Healthy teeth and gums are crucial for keeping your cat happy, fit and active.
Caring for our teeth is something we do almost automatically. It is important that we think the same way about keeping our cat’s teeth healthy.
The best way to ensure the overall dental health of your cat is to establish a timetable for routine dental check ups with your vet.
Veterinary research indicates that dental disease, in its various forms, is the number one health issue in feline medicine and about 70% of cats over the age of three have some kind of dental problem – but it is preventable.
At about four to six months of age, kittens start losing their baby teeth and form their permanent teeth. An adult cat should have 30 teeth. Once your cat has his adult teeth, dental exams should be performed regularly.
You can also do this at home, to get your cat used to having their mouth looked at. If you have someone to take a photo of each side of the mouth, it can be useful to refer back to and look for changes.
Dental problems can be extremely painful, however they rarely cause your cat to stop eating, meaning they often continue in discomfort for a long time before anything is noticed.
Signs of dental disease include:
● Nothing! Cats hide a multitude of issues and rarely like to be observed as having a problem
● Showing a preference for softer food and appearing to chew less
● Vomiting due to swallowing dry food whole rather than crunching, causing it to expand in the stomach
● Unkempt coat – it's uncomfortable to groom if your gums are sore!
As dental disease progresses, more classic signs include:
● Tartar and plaque build up
● Redness of the gums (gingivitis)
● Thickened, inflamed tissues of the mouth (stomatitis)
● Bad breath (halitosis)
● Drooling (hypersalivation)
● Bleeding from the mouth
● Weight loss
● Hiding away
● Missing or broken teeth
● Systemic infection due to bacteria from the mouth entering the bloodstream
Cats generally hate tooth brushing, but if kittens become accustomed to having their mouth examined by their owner from an early age, it can help a lot as they get older.
It's often a good idea to make this fun, by only doing short sessions, rewarding with play and treats (but be careful about weight gain!) and using a flavoured toothpaste or dipping the toothbrush in tuna juice.
If your cat won’t tolerate a brush, a finger or piece of slightly abrasive material like lint can be used instead.
Brushing and enzyme toothpaste help to remove tartar before it builds up into solid calculus.
Don’t try to brush a cat’s teeth if they have gingivitis as this will be too painful.
More often than not the condition of a patient’s mouth is too deteriorated for brushing and enzyme toothpaste to help once they arrive at our practice.
They then require a general anaesthetic so a tube can be passed down their throats to protect their airways for dental procedures to be performed.
Dental radiographs are taken to assess the roots of teeth. This is of paramount importance as a tooth can look healthy at the crown, but underlying issues with the root will only be picked up by an x-ray. We perform dental radiography on all of our dental patients to ensure they receive optimal care and assessment.
Tartar is removed by an ultrasonic scaler, and once the mouth is clean any extractions are performed after dental nerve blocks. Surgical extractions are generally required so sutures are placed in the soft tissues with very fine absorbable material.
Dental procedures are often lengthy so we try to minimise risks by performing general health blood sampling prior to the anaesthetic to ensure the kidneys and liver are functioning as they should.
All patients are put on IV fluids to support their blood pressure and ensure adequate hydration. Blood pressure is monitored, and action taken if we have any concerns. Nerve blocks are used to reduce the amount of anaesthetic required.
Most patients are able to go home on the day of their dental procedure but in some cases we like to continue hospitalisation overnight for ongoing IV fluids and pain relief, especially if multiple extractions have been performed.
We recommend ongoing pain relief and soft feeding after a dental procedure and get our patients back in for check-ups at one and two weeks after the operation, or before if there are any concerns.
Once healing is achieved, brushing can be resumed or attempted – and regular dental assessments will be needed.