What is Dental disease? (Cats)
Dental disease can affect the soft tissues in the mouth as well as the teeth. Inflammation (redness and swelling) of the gums is referred to as Gingivitis, whilst inflammation of the mouth is referred to as Stomatitis. Dental disease leads to changes in your cats gums and teeth. In the early stages, if treatment is given, these changes are potentially reversible. If no treatment is given, the disease will progress and the changes will become irreversible.
What causes dental disease?
Each day your cat’s teeth will become covered in bacterial plaque. Most of this will be removed through the action of chewing and swallowing food. Any plaque that remains will harden over time, and become calculus (also known as Tartar). This is much harder to remove from teeth. It also has a rough surface, which allows more plaque to stick to it and build up.
Plaque causes irritation to the gums, which then become red, sore and inflamed (Gingivitis). If this is left untreated, the gums will start to recede. This will result in a pocket developing around the tooth, which can become filled with bacteria, plaque and other debris. This can lead to weakening of the tooth attachments, with the tooth becoming loose and falling out.
Dental disease is very common in cats, with studies suggesting that 85% of cats over the age of three will experience dental issues at some point in their life especially in older cats and those that have viral infections. Certain breeds, such as Siamese and Orientals, are more prone to developing dental problems. Diet also has an impact on development of dental issues. Dry food is preferable to wet food, as it has an abrasive action on teeth. This helps to wipe plaque off of teeth.
What are FORLs?
Feline Resorptive Lesions (FORLs for short) are a common dental problem in cats. It is estimated that 75% of cats over the age of 3 have at least one FRL. What triggers FRL development is unknown. They occur when cells, called odontoclasts, start to breakdown the tooth. This leads to development of holes in the affected teeth, usually around the neck of the tooth. They can also occur under the gum line, which makes it difficult to spot in a conscious animal. If FRLS are not treated, the tooth will become eroded to the point where it snaps off, leaving the root behind. Treatment is achieved by removing the affected tooth/teeth.
If you have ever had a tooth ache or mouth ulcer, you’ll know just how uncomfortable it can be. Unfortunately, our cats cant tell us when or where it hurts, and monitoring their dental hygiene is our responsibility. Healthy teeth are needed to help your cat eat. If they become sore or infected, they may find it harder to eat food , which may lead to weight loss and potentially malnutrition.
Healthy gums are important as they prevent bacteria entering the body. If gums become sore and inflamed their barrier function is weakened. Bacteria can then cross into the bloodstream and lodge around the body, particularly in the heart, lungs, liver or kidneys. This can result in serious damage to these organs and even decrease the life expectancy of your pet.
Healthy gums are also needed to support teeth. If gums become diseased your cat will be at risk of losing their teeth.
We recommend that your pet has regular dental checks, at least every 6 months. If dental disease is picked up at one of these appointments, treatment can be started early. This will hopefully prevent lasting problems with your pet’s health.
What are the signs of dental disease?
Keeping an eye on your cat’s dental health can be tricky, especially if they are shy! Cats are often reluctant to show signs of illness or injury, making it harder to spot. Things to watch out for include
• Bad breath
• Loss of appetite
• Difficulty eating hard food or choosing to eat soft food.
• Chewing with one side of the mouth only
• Throwing food to the back of the mouth and swallowing it with little or no chewing.
• Chattering jaw
• Showing interest in food, but not eating e.g going to the bowl and not taking any food.
• Pawing at mouth.
• Yellow deposits on your pets teeth
• Bleeding gums
• Pus around a tooth
• Change in personality- i.e becoming withdrawn or depressed
• Loose or missing teeth
If your cat is showing any of these times, it is time for a dental check up with a vet.