What is involved in cat dental care?
Cat dental care is kind of a large encompassing thing, starting with a basic physical exam to uncover any problems. And then if there are dental issues, it usually entails a thorough dental cleaning, including scaling, polishing, fluoride treatment, and extractions, if that would be necessary.
How does dental health impact the overall health and wellbeing of my cat?
Well, it's very much like with humans in that the teeth kind of affect everything that goes on with the body. What I mean by that is so, if the teeth are infected and the gums are inflamed, that's going to affect their appetite and how well they eat. The bacteria that form on the surface of the teeth can get in the bloodstream and affect things like your heart and heart valves. It can also affect your kidneys and your liver. So, really, it affects virtually all organ systems in the body if the mouth is affected.
What types of dental care should I be giving my cat at home?
At home, cats are tough. It's hard to brush their teeth. If you have a cat that allows you to brush teeth, knock it out. That's the best way to go about it. It's tough to do that so sometimes, so you may have to rely on various dental treats or toys that they can use. And most of the time, when we say dental treats, well, the treats are usually harder and hold together better so when the animal chews them, it kind of rubs on the side of the tooth and can remove plaque. Dental toys are similar to that. They're not going to fall apart, obviously, but they may have grooves in them that the tooth can fall into and do the same mechanical action there. My personal favorite for helping cats with dental care at home is with diet. Cats have to eat every day. Why not feed them a dental-approved diet that provides those same effects when you feed them on a daily basis?
What are some of the signs and symptoms of issues with oral health in my cat?
Well, the most common thing would be probably either drooling or a diminished appetite in a cat. As dental disease progresses, your cat can also experience the halitosis or bad odor, if you will, to the mouth. You can have swollen or bleeding gums, perhaps. And then you can have various stages of tartar/periodontal disease that can build up as well. What's a little bit more severe, which doesn't have to do with the teeth, per se, is that cats can also have things like tumors and/or growths. Whether these are benign or malignant can also affect the mouth or gingival tissue.
How do veterinarians diagnose dental problems in cats?
It all starts with a physical exam and that's how we do it—usually on an annual basis. In some cases, maybe twice a year. Good exams are warranted. But you're looking for anything abnormal on that exam. So that is usually the best time for us to pick up on some of those initial lesions.
What are some possible conditions caused by poor cat dental care? And what are the treatments?
Treatments are variable depending on what you find. Gingivitis, periodontal disease, loose teeth, and sore or swollen gums are all very common problems. Some of the more severe things are broken teeth. Cats are infamous for getting a condition called FORL, or feline oral resorptive lesions. That is where the enamel of the tooth, usually at the base right above the gum line, will start to erode away. They're very painful. They can be very hard to diagnose because they're hiding right above the gums and the cats don't necessarily show them to you. But those are things that will typically be seen.
How to treat these issues is difficult because, with gingivitis and tartar buildup, we treat those with a simple dental cleaning. In the case of broken teeth or the resorptive lesions I mentioned, those often have to be extracted. So the treatment depends on the diagnosis.
Cat Dental Care - FAQ
What is the vet looking for during my cat's dental exam?
To be quite honest, we're looking for anything abnormal. During every single exam we do on a dog or cat, one of the things we look at is their mouth. So it allows us to know what a normal mouth looks like. And that way, in contrast, when you see anything that's abnormal, it very quickly stands out to you. And that's what we're looking for.
What kind of dental and oral problems can cats have?
There's a wide array of things they can have, the most common being simple gingivitis. You can have periodontal disease, and you can have tumors or growths in the mouth. You can have broken teeth. Cats are especially prone to what's called oral resorptive lesions. I think that's a pretty thorough list of them that we see. Depending on what we find, they all require different types of treatment.
Why does my cat need x-rays?
X-rays help us to better diagnose what's going on, not only in the mouth but, more importantly, under the gums where we can't see. For example, you might have a diseased tooth that looks like there's some tartar on the outside but the crown looks pretty solid and the tooth is not loose, but you do an x-ray and maybe you uncover that one of those roots has a tremendous amount of bone loss around it. Well, that tooth at that point is usually not a viable tooth so it would need to be extracted. Without x-rays, you would never have a way to know that.
Are issues addressed during my cat's initial oral exam, or do I need to schedule a follow-up appointment?
Most of the time a follow-up appointment is required. If I'm doing an exam and, say, I find that your cat has periodontal disease or maybe even a fractured tooth, it's very rare that I'm able to proceed and go and put the cat under general anesthetic and perform the procedure right then and there on the spot. We need to prepare, we need to have the animal fasted, we might want to run blood work before, those kinds of things. So typically we diagnose on the first visit and then have them come back for treatment on a later visit.
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