Posted on: March 11th, 2014 by Dr. Dale Rubenstein

February is over (thank goodness, with the way this winter has been!), but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still think about helping your cat maintain a healthy mouth. And with our new Dental Health Promotion policy ($50 discount if dental cleaning scheduled within 1 month of annual exam), your cat never has to wait for Dental Health Month to have the cleaning he or she needs to stay healthy.

Dr. Mustillo gave a talk here at A Cat Clinic last month on Feline Oral Health. Barbara Bryant, an Animal Welfare League of Montgomery County volunteer wrote the following article for their March newsletter summarizing the presentation’s main points.

Feline Oral Health

Barbara Bryant

Dr. Melissa Mustillo, a veterinarian at Germantown, Md.-based A Cat Clinic (and AWLMC volunteer), delivered a presentation on feline dental health on Saturday, February 8th to observe February which is Animal Dental Health Month.

The most common dental ailment cats develop is periodontal disease, which includes tartar buildup and gingivitis. A second common condition is Feline Resorptive Disease which is a condition that is similar to cavities in humans.

Periodontal disease, which affects the soft tissues that surround and support the teeth, has four stages that roughly indicate how much tartar and bone loss around the teeth has occurred. Tell-tale signs of periodontal disease are tartar build-up, red gums and bad breath. Most cats will keep eating even when their teeth are rotting; the condition usually doesn’t affect appetite.

Tartar accumulation is basically mineralized bacteria. As tartar accumulates on the tooth, the gum surrounding the tooth will become inflamed (gingivitis) as the body tries to deal with the bacteria/infection. All this inflammation will cause bone loss around the tooth. As the disease progresses, the tooth may become loose and fall out. The infection may also gain access to the tooth root or deep tissues around the tooth and cause an abscess.

To prevent periodontal disease from developing, if possible brush the cat’s teeth, using a cat-specific (not human) toothpaste. If you can’t brush a cat’s teeth, you can also try applying the toothpaste with a Q-tip or a finger. If those methods fail too, you might try just presenting some C.E.T. chicken toothpaste to your cat – many cats will just lick it off your finger. The toothpaste has an enzyme that will help remove tartar when they eat it. When these strategies are impossible, you can also try to feed them dental treats such as Greenies. Virbac, which makes C.E.T toothpaste, also makes chews and other dental treats for cats; Hills Prescription Diet has a dental variety called t/d, and there are also other over-the-counter oral care products.

Start kittens on an oral regimen shortly after they’re spayed or neutered. At this age cats will be developing their adult teeth (about 4 months of age). If your cat was spayed/neutered younger, that is ok, it is never too early to start getting your cat used to their mouth being touched/handled.

Vets now include an evaluation of dental health as part of their annual exam. At A Cat Clinic, a complete oral exam is performed at every annual wellness exam. Specific recommendations on what type of home dental care will benefit your cat are made, or recommendations for a professional cleaning if needed.

When periodontal disease is present, it normally requires a visit to the vet for dental cleaning. The cleaning needs to be performed under anesthesia; dental x-rays are also required. Bone loss causes pockets to form around the teeth; the vet must get up and under the gums to treat the condition. Although there are always risks associated with anesthesia, A Cat Clinic uses the safest anesthesia possible and has a state of the art monitoring machine. This machine monitors heart rate, rhythm, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. An intravenous catheter is placed to allow administration of intravenous fluids and antibiotics. If the cat’s teeth are in very bad shape, the affected teeth will be extracted. Cats typically do very well when they have a tooth surgically extracted. They will most likely have absorbable sutures at the extraction site and will go home with pain medication for a couple days.

Another common problem for cats is Feline Resorptive Disease. The body attacks the tooth, causing holes to form in the enamel. It’s not clear what triggers this. Although frequently seen in young cats, there’s no known predisposition for developing the disease. Resorptive disease is characterized by a large red spot on the tooth that is painful to the touch and will eventually cause tooth loss. The only treatment is extraction as the tooth is painful. This is usually a progressive disease causing the cat to lose several teeth over their lifetime.

Stomatitis (inflammation of mouth) is another troublesome condition. It is a very painful autoimmune disease that will cause a cat to stop eating. In this case, the body attacks the teeth but it is an exaggerated response. The cat’s entire mouth and even throat becomes inflamed. The only course of treatment is to extract all of the teeth, after which the cat heals in a few days and can thrive eating only soft food. Cats can also contract oral cancer, all forms of which are very aggressive and are resistant to all but a few types of treatment. Senior cats can develop this condition which manifests as difficulty eating, swollen faces, and bad breath. There isn’t any effective treatment except to administer antibiotics and pain medication. When cancer destroys a cat’s appetite, the only recourse may be euthanasia.

While dental disease can cause big problems, good oral preventative practices by the owner, regular dental checkups by your vet, and recent advances in dentistry can significantly improve your cat’s chances of maintaining good dental condition throughout its lifetime.