1. Dental disease is common.
Research shows as many as 85% of adult cats have are affected by dental disease. Accumulation of plaque and tartar causes inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and eventually more serious gum (periodontal) disease.
2. Dental disease is painful.
Pain is caused by the cat's inflamed gums, and eventual loss of the soft tissue and bone that surround the teeth. And anyone who has ever suffered a toothache knows just how sore dental pain can be.
3. Dental disease can lead to other conditions too.
Gum disease can allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream and cause infections elsewhere in the body. This can put your cat at risk of developing heart, kidney and liver disease.
4. Dental disease can go unnoticed.
The signs of dental disease in cats include bad breath (halitosis), difficulties eating and chewing on one side of the mouth or a reduced appetite. However, most affected cats show no signs at all.
5. You can spot dental disease if you look for it.
By looking in your cat’s mouth regularly, you can detect the signs of dental disease. Look out for red, inflamed or bleeding gums, swellings in the mouth, loose or broken teeth. Your vet will look for these signs as part of their clinical examination, so be sure to attend regular check-ups with your cat.
6. You can brush your cat's teeth
Believe it or not, it's true! Brushing your cat's teeth is in fact the best way to prevent dental disease. But it takes careful training and a considerable amount of time and effort by owners. You should always use products intended for pet use – never use human toothpaste!
7. Diet is important.
Diet can play a role in the risk of dental disease in cats. Feeding wet food can increase the accumulation of tartar and plaque. A dry (biscuit based) diet encourages chewing. The biscuits are abrasive on the teeth and can help prevent plaque build up. Some specially formulated diets incorporate technology to help maximise this effect.
8. Dental disease is more common in some cats than others.
Purebred cats can be more prone to dental disease. This is especially true of those with flat faces such as Persian and exotic short hairs. Their skull shape leaves less room for their teeth meaning they can be crowded or misaligned. Genetic predisposition may also play a role.
9. Dental disease can be associated with infection.
Some infectious diseases of cats can cause gingivitis and stomatitis (inflamed mouth). If your cat suffers from chronic (long term) inflammation of the mouth, your vet might suggest testing for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) and feline calicivirus (FCV).
10. Dental disease can affect young cats too.
Although the risk of dental disease gets higher the older cats get, young cats can be affected too. Young cats, including kittens, can have extra teeth (retained deciduous/kitten teeth) or congenital abnormalities (deformities they are born with e.g. under or overshot jaws). Kittens will often develop gingivitis around 4-6 months of age when they are teething, although this usually settled on its own.
11. Cats can re-absorb their own teeth
Young and old cats can suffer from feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs). A FORL is when the neck of the tooth becomes eroded and is replaced with bone like material. The surrounding gums become very inflamed and the crown of the tooth is likely to fracture. FORLS are incredibly painful and need to be treated by removal (extraction) of the tooth.
12. Treatment of dental disease requires a general anaesthetic
Treatment of dental disease in cats might involve the extraction (removal) of one or more teeth. This is a surgical procedure and requires a general anaesthetic. Unlike in people, even a basic scale and polish in cats requires an anaesthetic too. Performing dental treatment in a cat whilst it is awake would not only be very tricky, but cause stress and further damage to their teeth and gums.
13. Diagnosis can require a general anaesthetic too.
Cats mouths are small and can be difficult to examine fully when the cat is awake. Some dental conditions in cats (especially FORLS, since they are below the gum line) require the vet to be able to probe the affected area and sometimes carry out x-rays, in order to make a diagnosis.
14. Dental treatments might not be covered by pet insurance.
Not all insurance providers and policies provide cover for dental treatment. If they do, it may well be on the condition that your pet has regular dental check-ups. So, check your small print, and be sure to get your cat checked out by a vet on a regular basis.
Always get any concerns about your cat's health checked out by a vet.