Dec 27 2013

Dental Hygiene: Important for Cats

A healthy pet is a happy pet, and dentistry should be considered a part of the annual routine care of your cat. As owners we see the dentist on average twice a year for cleaning and check ups, why not give our cats the same treatment as we give ourselves? There is no age, breed, sex that is more at risk than another but what is difficult is the fact that our cats can not tell us when they are having mouth issues, we need to look for the signs and then follow through. Unlike its human owner, the cat seldom develops cavities. Like its human owner, the most common and serious dental problem is periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is a disease of the supporting tissue of the teeth. It is the most common infectious disease of animals and man today. 85% of cats over the age of 3 years old are affected. Periodontal disease is progressive and irreversible by nature, and can lead to severe health problems including loss of appetite, generalized infections, kidney, liver or heart disease, and behavioral changes. The disease begins as a simple marginal gingivitis and progresses to periodontitis with bone loss and eventual loss of teeth. The process begins with the accumulation of plaque, which is a soft granular deposit, on the tooth surfaces. Thin layers are not visible. Plaque undergoes mineralization to form calculus (or tartar) and it provides a rough surface for the accumulation of additional plaque and promotes gingivitis. Bacteria thrive in plaque and on calculus formations and the normal bacterial flora of the mouth changes. Bad breath due to accumulation of pus, dying tissue, food debris, and bacteria may be the first noticeable symptom of periodontal disease. Periodontitis results from the inability of the body’s immune system to fight the continual destructive forces of the oral bacterial toxins. The length of this process from mild gingivitis to periodontitis with bone and tooth loss depends on the cat’s genetic capabilities, immune system, diet, environment, and most importantly, the owner’s awareness of the problem, willingness to do home care, and initiative in obtaining professional veterinary care. Gingivitis is a reversible disease process with appropriate treatment. Periodontitis is usually a permanent condition due to bone loss, but can often be controlled if identified early. Severe periodontal disease is a painful condition for the cat. In most cases, your cat will continue to eat and learns to tolerate the pain. Remember, your cat cannot tell you he has a tooth ache. You may be advised that your cat needs to have his teeth cleaned. This is called a dental or oral prophylaxis. Dental hygiene is as important for your cat as it is for yourself. Imagine if you never brushed your teeth or had a periodic cleaning! Gingivitis and periodontal disease are the most commonly diagnosed disease processes in the otherwise healthy cat. If left untreated, the disease process progresses and causes pain and eventual loss of teeth. Uncontrolled periodontal disease can become systemic and predispose the cat to problems such as heart failure, liver and kidney disease, septicemia (bacterial infection of the blood), and behavioral changes.

  • Anesthesia is required to properly scale and polish the teeth. All cats should have a physical examination before anesthesia.
  • We further recommend that cats 8 years and older have bloodwork before anesthesia to evaluate the kidney and liver function.
  • If indicated, a thyroid level should also be checked.
  • If there is severe gingivitis and/or stomatitis (inflammation of the tissues of the mouth), testing for Feline Leukemia (FeLV), Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), and Feline Bartonella may be recommended.

The cat should have no food after midnight the night before the prophylaxis and be admitted to the hospital between 8–10:00am the day of the procedure. The cat will be given a sedative to allow the insertion of an endotracheal tube and will be maintained on an anesthetic gas.

The procedure

The tartar and plaque are removed by hand scaling and with an ultrasonic scaler that produces vibrations that fracture the calculus and flushes it away with a water mist. Next the gum line and the tooth roots are examined and appropriate therapy is initiated, then the teeth are polished. This will smooth rough surfaces of the teeth and slow down the accumulation of new plaque and tartar. A fluoride treatment is the last step. Our intent is to save as many teeth as possible; however, this is not always feasible depending on the condition of the individual tooth. The cat will be released in the evening and his/her dental health, home care recommendations, and the need for further treatment will be discussed at that time.

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