Did you know that dental disease in cats is underdiagnosed? By the time cats are three years old, at least 70% of them will have some form of dental disease. The thing is: dental disease is painful. Yet, cat owners don’t seem to realise what’s lurking in their cat’s mouth.

Just as with dental disease in humans – most disease is preventable. That means, most pain is preventable. Just as you wouldn’t casually say, “Yeah, extract all my teeth,” just to avoid daily brushing, we try to preserve your cat’s teeth for as long as we can.
Wonder what the most common dental diseases are in cats? Read on.

The Most Common Dental Diseases in Cats

1) Periodontal disease

Periodontal disease is the most common problem we encounter in everyday practice. Periodontal disease is when bacterial plaque destroys the tissues that support your teeth. Important tissues like gum and bone.

The most common signs of periodontal disease you’ll notice at home are bad breath, red gums, excessive salivation, and – when it’s really, really bad – a lack of appetite. Can you imagine having your mouth SO sore that you wouldn’t eat?
Usually, if you’re really good with brushing your cat’s teeth and your cat comes in for a routine scale and polish, you’re good. But individual variations exist and some cats need to come in more frequently than others.

Angry, red gums

2) Feline Oral Resorptive Lesions (FORL)

Cats, being a little special, do interesting things with their teeth. They go beyond just having regular periodontal disease and show up with Feline Oral Resorptive Lesions (FORL).

These resorptive lesions are holes in the teeth which can lead to infections and are often very, very painful. No one really knows exactly what causes these lesions, except that maybe changes in local pH stimulates odontoclasts (special cells that eat through bone). There’s a very strong association between these resorptive lesions and periodontal disease. Periodontal disease also makes it easy to underestimate the number of teeth affected, especially when teeth are covered with plaque and calculus.

That’s why the most definitive way to diagnose these lesions is with a full oral examination under anaesthetic. There’s no real way to cure these lesions, so once these teeth are affected, they usually have to be extracted.

Do you see that hole? The tooth is being eaten away!

3) Feline Chronic Gingivostomatitis (FCGS)

Feline Chronic Gingivostomatitis (FCGS) is the terribly angry version of the periodontal disease that won’t be satisfied with regular dental care. We don’t know why but, in some cats, inflammation ramps up at the very presence of plaque, resulting in angry, red gums and ulcerations in the mouth. Some say there is a correlation with viral infections, some say that there’s an immune-mediated component – it could even be a bit of both.

For cats like these, prevention of plaque accumulation is vital. In some very, very bad cases, the only cure is the removal of all the teeth. Once we diagnose chronic gingivostomatitis, the primary goal is to help cats feel more comfortable, even if they still have a degree of disease.
The best place to start is a professional scale and polish and meticulous home care. Your veterinarian may also prescribe antibiotics and anti-inflammatories to try and tamp down all of that inflammation and prevent it from worsening.

4) Malocclusion

Malocclusions aren’t as much a disease as they are the cause of disease. When we see malocclusions, we tend to be looking at how the teeth sit in relation to the jaw. These are called “dental malocclusions”. They are most common in flat-faced cats because there’s nowhere for the teeth to go!

Malocclusions are often problematic because of how they:

  • Create more plaque-retentive surfaces, i.e., there are just more nooks and crannies for plaque to stick to
  • Cause teeth to poke into soft structures, which makes chewing painful and can cause ulcerations
  • Cause wear and tear on the teeth they’re in contact with, often rubbing enamel away

When your veterinarian detects these malocclusions, there’s a good chance you may be referred to a veterinary dentist, a veterinarian with specialist training in all things dentistry.

How can I prevent dental disease?

The most effective dental prevention is the dental prevention your cat tolerates. The best thing to do is to start young because it increases the chances that your cat will tolerate tooth-brushing. (The humble toothbrush, by the way, is the most effective way of preventing dental disease.)
If you can’t brush teeth, you’ll need to think about prevention in two parts: (1) removing plaque mechanically and (2) keeping plaque soft (so you can remove it later). We cover this in a different blog post about keeping your furbaby’s teeth clean!

Preventing feline oral resorptive lesions and feline chronic gingivostomatitis can be a bit different because we don’t entirely understand why these diseases occur. Having clean teeth is a good place to start but certain viral infections, like Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), can predispose to dental disease.

For that reason, it’s important to keep your cat indoors and be vigilant! Sometimes the dental disease is just the tip of the iceberg.

It is tough to deal with dental disease in cats…especially when they’re so stubborn! Have any questions about dental disease? Have a chat with your vet! Need a demonstration on brushing your cat’s teeth? Just let us know. One of our helpful nurses can help you out!

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Our team is here to answer your questions and get an appointment scheduled for you.

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