Periodontal Disease in Cats
Our pets might not smile, but they do need dental care. What starts with a little tartar buildup and bad breath, if left untreated, can progress to tooth loss because of periodontal disease. Additionally, the bacteria associated with the disease can travel to other parts of the body and cause damage there. Daily brushing, regular dental cleanings, and special rinses and foods are your best line of defense against periodontal disease in cats.
OverviewPeriodontal disease is defined as the progressive inflammation of the supporting structures surrounding the teeth. It happens when inflammation of the gums (called gingivitis) conspires with inflammation of the bone and tooth support structures (called periodontitis) to undermine a tooth’s support system. This is by far the most common cause of tooth loss among cats.
It is incredibly widespread. Indeed, more than 85 percent of cats over 4 years old are affected to some degree by periodontal disease. Here’s how it happens:
- The process starts when bacteria form plaque on the teeth.
- Within days, minerals in the saliva bond with plaque to form tartar, a hard substance that adheres to the teeth.
- The bacteria then work their way under the gums and cause gingivitis, which is an inflammation of the gums.
- Once under the gums, bacteria destroy the supporting tissue around the tooth, leading to tooth loss.
Signs and IdentificationThe signs of periodontal disease include:
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Redness or bleeding along the gum line
- Drooling, which may be tinged with blood
- Difficulty chewing (which may manifest as messy eating)
- Pawing at the mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Loose or missing teeth
- Facial swelling
- Nasal discharge
- Gum recession
Affected BreedsAll breeds of cats are susceptible to periodontal disease. Some purebreds, however, do appear to be particularly predisposed. Abyssinian cats are most notoriously affected.
TreatmentTreatment depends on the severity of the disease. If a cat has mild periodontal disease (consisting of gingivitis without any bone loss), a thorough dental cleaning that includes the area under the gum (always followed by dental polishing) can help reverse the problem.
If there’s been loss of the supporting structures around the teeth, however, this process can’t be reversed as long as the tooth remains. Veterinarians may need to perform dental procedures to slow or resolve the process. This can involve one or more of the following techniques (among others):
- applying antibiotics beneath the gums
- root planing
- root canal
- crown restoration
PreventionLuckily, this is one disease that can be managed with plenty of preventative approaches:
Daily brushing can help remove plaque before it turns into tartar. A child-size toothbrush, gauze sponge, or finger brush are the most common tools. Human toothpastes should be avoided because most contain substances that pets shouldn’t swallow in significant quantities. Pet toothpaste is available in flavors such as chicken, seafood, and malt.
Mouth rinse solutions that target plaque bacteria and help promote healthier teeth and gums are available.
There are several dental diets and treats that can also help keep plaque and tartar to a minimum. These diets tend to have larger or irregular kibbles to provide abrasive action against the tooth surface when chewed, or they may include ingredients to prevent tartar mineralization.
Routine prophylactic dentistry is recommended for all cats. Depending on the severity of the problem, some cats may require a dental cleaning and exam as frequently as every four months. This procedure is perhaps the most significant mode of prevention, as it allows veterinarians to thoroughly examine each individual tooth and prevent further deterioration.
Many pet owners worry about the risk of frequent anesthetic procedures in their pets. To be sure, it is not an issue to be taken lightly. Thankfully, modern veterinary medicine has made great strides in minimizing adverse anesthetic events with sophisticated anesthetics, equipment and patient monitoring protocols.
So-called “anesthesia-free” dental cleanings (sometimes offered by grooming facilities) are not recommended by veterinarians, as this kind of cleaning is considered cosmetic only. These procedures cannot effectively clean below the gum line or polish teeth surfaces, and only a veterinarian is trained to assess periodontal disease.
This article has been reviewed by a Veterinarian.