Dental disease is one of the most common conditions seen by vets today. It can also be very painful for cats, especially if left untreated. However, the good news is that – unlike many health problems – it is usually preventable.
What is dental disease?
Also known as periodontal disease, in advanced cases, dental disease is an inflammation of the gums around the teeth. If left untreated, it can affect both the health of the tooth as well its underlying structures and support systems.
What causes it?
The cat mouth environment contains bacteria’s which are usually not pathogenic. However, with time they multiply and lay on teeth and create a soft, sticky film. This film, if left in place and not removed can become harder and transform in tartar.
This plaque attaches itself to the teeth and gums, where the bacteria feed off nutrients and produce acids and toxins that attack the tooth enamel and irritate the gums. Saliva is the body’s only natural defence at this stage, as it acts to neutralise acid erosion. However, regular tooth brushing is the only way to actually remove the plaque.
When plaque isn’t removed, the minerals contained in saliva chemically combine with the plaque film, causing it to harden. This hardened and calcified plaque is called tartar or calculus. Once it is formed, the bacteria held at the tooth face are trapped – and the acid and toxins they produce bore into the tooth enamel and start to form cavities.
Stages and symptoms
Stage 1 – gingivitis: the first stage of dental disease, gingivitis is often observed as swollen, reddened and possibly bleeding gums. It is reversible if caught in time.
Stages 2-4 – periodontitis: this is the long-term, advanced stage of dental disease, which worsens over time. Initially the inflamed gums progress to form pockets between the tooth and gum. The tooth roots may become exposed due to receding gums. As the inflammation worsens, tooth root abscesses can be caused by infection in these pockets. The deeper structures can then be affected, ultimately ending in tooth loss.
The clinical signs of advanced dental disease in cats include halitosis (bad breath), a reluctance to eat, excessive drooling, eating to one side of the mouth, difficulty swallowing or an abnormal swelling around the face that may indicate an oral abscess.
Once tartar has formed it cannot be removed by manual brushing. It requires specialist professional dentistry equipment, such as ultrasonic scaling and a general anaesthetic. Your vet will be able to recommend the right course of treatment, depending on the stage the dental disease has reached.
How nutrition can help
Specially formulated diets like PURINA® PRO PLAN® Cat Dental Plus and PURINA® PRO PLAN® VETERINARY DIETS Feline DH St/Ox Dental Health can help to prevent and tackle plaque and tartar.
They are designed with specific shapes, densities and textures of kibble that help scrape off plaque during the chewing process.
The importance of brushing
While diet can make a difference to your cat’s dental health, there is no substitute for regular tooth brushing with a feline specific toothbrush and toothpaste. It is also important to schedule regular dental checks with your vet, to ensure early and appropriate intervention as necessary.