Category: dental-disease-cat

Periodontal disease and how to prevent it

Periodontal disease affects the area around the teeth and will eventually lead to tooth loss. Prevent this by brushing your cat’s teeth, using the step-by-step guide included here.

Your cat’s teeth deserve as much care as your own!

The periodontium is the structure that surrounds and supports the tooth. It comprises the periodontal ligament – which holds the tooth into the socket – and the gum (gingiva). In periodontal disease, all or part of the periodontal ligament is destroyed and the gum recedes.

Periodontal disease starts with formation of plaque, the transparent adhesive fluid made up of protein, sloughed cells and bacteria that we remove by cleaning our teeth. Plaque starts forming twelve hours after dental cleaning and, if not removed, reacts with mineral salts in the food to form hard tartar (dental calculus). Calculus irritates the gum, changing the balance of acidity to alkalinity in the mouth and allowing bacteria to grow. By-products of these bacteria “eat away” at the tooth’s periodontium leading eventually to loss of the tooth.

  1. Gingivitis: inflammation and possible swelling of the gum line.
  2. Early periodontitis: the gum bleeds when prodded and gives less support to the tooth.
  3. Established periodontitis: the gum recedes away from the tooth giving even less support.
  4. Advanced periodontitis: the tooth begins to wobble.

X-rays of the inside of your cat’s mouth give your vet different views of the teeth. Gum examination using a periodontal probe detects any soft tissue changes (periodontal pockets).

X-rays show areas of bone loss and where pockets are likely to be – but do not show pockets or their depth. If more than half the bone around a tooth has been lost, it is unlikely that the tooth can be saved. The periodontal probe, in addition to showing gum bleeding and inflammation, enables the depth and shape of any pockets to be measured.

  • Stage 1 (gingivitis) – professional teeth cleaning and home care.
  • Stage 2 & 3 (early & established periodontitis) – home care and application of an antibiotic gel.
  • Stage 4 (advanced periodontitis) – removal of the tooth or gum surgery to reduce the periodontal pocket.

Tooth brushing is the key to prevention and is an easy process with most small animals.

  1. Select a cat toothbrush: many types are available, including a minibrush that fits over your index finger.
  2. Select a cat toothpaste: the best ones contain enzymes to help control plaque, and fluoride may be included to help control bacteria. Do not use human toothpastes because they sometimes contain baking soda, detergents or salt.
  3. Brushing technique: place the toothpaste between the bristles rather than on top of them to allow the paste to spend the maximum possible time next to the teeth.

Most pets accept brushing if approached in a gentle manner. Start when they are young, if you can. It’s quite easy, but even older pets will accept the process. Start slowly, using a soft cloth to wipe the teeth, front and back, in the same way you will eventually use the toothbrush. Do this twice daily and after about two weeks your cat will have become familiar with it all. Then take the toothbrush, soak it in warm water and start brushing twice daily for several days, only adding the toothpaste once your pet accepts this brushing.

Place the toothbrush bristles at the gum edge where the teeth and gum meet and then move the brush in an oval pattern. Be sure to gently force the bristle ends into the area around the base of each tooth and also into the space between teeth. Complete ten short back-and-forth motions, covering three to four teeth at a time. Then move the brush to a new location. Pay most attention to the outside of the upper teeth.

Tooth brushing from an early age will ensure that your cat becomes used to it and is happy to have it done. It will keep plaque from forming and keep periodontal disease at bay. It will save your cat from tooth decay, toothache and eventual loss of teeth. Just as important, it will also prevent the bad breath often associated with decaying teeth.

Dental disease in your cat

Dental disease is very common in cats. Surveys show that after the age of three years, about seven out of ten pets have some kind of tooth disorders. If left unattended these may cause irreversible damage to the cat’s teeth, gums and jaw bones. Dental disease can be prevented by stopping the build up of plaque.

Plaque is a yellowish white deposit made up of bacteria and debris which forms around the surface of the teeth. In time it hardens to become yellowish brown tartar (sometimes called calculus) at the base of the tooth which gradually spreads until it may cover the whole of its surface.

As well as the visible tartar there may be other indications of disease. Foul breath is very common and the pain resulting from advanced dental disease may cause difficulties in eating. If your cat dribbles excessively and sometimes this is flecked with blood or shows signs of pain and discomfort such as head shaking and pawing at its mouth it may have problems with its teeth.

The tartar hidden below the gum line is the main cause of problems. It contains bacteria which will attack the surrounding gum tissue causing painful inflammation (‘gingivitis’) and infection can track down to the tooth roots. Pus may build up in the roots and form a painful abscess. This inflammation wears away tissue from the gum, bones and teeth and, as the disease becomes more advanced, the teeth will loosen and fall out.

Bacteria and the poisons they produce can also get into the blood stream and cause damage throughout the body in organs such as the kidneys, heart and liver.

If your pet has advanced disease and is in obvious pain, your vet may need to take x-rays of your cat’s head, under general anaesthesia, to see whether there are any deep abscesses. Any loose teeth will have to be removed because the disease is too advanced to be treated. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics before doing dental work if there are signs of infection. Then your cat will be given a general anaesthetic so that your vet can remove the tartar, usually with an ultrasonic scaling machine.

Finally, your cat’s teeth will be polished to leave a smooth surface which will slow down the build up of plaque in the future. However, it is inevitable that plaque will re-appear. To keep your cat’s teeth in good condition it is likely that they will need regular scaling and polishing, in some cases at intervals of between six and twelve months.

In the wild your pet’s teeth would be much cleaner because its diet would contain harder materials than are found in commercially tinned or packaged foods. Cats and dogs naturally eat the bones, fur, etc of their prey which wear away the deposits of tartar.

Replacing soft foods with dry or fibrous materials will slow the build up of plaque. The extra chewing involved helps control infection because it stimulates the production of saliva which has natural antibiotic properties.

There are special diets available to help maintain clean teeth, please ask your vet for further advice.

Brushing your pet’s teeth is just as important in preventing dental disease as brushing your own. Ideally your cat should get used to having its teeth cleaned from an early age. Wrapping a piece of soft gauze around your finger and gently rubbing the pet’s teeth should get it used to the idea. You can then move on to using a toothbrush specially designed for cats or a small ordinary toothbrush with soft bristles. Toothbrushes which fit over the end of your finger are available for cats and dogs.

Your vet can supply you with suitably flavoured toothpaste which your pet will enjoy. There are also some mouth washes and antibacterial gels that can help reduce plaque deposits and prevent infection. Do not attempt to use human toothpaste which will froth up in the mouth, your pet will not like the taste and it could do it serious harm.

At first your pet may resist but with gentleness, patience and persistence most pets can be trained to accept having their teeth cleaned. A regular brushing every day or at least three times a week will significantly reduce the risk of your pet suffering serious problems or needing frequent general anaesthetics to treat advanced dental disease.

Preventative healthcare for your pet is very important. Regular brushing of your pet’s teeth from a young age can prevent the need for veterinary dental attention.