*Please note, I am not a veterinarian. This article is meant to provide an introduction to dental health. This article should not serve as medical advice for your cat. If you have concerns about your cat’s dental health, please contact your veterinarian.*
February is National Dental Health Month for pets. Many people know Dental Health Month simply as a time to get a discount on getting their cat or dog’s teeth cleaned by the veterinarian. Dental Health Month is so much more though, because Dental Health is so much more than professional dental cleanings. Your cat’s dental health is just as important as your own!
Did you know that 70% of cats over the age of 3 have dental disease? According to the American Veterinary Dental Collage, it is the most common clinical condition in cats and dogs. Like people, cats develop plaque on their teeth. If not removed regularly (by brushing teeth, etc) the plaque then hardens to form tarter.If not removed tarter can cause infections, such as gingivitis-a reddening of the gums around the teeth. It can result in the loss of a tooth and other more serious periodontal disease.
Worse than your cat losing a few teeth due to periodontal disease is the risk to all her other major organs. Tarter build up can loosen the tooth’s gum socket, making an opening for tarter to get into the blood stream. Once the bacteria gets in her blood stream it can do damage to her kidneys, heart and other organs.
Unfortunately, because most periodontal disease occurs below the gum lines there aren’t many signs of periodontal disease in cats beyond bad breath and tarter on the teeth. At least not until it gets bad. If you cat is drooling, seems painful around the mouth, stops eating or eats less, please see your veterinarian immediately, these could be signs of serious dental disease.
The only way to know the full extent of the damage to your cat’s teeth and gums is through dental x-rays, which must be performed while your cat is under anesthesia-because what cat is going to let anyone stick stuff in her mouth then sit still long enough for x-rays to be taken? (I have a hard enough time cooperating for my dental x-rays and I know what is going on.)
At the clinic I work at, we regularly tell clients about the four stages of dental disease. If your cat sees a veterinarian regularly, your veterinarian should be able to tell you what stage of dental disease your cat has. Hopefully, her dental disease will be caught before the first stage. The first stage of dental disease, gingivitis, is the only one that is reversible. Beyond that damage starts to happen to your cat’s mouth, such as root changes, abscesses and tooth resorption-a weird thing cats do where their mouth resorbs the tooth, turning it to bone. No one yet knows why this happens.
If you want to learn more about dental disease and learn about the 4 stages of Feline Periodontal Disease click here: http://www.cathospitalofchicago.com/online-cat-health-library/dental-disease-in-cats#4
Even if your cat has severe dental disease and needs to loose a tooth or two, she can live a happy life. I have known several cats who had to have all their teeth pulled due to stomatitis (a painful disease in which the cat’s gums are swollen), bad oral health care, or bad genes. These cats have still chowed down on their dry food. They have been happy cats. Well, one cat was chronically grumpy and would try to gum me when she got particularly upset.
While much of the determining factors for dental disease rests in your cats genetic makeup, there are steps you can take to help keep your cat’s teeth healthy and clean. I will discuss those steps more in Dental Health Month Part 2.