February is Dental Health Month
Cats can’t tell you when there is something wrong in their mouths, and the chance that you are examining your cat’s teeth on a daily basis is slim. This is why an oral examination is performed every time your cat visits the veterinarian. Identifying problems such as gingivitis and periodontal disease, broken teeth, and even oral tumours means we are better able to prevent these issues before they arrive or to treat them when they occur. Just as in people, dental disease in cats can lead to inflammation and disease elsewhere in the body, meaning preventative dental care is paramount to overall health.
Cats are unique compared to dogs as they are commonly affected with tooth resorptive lesions (right) – a painful and progressive condition in which the structures of the teeth are broken down, or resorbed. This disease process is similar to cavities, but is different in that it usually starts below the gum line, meaning that lesions may not be recognized until damaged is advanced and sometimes only with dental x-rays. Although the cause of these resorptive lesions is unknown, studies have shown that up to 75% of cats will be affected in one or more teeth during their lifetime. We can even see evidence of resorptive lesions in feline skeletons from 800 years ago!
Dr. Lowe saw firsthand how painful these lesions can be when her 7 year old cat, Arista (left), needed a dental cleaning. It wasn’t until a full oral examination was performed under anesthesia and dental x-rays were taken that the full extent of a resorptive lesion on Arista’s premolar tooth was realized. This tooth was extracted and the rest of the teeth were cleaned and polished. Polishing slows down the build up of dental plaque and tartar. Arista purred non-stop for an entire week after her dentistry, an indication of the pain this lesion had been causing her.
Prevention is key with regard to dental disease, and although the gold standard is still brushing the teeth twice daily, we realize this is not an option for every owner (or for every cat!). There are now various therapeutic diets and treats available to aid in preventative care at home. We recommend choosing products with the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval – this means the food has been tested to be effective in reducing plaque and tartar. VOHC maintains a list of products with their seal of approval that you can consult. Professional cleaning of the teeth under anesthesia is also necessary for preventative care and it may be discussed during a veterinary visit. A thorough oral examination will be performed and in most cases, dental x-rays assessed, which allows for treatment or extraction of any diseased teeth.
Your veterinarian is the best source for information about your cat’s dental health, and we are here to work with you in finding the best solutions for you and your cat. An adult cat has 30 teeth – 30 reasons to initiate a preventative dental care plan now to help ensure a healthy mouth in the future.
[Dr. Amy Lowe]
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