dental problems in cats over time.
Fortunately, the most common forms of these diseases can be prevented or largely treated by preventing and controlling measures for teeth.
What are the dental problems in cats??
One of the most common dental problems in cats is:
1- Bad breath
Stinky cat breath is a very common complaint in veterinary medicine.
Known as halitosis, bad breath can be the result of multiple dental problems in cats, from simple periodontal disease to an infected mass.
Halitosis may also be the result of a systemic illness such as diabetes or kidney disease.
Bad breath is always worth mentioning to your veterinarian, and you should keep an eye out for additional signs of problems.
If your cat has also had changes in appetite, difficulty swallowing, vomiting or diarrhoea, you should call the vet sooner rather than later. These may be signs of a more serious underlying problem that needs to be addressed quickly.
2- Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease is the number one medical condition diagnosed in cats—more than weight problems, kidney disease or any of the other issues we normally associate with felines.
By the age of 3, most cats have some degree of periodontal disease, though we often miss the subtle signs early on when it’s easily treatable.
Periodontal disease begins as a build-up of plaque and tartar on the tooth. Over time, as the plaque spreads below the gumline, which leads to inflammation, infection and eventually tooth loss.
Starting an at-home dental care regimen early can make a big difference later in your cat’s life by keeping the amount of plaque and tartar lower.
Feline stomatitis is an extremely painful condition caused by severe inflammation or ulceration of the tissues lining the oral cavity (gums, cheek, tongue, etc.).
Although some breeds such as Himalayans and Persians may be predisposed to this condition, stomatitis is seen in all breeds of cats and can begin before a cat even reaches 1 year of age.
Cats who develop stomatitis have extremely reddened, inflamed mouths and resist having their teeth examined. They often have reduced appetites due to the pain caused by eating, and in severe cases, they can develop malnourishment because it is so painful to eat.
While mild cases may respond to medical care and home care such as toothbrushing, the best results are seen with surgical cleaning, removal of the affected tissues and tooth extractions using dental X-rays to confirm complete removal of the roots.
While this may seem extreme, many cats show amazing progress and return to normal eating habits very quickly after the surgery, even if multiple teeth are extracted. Learn about stomatitis in cats
Infections in the oral cavity can occur as secondary reactions to trauma, foreign bodies in the mouth, immunosuppression or conditions such as tooth resorption.
A generalized infection of the gingival tissue will result in swelling and redness, while a localized accumulation of infection and pus can result in an abscess.
Tooth root abscesses cause pain and swelling in the jaw, which quickly spreads to surrounding tissues. You may notice facial swelling or even a protruding eye if the infection extends to the area around the eye socket.
You may also notice that your cat is not eating or is eating less, and cats may paw at their faces due to the discomfort.
Treatment needs to be instituted as soon as an abscess is diagnosed. This involves extracting the infected tooth or performing a root canal and treating the infection with antibiotics and pain control.
5 –Tooth Resorption
Feline tooth resorption is a common and under-diagnosed condition, affecting up to three-quarters of cats over the age of 5.
The tooth consists of both bony material (dentin and enamel) and the soft tissues of the tooth root, which includes blood vessels and nerves. For reasons still not fully understood, the body starts to break down the dentin, which loosens the tooth and causes painful exposure of the root.
Because this erosion begins below the gumline, it can be impossible to determine which teeth are affected without dental X-rays.
The signs are subtle, usually involving a cat who suddenly develops a preference for soft food or swallows his or her cat food without chewing.
Tooth resorption can occur on a single tooth or multiple teeth. Once diagnosed, the affected tooth needs to be extracted. This condition is very painful.
Fractured teeth is one of dental problems in cats. The most common fractures noted are at the tips of the canine teeth, often referred to as fangs, though fractures of the premolars are also common.
In cats, the pulp tissue extends almost all the way to the end of the tooth, which means that even small fractures can result in painful root exposure.
Most feline tooth fractures are caused by trauma to the oral cavity, though conditions such as tooth resorption may also weaken the teeth and predispose them to breaking.
Fractures above the gumline are visible to the naked eye, though some fractures may extend below the gumline. Fractured teeth may also appear to be grey.
Treatment depends on the severity of the fracture and the tooth involved and may involve extraction or root canals.
It is important not to ignore fractured teeth. In addition to being very painful, open fractures can lead to abscesses, facial swelling or systemic infection.
Cancer of the oral cavity is the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer in cats.
Cancers can occur in the gums, lips, tongue, jawbone or palate. Signs of oral cancer include masses in the mouth, swollen face, drooling, weight loss, sudden tooth loss or bad breath.
While different types of cancer can be found in cats, squamous cell carcinomas form most of these masses.
Early diagnosis is key for successful treatment of oral cancer, which can be very difficult to manage when larger masses start to invade bone.
Many masses are found during routine cleanings and oral examinations while they are small and more easily managed, which is one of the many reasons regular preventive care is so important.
Dental problems in cats can cause severe pain and discomfort, which may affect the cat’s quality of life. In many cases, dental diseases cause the cat to stop eating food, which leads to a variety of health problems.
