Whether it’s their independent nature or the idea that cats don’t need frequent medical attention, dental care for cats is often overlooked. The truth is, dental cleanings for cats are an important preventative procedure with many health benefits.
Why cat dental cleanings are important
Cats are demanding groomers, unfortunately they cannot clean their teeth as thoroughly as they clean their paws. This is why dental cleanings are important for your cat’s oral health. Dental cleanings not only help physically clean the teeth, but also prevent dental disease in cats.
Cats are affected by two main types of dental disease:
- periodontal disease
- Tooth resorption
Periodontal disease in cats
Feline periodontal disease is not unlike periodontitis in humans. Bacterial plaque turns into tartar and causes inflammation of the gums. This tartar in turn causes gingivitis and eventually the loss of bone and gum tissue around the cat’s teeth (periodontitis).
Gingivitis can also be caused by other diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease, and feline leukemia virus.1
Feline tooth resorption
Although not fully understood, tooth resorption causes painful lesions that eventually break teeth. The inner tooth begins to decay and progresses to the rest of the tooth, causing tooth loss.1
Treatment and prevention
Both dental diseases can be extremely painful for cats and will likely require cleaning and extractions of diseased teeth. While treatment requires a fairly serious medical procedure, prevention is simple and straightforward. The easiest way to prevent dental disease in your cat is to brush their teeth regularly. Be sure to use a pet-safe toothbrush and toothpaste, never use human toothpaste as it may contain toxic xylitol. Regular veterinary checkups and vet-approved dental chews are also effective preventative measures.
To ensure that you are an informed advocate for your cat, be sure to understand your veterinarian’s treatment recommendations. Here are three questions you should ask your veterinarian before your cat has dental work.
1. Why does my cat need dental work?
Ask to see your cat’s teeth, including any tartar, gingivitis, or visible feline resorption lesions. Not all problems are obvious when your cat is awake, but unless your cat has severe “cattiness,” you should be able to figure out why dental work is needed. The majority of cats have the onset of dental disease at the age of three. You may already have a suspicion, based on your cat’s bad breath, red gums, or difficulty chewing. Dental disease left unchecked can lead to more serious problems, including heart, kidney, or liver disease. This is caused by bacteria from your cat’s mouth entering and traveling through her bloodstream to these vital organs. Checking for dental disease is a big reason why an annual preventative wellness exam is so important. Indoor cats also have dental diseases!
2. Is my cat healthy enough to have dental work?
Anesthesia is required for a thorough oral examination, intraoral dental radiographs (x-rays), subgingival scaling, cleaning, polishing, and any necessary extractions. Most cats can safely undergo general anesthesia, but your veterinarian should perform a thorough physical exam and, ideally, pre-anesthetic lab tests, to ensure they have all the information needed to select a cat. appropriate anesthesia protocol. Pain management should also be considered.
3. Does my vet have the equipment and expertise to provide a true standard of dental care for my cat?
Your vet’s team will need to be able to place an intravenous catheter to administer fluids and anesthetic medications, as well as an endotracheal tube to protect your cat’s airway and administer gas anesthesia. All dental instruments must be cleaned and disinfected by autoclave. Your cat should also have intraoral x-rays to check for hidden dental issues, such as root resorption. Feline resorptive lesions destroy enamel and expose sensitive dentin.
Your veterinarian should be able to perform local nerve blocks to reduce the amount of gaseous anesthesia needed and improve patient comfort after the dental procedure. They will need electric dental drills to facilitate extractions and perform crown amputations (crown removal only). This is necessary when the roots of a tooth have resorbed into the bone and the crown needs to be removed. All extraction or crown removal sites should be closed with sutures (stitches) to speed healing. Finally, your cat should receive safe and effective pain medications if extractions or crown removals are performed.
A licensed vet tech can perform simple, non-surgical extractions (like loose teeth), under the supervision of a veterinarian, but only a veterinarian should perform difficult extractions.
As you can see, a cat’s dental procedure requires a team of professionals and state-of-the-art equipment to get the job done right. Please ask your veterinarian these important questions.
1 Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. (2017, June). Feline dental disease. Excerpt from Cornell Feline Health Center: