Routine Dental Care

Clean, Healthy Teeth Help Cats Be Happier and More Active

The American Veterinary Dental Society says gum disease affects at least 70 percent of cats over age three. Protect your cats health by protecting his teeth.

Cats are not quite as vulnerable to tooth decay as humans are. However, they are just as vulnerable to the inflammation and infection of the gums known as gingivitis. The good news? Gingivitis is reversible. The bad news? Gingivitis can progress to periodontitis – infection and inflammation of the sheath around the root – that eventually results in tooth loss.

The culprit: Plaque
The food, bacteria, and oral debris left on the teeth after eating form a filmy layer known as plaque. After a few days, this film mineralizes into hard calculus that must be removed mechanically. Without home care, plaque begins accumulating in as little as 24 hours. Once calculus starts building up, it causes the gums to become irritated and inflamed.

Domestication probably plays a role in feline dental disease. Carnivore teeth are designed for catching prey, then tearing and shearing the flesh into pieces that are then swallowed without much chewing, explains Eric Davis, DVM, of the dental referral service at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals. Yet, most domestic cats are fed a diet that requires crushing, grinding and chewing but very little tearing and shearing. Its up to us to care for our cats teeth.

Professional care
Routine dental care begins with a full physical examination and history. Your cats overall health affects his ability to tolerate the necessary anesthesia, as well as his response to the treatment itself. The history provides your veterinarian with clues that help speed up diagnosis; be sure to include information such as diet, whether your cat goes outdoors, behavioral changes, and avoidance of dry food or cold water.

I take a full-mouth series of dental radiographs (six little X-rays) on virtually every feline dental patient, says Davis, who is a fellow of the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry. Without dental radiographs, only one-third of the tooth can be evaluated. He explains that in 1998, a study was conducted in which a group of cats received oral examinations, followed by X-rays. Serious, unexpected lesions that otherwise would have gone undetected were revealed in almost half the study group.

Clean, polish, rinse
Using a combination of hand instruments, and mechanical and ultrasonic scalers, calculus and plaque are meticulously removed from the crowns and roots of all teeth, above and below the gum line.

Smooth enamel is more difficult for plaque to adhere to, so after scaling, polishing paste is applied with a soft rubber-tipped instrument over the surface of every tooth. Finally, the mouth and gum line are flushed with water, rinsed with antiseptic solution, and possibly treated with fluoride.

Follow-up care
Ask your veterinarian how to maintain those sparkling results between professional cleanings. Specially designed brushes and fish-flavored paste are available to help make the process easier. Warning: Dont start dental home-care until after your cat gets a clean bill of health. If you touch a painful area, your cat might never let you look in his mouth again!

While studies have not been done in this area, Davis believes that cats that receive regular dental care live longer. We know that bacteria from periodontal disease dont just remain in the oral cavity, he says. Clumps of bacteria from the mouth travel to distant sites in the body via blood and the lymphatic system.

Older cats or those with chronic illnesses are especially at risk of infection stemming from dental problems.

Clean teeth are healthy teeth; healthy teeth feel good. Davis says owners often report a more active cat after dental treatment, even if the cat did not have a specific dental problem; the worse the teeth, the greater the relief. Not treating a painful, infected mouth subjects that patient to suffering for the rest of its life, Davis emphasizes. No cat owner would knowingly want a beloved friend to be in pain.