It’s feline dental health month, so let’s look at how cats develop dental issues as they age. After seeing my own cats lose teeth over time, I know the importance of brushing your cat’s teeth regularly and taking them for routine checkups. Like with people, an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure when it comes to dental issues in felines.
First, it is important to understand that bad breath in felines is not to be taken lightly. Unlike many dogs, most felines in good health have sweet breath. In most cases, bad breath is an indicator of severe dental disease in cats. Let’s look briefly at the most common dental diseases in felines: periodontal disease, tooth resorption and stomatitis.
Periodontal Disease. This is one of the most common feline dental issues. Without regular teeth cleaning, plaque builds up and hardens into tartar on the teeth. An infection is caused by this dental plaque and tartar as it gets underneath the gum line. Bacteria becomes trapped here, starting a cycle of infection and damage to the surrounding tissue. If the plaque is not removed by brushing, it will harden into more tartar and cause gingivitis, a condition where the gums are red, swollen, and inflamed. Then, the bacteria beneath the gum line stimulate the cat’s immune system to bring in white blood cells to fight off and destroy the bacteria. This can damage the soft and bony tissue, resulting in the condition known as periodontitis.
If periodontitis continues unabated, the same bacteria can slowly destroy the root of the tooth, resulting in an even larger accumulation of white blood cells that appear to the eye as pus, or an abscess. This will be most commonly found in the pre-molars, but the cat can display a painful swelling under the eye, of all places. This will require surgical intervention from the veterinarian. In advanced forms of periodontal disease, the teeth will fall out or require removal as they are loose, causing pain and difficulty when eating.
Tooth Resorption. In this case, there is a gradual destruction of teeth from the outside at the gum line to the center of each tooth. Teeth that are affected look as if gum tissue is growing over the teeth or that there is a hole in each affected tooth. Since the nerve endings of the teeth are exposed, this can result in significant pain to the cat. Since the teeth are hard to get to at this point, their removal, which is the only cure, can be difficult.
Feline Stomatitis. This condition is known to affect gums, cheeks, and other soft tissue at the back of the mouth. It presents with severe inflammation and ulceration of these areas. Again, this condition manifests when the cat’s immune system reacts to the bacteria found in the plaque on the teeth. Another painful condition for Kitty, this one can be alleviated with stringent medical treatment and oral hygiene. However, most cats will need teeth removal. Please note the following signs that could indicate dental disease:
Tooth discoloration or visible tartar
Pawing at the teeth or mouth
Loose or missing teeth
Red, swollen or bleeding gums
What we said at the beginning rings especially true. The key is at-home cleaning in addition to regular, annual dental visits at the vet. As long as the tooth surfaces are cleaned of plaque, the gums will stay healthy. Start when Kitty is still young, and brushing will become part of her daily routine, and we all know how reliant our cats are on routine! So, it should not be hard to get them used to brushing. If they are not happy with the brush, you can purchase wipes that will serve the purpose. If you wait until the cat starts to get tooth or gum disease, brushing will be painful and it may be too late.
The bottom line: Best to be diligent about taking care of Kitty’s teeth with the same regularity you do for your own choppers!
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