Studies have shown that 80% of cats older than three years suffer from dental disease that requires treatment.
Dental disease tends to become more common and more serious as cats age, just like in humans. Dental disease in cats is commonly associated with the build-up of dental plaque (as a result of bacteria in the mouth) and the formation of tartar. This can lead to what is called periodontal disease, a disease that affects the teeth and the structures around the teeth.
However, many pet owners are not aware of the damage caused and consequences of these dental problems, so in this article I am going to tell you what are those oral diseases that cats can suffer.
Plaque in cats mouth
In the cat’s mouth there are a multitude of bacteria. Plaque occurs when bacteria mix with food debris and foreign microorganisms on the surface of the teeth. Initially, the plaque layer is not easily visible. As the layer of plaque grows and thickens, it can be seen as a soft, gray or white film on the surface of the tooth.
Plaque is the most common underlying cause of dental disease. Taking steps to help reduce the development of dental plaque is therefore an important step in trying to prevent dental disease in cats. Plaque can be removed by brushing your teeth to help keep your gums healthy.
Tartar on the teeth of cats
If plaque is not removed, it can harden due to the deposition of substances such as calcium. Hard, calcified plaque is known as tartar.
Tartar is clearly visible and looks like a hard cream or brown deposit on the tooth surface. In severe cases, a large amount of tartar can develop on the surface of the tooth. Tartar, because it is so hard, generally cannot be removed with simple measures such as brushing the teeth, and dental flaking, performed by the veterinarian under anesthesia, is usually required to remove it.
Periodontal disease means any disease around the tooth. The most common types of disease are:
Gingivitis refers to inflammation of the gums (gums that surround the tooth). Gingivitis is extremely common, found in cats of all ages, and varies greatly in severity.
- Mild gingivitis: it is very common in cats of all ages. It can occur as early as 48 hours after cleaning, when plaque formation may have started. Mild gingivitis does not affect the tooth root, and home care for teeth (see: Home care for dental disease) can easily reverse most cases.
- Moderate gingivitis: Itis also very common. If plaque builds up on your teeth, your gums will become more inflamed as time progresses. Sometimes recession of the gums can be seen at this stage. Gingival “pockets” can also be evident, which is where the gum has started to separate from the tooth, providing a perfect place for food, bacteria, plaque and tartar to accumulate. If the stone has not yet formed, many cases of moderate gingivitis can also be reversed with regular daily home care. However, the formation of the gingival pocket is difficult to reverse.
- Severe gingivitis– It can be very painful for a cat. The cat may show signs of hypersalivation (drooling), halitosis, kicking the mouth, difficulty eating, and sometimes bleeding from the mouth. Severe gingivitis is common in cats that have a lot of plaque and stones on their teeth. Gum recession is also common, but it may not always be obvious as the gums are very inflamed. Gingival pockets can be seen and are usually deeper than those found with moderate gingivitis. Severe gingivitis usually cannot be reversed with brushing, and the mouths are often too sore to brush. The cat will usually require general anesthesia to perform a scale and polish the teeth. If there is a severe degree of gum recession exposing the tooth root, the tooth may need to be extracted. Then regular brushing is strongly recommended to prevent the disease from recurring.
Cats around five months of age often develop gingivitis and you may notice an obvious odor on your cat’s breath. This is usually due to the appearance of permanent teeth in the gums and the loss of deciduous teeth that cause changes and inflammation of the gums. You can even find a tooth lying on the floor at home! This is completely normal and will normally take 4-6 weeks to establish. However, if the cat shows signs of discomfort, it should be examined by a veterinarian.
Periodontitis is a very advanced gum disease found most often in older cats. The gums are usually very swollen and often sunken. Large amounts of calculus are usually present on the teeth. The ligaments that surround and support the tooth are also diseased and generally begin to tear exposing the root of the tooth and making the tooth very unstable. Bacterial infection is common and pus can often be seen around the tooth. The clinical signs are similar to those of severe gingivitis. At this stage, the tooth is so diseased that extraction is the only treatment option.
Stomatitis means inflammation of the oral cavity (inside the mouth). Cats can suffer from a condition known as lymphocytic plasmacytic gingivo-stomatitis complex (LPGC) or chronic gingivo-stomatitis. In this disease, the inflammation spreads from the ginigiva to other areas of the mouth as well. This most often occurs in the back of the mouth (the area called the “faces” or “glossopalatine folds”), however the swelling can spread almost anywhere in the mouth.
The exact cause of this disease is still unknown. Some cases are associated with a persistent FCV infection, and FIV infection can predispose to this. However, while dental plaque and some stones may be present, the amount of inflammation is quite disproportionate and it is believed that there is some immune dysregulation in the disease, where the cat’s immune system can respond too aggressively to the presence of bacteria or other infectious viruses. Agents in the mouth.
This is an extremely painful disease and cats often have difficulty eating, hypersalivate (drool), paw in the mouth, and show other signs of mouth pain. They can lose weight with reduced appetite.
Various treatments can be used, including initial teeth peeling and cleaning, follow-up home care, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories. Response to treatment is variable and many cats require corticosteroids to control inflammation and sometimes other stronger anti-inflammatory or immunosuppressive drugs. In some very severely affected cats, removing all the teeth from the cheeks is helpful, which may be because it removes the site of lingering bacteria in the mouth.
Feline reabsorption lesions. Feline caries (FORL)
Feline spring injury is common in young and old cats. It has been estimated that more than 70% of cats over the age of five have at least one FORL.
A FORL is an erosion in the tooth, both in its crown and in the root. The cause of FORL is unknown, but cells called odontoclasts (which break down the substance of the tooth) are found in erosions.
When examining a cat’s mouth, it can be difficult to identify a FORL (and your vet will often need to test the teeth with an anesthetic to identify them), but they appear as a small number of gums protruding from the tooth. In fact, the gum becomes inflamed due to the cavity and reacts by “filling” the hole in the tooth.
FRL can be diagnosed by dental X-rays or probing the teeth under general anesthesia. FRLs are extremely sensitive and cats will often exhibit signs of pain associated with them. If FRLs are left behind, they cause gradual erosion of the tooth to the point where the crown will fracture leaving the root behind. The cavities produced by FRLs are not due to decay like human and canine dental cavities, therefore filling is not successful and affected teeth must be removed.
Fractured teeth should be evaluated individually before deciding if extraction is necessary. As a general rule, teeth that have fractured through the dentin or pulp cavity (which affect the nerve and blood supply) are likely to need extraction as the tooth will be painful and risk developing infection and a abscess of the tooth root. If only the tip of the crown is fractured and the dentin or pulp cavity is not exposed, the tooth may not need to be extracted. However, the enamel covering a cat’s tooth is so thin that most fractured teeth almost certainly need to be removed. A probe can be used to assess whether the tooth needs to be extracted. Signs like kicking the mouth,
Cleaning and extraction of teeth in cats.
It is understandable that animals do not sit still and allow dental work to be performed, so it should always be done under general anesthesia. However, dental disease can be easy to overlook, or even ignore. While anesthesia for a cat can be worrisome, the longer the teeth remain, the longer the anesthesia and procedure will take, as dental disease will have progressed. Steps can be taken to reduce the risk of an anesthetic, such as blood tests, and in older cats, intravenous fluid therapy can be given to help maintain circulation throughout the anesthetic. If you are concerned about your cat undergoing an anesthetic, you should discuss your concerns with your veterinarian.
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