February is National Pet Dental Health Month!

Cats have 30 teeth (12 incisors, 10 premolars, 4 canines, and 4 molars)

Why is dental care important?

Dental disease can be very painful for a kitty to endure, but that is not the only reason it is important to address periodontal disease in a timely manner. When your cat’s mouth is inflamed, bacteria from his oral cavity can become systemic, invading other organs such as his heart, liver,  and kidneys. Over time, this can cause damage to the major organ systems and the cat’s immune system. Because cats tend to mask illness, oral exams are necessary to determine the health of your cat’s mouth. If your cat has periodontal disease, a dental cleaning and potential extractions will be necessary to restore her oral health.

Periodontal disease

The extent of dental disease won't be fully evident until all the teeth are cleaned and films taken

Feline periodontal disease occurs when plaque accumulates on tooth enamel, causing inflammation of the gingival tissue. Cats might not exhibit any symptoms, though some will paw at their mouths, refuse food, have bad breath, or stop grooming. If your cat shows any of these signs, contact your veterinarian immediately. A dental cleaning and extraction of any affected teeth will be necessary to restore your kitty’s oral health.

What is a resorptive lesion?

A dental film showing resorptive lesions eating away tooth enamel

Resorptive lesions are areas in which the tooth enamel is eaten away by a type of cells called odondoclasts. The areas where the enamel has eroded fill in with painful red lesions.  These lesions can occur on the tooth root or crown, and if left untreated can eventually destroy the entire tooth. If the lesions occur on the root below the gumline, they can often only be detected on radiographs. We do not know the exact cause of resorptive lesions, but we do know that they are very prevalent, occurring in over 60% of cats over six years of age.  Resorptive lesions are extremely painful; cats will react to a dental probe touching them even when under general anesthesia. Extraction is the treatment of choice for resorptive lesions.

What is involved in a dental procedure?

Jeffy showing off his pearly whites

Dental care in cats involves scaling and polishing, as well as extraction of any teeth that are unhealthy. The gold standard for veterinary dental care involves radiographs to determine the health of the teeth below the gumline, though not all facilities have dental radiographs at their disposal. Because we can’t simply ask a cat to sit still while we use the ultrasonic scaler to clean her teeth, this is all done under general anesthesia. (To see what is involved in a dental procedure here at The Cat Doctor, please visit our Dentistry page!) After the dental cleaning, an at-home regimen will be recommended to prevent future dental issues.

What can I do at home to prevent dental disease?

Brushing your cat’s teeth is the best way to maintain a healthy mouth, but not all cats will tolerate this. We find that very few cat owners (veterinary professionals included!) actually brush their cats’ teeth. Fortunately, there are other ways to keep  Fluffy’s mouth healthy. There are a number of foods that have been formulated to promote oral health and approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. ( Despite the long-held theory to the contrary, feeding regular kibble does not seem to have any effect on oral health versus feeding a canned diet.) There are also approved water additives and treats if you cannot feed a dental-specific diet. Above all else, it is important to have your cat’s mouth examined regularly to catch any dental disease early.

February is National Pet Dental Health Month!

The American Veterinary Medical Association sponsors a Pet Dental Health Month every February, during which they work to educate pet owners about oral care in all types of pets. They’re currently running a photo contest on their Facebook Event page–check it out! They also have a podcast detailing the importance of pet dental care. Veterinarians around the country participate in this month-long event by offering discounts on dental care and working to educate their clients about preventative care.


 

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