Cornell University published an interesting article about “the three D’s” of periodontal disease prevention. The first D is tooth brushing! They said that owners should be brushing their cat’s teeth daily, and that daily brushing is the best way to prevent periodontal disease. The next D was diet; there are certain diets on the market that are shown to reduce plaque and tartar by 50%. The last D stood for dentistry: it is important to take your cat to the vet yearly to get an exam done. If needed, a dental cleaning under anesthesia is the best way to do a full dentistry on your kitty.
Another interesting fact from the article: only about 10% of cats will make it through life without experiencing some sort of dental problem. They also stated that in many cases, that the only way the problem can be treated is by extraction of the affected tooth.
Genetics play a large role in determining which cats are more susceptible than others to dental disease. Some purebreds such as Abyssinians, Siamese, Maine Coons, Persians and Somalis tend to be at a higher risk than the general population. Orange tabbies are also prone to dental disease. According to Cornell, the diets we feed our kitties also play a part. The cat is a carnivore, and in nature, the cats diet would consist of the flesh and bones of birds, rodents and other prey. Since being domesticated, cats are no longer eating this way. (Before you decide to switch your kitties to a bird and rodent diet, there are many other options for preventing dental disease, and many animals carry parasites, which carry their own risks! See our blog-post about Zoonotic Diseases for more info.)
Caution: the following images are not for the squeamish!
There are four types of dental disease that make up the majority of problems that can lead to the extraction of one or more teeth. The four types are as follows:
- Periodontal disease is the most common, affecting 85% of cats over the age of six. Layers of plaque accumulate and harden around the tooth surface. Bacterial poisons and enzymes from plaque eventually prompt inflammation of the gum, and if left untreated, will lead to gingivitis. If it continues to be left untreated then extractions are needed.
- Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions (FORL) are the next most frequent, affecting about 50% of all cats. This disease is caused by a plaque lesion that starts in the bone tissue or the dentin just below the enamel. This triggers the immune system to attack the tooth. This prevents the gingival tissue from rebuilding or repairing itself, and results in the tooth needing to be extracted.
- Gingivitis and Stomatitis Syndrome are relatively uncommon conditions in the general population. It occurs in 1 out of 100 cats, and it is most commonly seen with cats that have viral, nutritional, or hormonal conditions such as Feline Leukemia or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. Although antibiotics and steroids help in some cases, extraction of most or all teeth may be the only treatment option. But don’t worry- even toothless kitties can chomp on dry food just as easily as their brothers and sisters.
- Fractured teeth is the final causes of dental disease. This usually occurs as a result of trauma, and can be extremely painful. The treatment is usually to simply remove the damaged tooth.
Signs of dental disease can include bad breath, red and swollen gums, pawing at the mouth, dropping food, drooling, chewing with only one side of the mouth, and refusing to eat. If your cat is showing any of these signs, the best thing to do is have your cat examined by your veterinarian, and to have a dental done when your cat needs one. Preventing dental disease is always the best option, and having your cat checked yearly to make sure your cat doesn’t need a dental is key. If upon examination the doctor determines your cat needs a dental cleaning, getting them in immediately is important in the prevention of further dental disease.
To prevent tartar from building up on the teeth, and hopefully delaying the time between cleanings, or possibly preventing them all together, there are several tools at your disposal. You can brush your cats teeth at home, but never use human tooth paste! Ingredients in human tooth paste can actually be harmful to your kitty. It’s best to brush at least three times a week. Dental treats can also be given to help minimize tartar build-up. There are also supplements that can help decrease the amount of gingivitis for some cats. Sadly, even with all these measures, genetics play a large role in your cat’s oral health, and some kitties may be more prone to having dental disease than others. It’s important to remember, that once tartar and gingivitis starts, home care will not get rid of it, the only solution is a professional cleaning by your veterinarian under anesthesia.