Treating Cat Dental Disease

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By the age of three, 85% of pets have problems with their teeth or the tissues that surround them. Therefore, if you have an adult cat the chances are very good that it suffers from dental disease that will only worsen over time without appropriate care and pet meds.

"Cat owners can do a lot to slow the development of dental disease in their pets."

What Is Cat Dental Disease?

Dental disease is a catch-all term, referring to any condition that adversely affects teeth or their supporting structures. Common forms of dental disease include:

  • Plaque – an accumulation of saliva, bits of food and bacteria that adheres to the surfaces of teeth
  • Tartar – a hard substance that forms on teeth when plaque mineralizes
  • Gingivitis – inflammation and possibly infection of the gums
  • Periodontal Disease – abnormal pockets that form between teeth and gums
  • Periapical Abscess – an infection at the tip of a tooth root
  • Loose or Missing Teeth
  • Broken Teeth
  • Tooth Resorption

How Does Dental Disease Develop?

Every day, plaque is deposited on a cat's teeth. With time, minerals present in saliva convert the soft plaque into hard tartar. Plaque and tartar are very irritating to the gums, causing inflammation which is known as gingivitis.


As tartar builds up and gingivitis worsens, the gums start to separate from the underlying teeth. Within the pockets that form more plaque and tartar accumulate, and a vicious cycle has started. Infection and inflammation break down the connections between the cat's teeth and jaw. Loose teeth that may eventually fall out are the result. If a tooth is broken and the inner chamber called the pulp cavity is exposed, bacteria in the mouth can travel through the tooth and into the bone that surrounds the root producing a periapical abscess.

Cats are especially prone to tooth resorption, a disease that goes by many other names including neck lesions, cervical line lesions, cavities, and feline odontoclastic resorption lesions (FORLS). The cause of this condition is unknown, but for whatever reason painful holes develop in one or more of a cat's teeth. Eventually, affected teeth may become nothing more than bumps under the gums.

The Effects of Dental Disease in Cats

Dental disease is painful. Affected cats may be reluctant to eat. Some may resent being touched around the head, rub their mouths or chatter their teeth. Other typical symptoms include:

  • Bad breath
  • Drooling
  • Receding gums
  • Red gums that bleed easily
  • Pus draining from around teeth or from swollen areas on the face
  • Sneezing and discharge from the nose
  • Weight loss
  • Irritability

Dental disease may also lead to health problems elsewhere in the body. Bacteria can travel from the mouth through the bloodstream and infect the kidneys, liver, heart and other organs with potentially life-threatening consequences.

Veterinary Dental Care

A veterinarian will be able to examine the mouth of a cooperative pet and get a general idea of the state of its oral health. However, anesthesia is required for a full exam and any treatment that will follow. Dental x-rays are often needed to assess the health of tooth roots and surrounding structures.

Plaque and tartar is removed from all surfaces of the teeth, including under the gum line, by scraping it away with a hand or ultrasonic scaler. The teeth are then polished so that plaque has a harder time sticking in the future. Fluoride and other preventative treatments may also be included as part of a dental prophylaxis. Severely damaged teeth, including those undergoing resorption, should be removed. In some cases, root canals and other types of oral surgery may be an option for saving a tooth.

Home Dental Care

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Cat owners can do a lot to slow the development of dental disease in their pets. Daily tooth brushing is best. Soft bristle brushes, fingerbrushes, and even a washcloth can all be effective. Use a toothpaste or gel designed especially for cats. Cats don't appreciate the minty taste of human products, and the fluoride can cause illness when swallowed. If brushing isn't possible, try Petrodex Dental Spray or any other cat dental wipe, mouthwash, or drinking water additive.

Some types of food have been specifically designed to help remove plaque from a cat's teeth. Studies show that regular dry foods are not as effective as are those that carry the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal. The daily use of treats and chews like Feline Greenies that contain mild abrasives, antiseptics or enzymes that break down plaque can also significantly improve a cat's oral health.

Even with the best of home care, most cats still require professional dental cleanings from time to time. See your veterinarian regularly so that any dental problems that do develop can be dealt with swiftly before complications arise.

The above is provided for information purposes only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any condition. This information does not cover all possible variables, conditions, reactions, or risks relating to any topic, medication, or product and should not be considered complete. Certain products or medications may have risks and you should always consult your local veterinarian concerning the treatment of your pet. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

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