What is Cat Dental Disease?Cat dental disease is a broad name for a category of diseases that affect a cat’s teeth or gums. Studies have concluded that about half to 90 percent of cats older than four years old suffer from some kind of dental disease. The terrible thing is that the most common forms of dental disease in cats are preventable. The most common forms of cat dental disease are gingivitis, periodontitis and tooth resorption.
GingivitisGingivitis is a painful condition where the gums become red and swollen. It’s usually caused by a buildup of plaque that can help harbor bacteria. This bacterium is overall thought to be a good thing in a cat’s mouth. The problem is when the buildup of plaque allows bacteria to work its way up the root of the tooth. The bacteria move beyond the gingiva, or where the gums meet the teeth. As the bacteria moves toward the root of the tooth, the body’s natural immune response is what causes the inflammation and pain of gingivitis. If your cat has a compromised immune system, this can exacerbate problems.
PeriodontitisIf a cat develops gingivitis that is not controlled, it can turn into periodontitis. Once a cat develops periodontitis, extreme consequences can result if treatment isn’t immediate. This occurs when the bacteria that get under the cat’s gums begins to loosen the tissue and bone connections of the tooth. Eventually, the connective tissues become so weak that the cat’s teeth fall out. Obviously, the loss of teeth will be a detriment to the cat’s quality of life.
Tooth ResorptionThe causes of tooth resorption are largely unknown, but it is thought to affect between 30 and 70 percent of cats. This occurs when the structure of the tooth begins to break down. This happens from the inside out, so by the time you notice any symptoms it is already too late to save the tooth. Most veterinary professionals will try to manage the cat’s pain and save what teeth they can.
What Factors Contribute to Dental DiseaseWhile all cats can get dental disease, there are several factors that determine how at risk your cat may be. These factors include:
- Tooth alignment – Normally there should be a small gap between teeth, just like with people’s teeth. If there is a malalignment in your cat’s teeth, this can cause plaque and tartar to build up. Malalignment can be due to the cat’s breed, baby tooth retention or physical trauma.
- Your cat’s diet – Your cat’s diet obviously plays a key role in their mouth health. Cats who only eat soft or wet foods does not have the chance to “clean” their teeth while eating. Harder foods provide an abrasive medium to help clean the buildup of tartar.
- Dental care your cat receives – Cats who have their mouths cleaned frequently are less likely to develop issues, though just because you clean their mouth doesn’t mean they will be immune.
- Infectious diseases – If your cat had a disease that compromises their immune system, they are more likely to have tooth problems.
- Mouth chemistry – If the chemistry or bacteria in your cat’s mouth changes, it will most likely influence their teeth.
- Genetics – Some cats are just predisposed to have mouth issues more than other cats. Breeds with a higher rate of dental disease are those who have very short noses. These breeds include Persians, Chinchillas, and some Shorthairs. Their predisposition to dental disease is due to their mouths being too short to accommodate all their teeth.
How to Help Prevent Dental Disease
One of the easiest ways to help prevent dental disease in your cat is to simply brush their teeth. You should be brushing your cat’s teeth about as much as you brush yours. Of course, two or three brushings a day is a bit much, but most vets will still recommend brushing your cat’s teeth a few times a week.
To brush your cat’s teeth you’ll need a toothbrush, cat toothpaste, and a reward.
Please remember that human toothpaste is not safe for animals. When you decide to brush your cat’s teeth, be sure to use a high-quality feline toothpaste.
You can begin brushing your cat’s teeth by allowing them to become familiar with the brush and toothpaste. Show these to your cats and leave them around. This will give your cat the chance to touch and become familiar with them on their own time.
Put some toothpaste on your finger and let your cat smell and taste it. Most cat toothpaste has a pleasant flavor and aroma, so your cat should be happy to give it a try. If not, try dabbing some on the side of your cat’s mouth. This way they can lick it off. When your cat tries the toothpaste, be sure to reward them.
Once your cat is comfortable with the toothpaste, try putting a dab on their teeth. You can use your finger to work the toothpaste around. Just be sure to go slow. Once you’ve gotten your cat used to the toothpaste, try putting some on the toothbrush. Just let your cat lick the toothpaste off the brush to begin with. Once they are comfortable, you can try touching the brush to their teeth.
Once your cat doesn’t resist the brush, you can begin trying to brush their teeth. Move the toothbrush around the outside of their teeth at a 45-degree angle. You’ll only have to brush the outside of their teeth as their tongue does a great job of cleaning the inside of their teeth.