What are the signs of dental problems in cats??
- Yellow deposits on the teeth
- Gums that bleed easily
- Red or swollen gums
- Persistent bad breath
- Pus around the tooth
- Sensitivity around the mouth
- Pawing at the face Learn about the causes of itching in cats
- Loose or missing teeth
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach or intestinal upsets
- Difficulty chewing or eating
- Irritability or depression
- Teeth that are loose or missing
The most important thing to remember is that your pet can hide symptoms of dental problems in cats for months or even years. Often owners that did not realise their cats had dental disease cannot believe the change for the better that they see in their cats after a dental procedure is carried out. Therefore, it is very important to have regular checks of the teeth by your veterinary surgeon.
What are the factors that lead to dental problems in cats??
Many factors play a role in the formation of plaque, tartar, and the development of periodontal disease and dental problems in cats. These include:
- Age and general health – affects gum disease most common in cats. Cats infected with feline leukaemia virus, FIV or calici virus have a much higher rate of gum disease.
- Diet and Chewing Behaviour – Eating dry food is a little better than canned foods in preventing plaque build-up on teeth. There are specialized diets available that contain ingredients to help with dental health and claim to help prevent plaque build-up.
- Breeds, genetics, and alignment of teeth – short-haired oriental cats and Siamese cats are more commonly affected than other cats, and evidence suggests that genetics may play a role, as some purebred cats are well suited to the condition.
- Grooming habits – Hair build-up and jam around age can increase tartar development.
- Home care – regular cleaning of your cat’s teeth can greatly reduce plaque build-up and tartar development, which reduces the risk of gum disease and dental problems in cats
How do most of the dental problems in cats start??
The outer surface of the teeth is made of enamel, which is the hardest material in the body. In a kitten, this enamel is smooth. Every day the teeth become covered in bacterial plaque, but through chewing, the plaque is constantly wiped from the smooth enamel. How much remains will depend to some extent on the nature of the cat’s diet. Plaque is soft, but it rapidly hardens to produce a substance called calculus, or tartar. Unlike enamel, tartar is rough in texture and so plaque is more difficult to remove from it and will continue to build up.
The presence of bacteria in the plaque irritates the gum edges and causes them to become reddened and inflamed (gingivitis). As the gum grows increasingly inflamed, other bacteria start to cause further damage, and the gum may begin to recede around a tooth. Eventually, the attachments holding the tooth in place are weakened, and it may then become loose. The whole process can take several years to complete, but it is reversible in the early stages. Advanced periodontal disease is a painful condition and is likely to result in tooth loss if left untreated. An infected tooth may also act as a reservoir of infection, and any bacteria may find their way from the tooth – via the cat’s blood – to his heart, kidneys, liver, and lungs, where they may cause serious disease. In some cats, periodontal disease may lead to long-term gingivitis-stomatitis (inflammation of the gums and mouth).
How can prevent dental problems in cats??
Prevention is the key to controlling dental problems in cats. If the tooth surfaces are cleaned frequently and the plaque removed effectively every day, the gums will stay healthy. Prevention requires dental cleaning at home in addition to regular veterinary professional dental cleaning.
For best results, start cleaning your teeth when your cat is young. Young cats will easily adapt to brushing their teeth at home. With age and tooth and gum disease developing, there may be pain associated with the brush and may be less willing to allow the brush. If your cat is completely unwilling to allow brushing, there are dental wipes that can help control plaque when you rub it twice daily on your teeth and gums.
In addition to daily dental cleaning, your cat will need annual dental cleaning by your vet. Cat teeth cleaning should start at the age of one year to prevent gum disease and dental problems in cats.
How do you clean your cat’s teeth to reduce dental problems in cats??
Follow this four-week training program to rest your cat with daily brushing and to reduce dental problems in cats. You will need:
A cat toothbrush
Feline toothpaste (human toothpaste is not safe for cats)
Rewards (either an edible treat or a drink from her favourite water faucet)
Let your cat become familiar with the smell of the toothpaste. Leave the brush and toothpaste out where the cat can inspect them. Every day, put a dab on your finger, and let him or her smell and lick it. If your cat is shy about tasting it, put a tiny dab near his or her mouth so he or she can lick it off. Give a reward when your cat licks the toothpaste so he or she associates the toothpaste with an enjoyable experience.
Get your cat used to the taste of the toothpaste. Apply a dab of toothpaste to one of his or her canine teeth every day, followed by a reward.
Get your cat used to the toothbrush. Put a small amount of toothpaste on the brush and let him or her lick it off. If he or she is shy about licking it, apply a dab near the mouth. Follow with a reward.
Gently stretch your cat’s lips far enough to insert the brush gently between the lips and gums. Place the bristles at a 45-degree angle to the teeth, aiming for the narrow crevice between teeth and gums. Brush around gently, and work around the upper and lower teeth. It’s only necessary to brush the outside surfaces, as the cat’s own tongue cleans the inside surfaces well.