Feline Dental Health Care: Issue 1

Feline Dental Health Care

Healthcare for pets has improved dramatically in the past decades, and our pets are living longer and healthier lives than before. It is by no stretch of the imagination that problems which may have been overlooked in the past have now become important parts of routine preventative healthcare.

In this series of blog posts, we will be covering various aspects of dental health care for your beloved pets, from recognising and preventing dental disease, to treatment and long-term management for optimal dental health.

Periodontal disease is one of the most common diseases seen in cats, with 70% of cats affected by the time they are 2 years old. It is important to have the signs recognised and addressed in a timely manner, as the early stages of the disease are reversible. If the disease progresses unchecked, later stages of the disease result in irreversible changes to the teeth and associated bones and often result in severe inflammation and a painful mouth.

What is plaque?

Plaque is composed of bacteria that occur naturally in the mouth which secrete compounds that bind with protein in the saliva to form a biofilm, a sticky substance that binds to the surface of the tooth.

Plaque can contain up to 100,000,000,000 bacterial cells per gram, which can also be 500,000 times more resistant to antiseptics than individual bacterial cells.

Plaque can build upon all surfaces of the tooth, not just the parts of the tooth that we can see. When plaque accumulates under the gum line, it is known as sub-gingival plaque, and it is this sub-gingival plaque that can lead to progression of periodontal disease.

Tartar (or calculus) forms if plaque is not adequately managed. Over time the minerals in saliva are deposited with the plaque biofilm, forming a hard shell over the tooth. Calculus itself does not cause disease, but it contributes to the trapping of bacteria and food debris that encourages further growth of bacteria.

Cats are subject to the same biological process of plaque buildup that humans are.  You may have noticed that within 12 hours of brushing your own teeth, your teeth will start to feel fuzzy or have a buildup of a sticky film. The same thing happens to cats. However, they lack the thumbs and knowledge required to brush their own teeth, so this is where pet owners and veterinarians can step in to help.

Why is it important to manage plaque?

When plaque accumulates under the gum-line, it leads to inflammation of the gums, also known as gingivitis. As this progresses, the gingiva progressively displays swelling, bleeding and bad breath. This progressively increases the discomfort associated with chewing hard food, playing with toys and toothbrushing. Some cats may even become head-shy, reacting aggressively when the mouth or head are touched.

If gingivitis is not addressed, the disease may progress toward periodontitis, which is inflammation of the tissues attaching the gum to the bone. In severe cases, there is erosion of the bone holding the tooth roots in place, leading to exposure of tooth roots and eventually complete loss of attachment and tooth loss.

Comparison to humans

It can often be hard to recognise the severity of the problem in our pets, especially as they do not have the voice to express discomfort or pain.

It may be helpful to consider the following images:

We often find that dental disease in our pets is allowed to progress beyond the point illustrated in the image above. Imagine the discomfort of having that in your own mouth!

Yearly general health assessments with dental examination are strongly recommended so that your vet can advise you on the degree of dental disease, and if a dental COHAT (comprehensive oral health assessment and treatment) is required.

Written by,
Dr Celeste Lau
BSc DVM (Melbourne)