Feline Oral Health & Overall Health
Your cat's oral health plays a key role their overall health and wellbeing. Our feline companions use their mouths, teeth, and gums to eat and vocalize and when their oral structures stop functioning properly or are causing them pain, not only will they be able to do those as effectively, they will be uncomfortable and in pain.
Plus, the bacteria and infection that cause many oral health issues won't just remain in your cat's mouth if it isn't promptly treated. Infection and bacteria may begin to circulate throughout your pet's body, damaging organs like their kidneys, liver, and heart and leading to more serious impacts on their overall health.
Signs of Dental Disease in Cats
While different oral health conditions including gum disease will result in somewhat different symptoms there are a few common tell-tale signs that are easily spotted if your cat is suffering from an oral health condition. If your cat has teeth problems symptoms may include:
- Bad Breath (halitosis)
- Excessive drooling
- Weight loss
- Difficulty with or slow eating
- Missing or losing teeth
- Visible tartar
- Bleeding, swollen, or noticeably red gums
- Pawing at their teeth or mouth
If you notice any of the above signs of dental disease in your cat, bring them to your Delaware County vet as soon as possible for examinations. The sooner your cat's dental disease is diagnosed, the better.
Common Cat Dental Problems
There is a wide range of health issues that can affect your cat's gums, teeth, and other oral structures, here are seven particularly common ones to watch out for.
1. Bad Breath / Halitosis
Your cat could have unpleasant breath due to multiple issues affecting the oral cavity, ranging from gum disease to infections of the teeth, gums, or oral structures. Halitosis could also be an indication of an underlying systemic disease like diabetes or kidney disease.
2. Gum Disease
It's estimated that about 70% of all cats will develop some form of gum disease (also called periodontal disease) by the time they reach the age of 3.
This disease is an infection caused by bacteria found in plaque—the soft film of bacteria and food debris that builds up on teeth over the day. If your cat's plaque isn't regularly brushed away or cleaned, it will harden and form tartar that extends below its gum life.
When the bacteria gets trapped below your cat's gum line and against its teeth, it will begin to irritate and erode the structures supporting your kitty's teeth. If untreated, periodontal disease will cause a severe infection of your cat's gums, loose and missing teeth, and organ damage as the bacteria travels throughout your pet's body.
3. Oral Infections
Infections in the oral cavity can result from injury, foreign bodies stuck in the mouth, teeth, or gums, immune system issues, or other dental conditions.
Infections of the gum tissue make them swollen and reddened, while an infection that is contained in one area is an abscess. As in humans, this can be an incredibly painful condition.
Treatment needs to be instituted as soon as an abscess is diagnosed. This involves extracting the infected tooth or performing a root canal, and treating the infection with antibiotics and pain control.
Feline stomatitis is an incredibly painful inflammation and ulceration—opening of sores—of your cat's gums, cheeks, and tongue.
Some breeds are predisposed to developing this condition, like Persians and Himalayans, but any cat can develop stomatitis.
Cats suffering from this condition are often in extreme pain and have reduced appetites because of that. In some cases, cats will become malnourished because it is so painful for them to eat. If your cat develops a mild case, at-home care might be enough to treat its stomatitis, but severe cases require surgical intervention.
5. Fractured Teeth
Cats suffer relatively frequently from fractured teeth, especially at the tips of their fangs. Because the internal tooth pulp extends almost to the end of the tooth, even small fractures can expose the tooth's root and cause the cat no small amount of pain.
Fractures can appear above or below the gum line, and affected teeth sometimes seem greyish. Fractures above the gumline are visible to the naked eye, though some fractures may extend below the gumline. Fractured teeth may also appear to be gray.
The appropriate treatment will depend on the severity of the fracture, which is why it's important to have your cat seen by a veterinary professional. Untended, fractures can cause other issues like abscesses or infection.
6. Tooth Resorption
Tooth resorption in cats is the slow deterioration of a tooth or multiple teeth in your cat's mouth. This is a relatively common condition in cats, potentially affecting up to three-quarters of middle-aged and older cats.
When a cat suffers from tooth resorption, its body begins to break down its tooth's hard outer layer, loosening it and causing pain. This destruction occurs below your cat's gumline so it can be quite challenging to detect without a dental X-ray. However, if your cat suddenly develops a preference for soft foods or swallows its food without chewing, it may be suffering from this condition.
Oral cancer is one of the most commonly-occurring feline cancers, potentially affecting the animal's gums, tongue, jawbone, lips, or palate. Cats afflicted with oral cancer may develop oral masses, facial swelling, drooling, loss of weight, sudden loss of teeth, and halitosis.
For the best chance at treating oral cancer, early detection is key. Masses and other signs of cancer can be detected during routine dental cleanings and examinations, which is why taking your cat's preventive care seriously is important.
Preventing Your Cat From Developing Dental Disease
As with people, the number one way to help prevent cat teeth and gum problems is by routine brushing and cleaning your cat's mouth. Your cat's teeth and gums will have a much better chance of remaining healthy if plaque is brushed or wiped away before it can cause damage or infection.
For the best results, you should begin cleaning your cat's teeth and gums while they are still a kitten and will be able to quickly adjust to the process.
On top of at-home brushing, regular visits to your vet for dental checkups starting when your cat is a year old will help to prevent disease with professional cleanings and oral health treatments.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.