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Cats Dental Disease







What kinds of dental problems do cats have?

Dental disease is common in cats, as well as humans. The most common form of dental disease in humans is cavities. This is not the case in cats. The most common form of feline dental disease is tartar buildup. This causes irritation of the gums around the base of the teeth, resulting in exposure of the roots. Ultimately, this leads to infection, pain, anorexia, salivation, and tooth loss.


How does tartar form, and what does it do?

Plaque is a gummy substance that forms on the teeth within a few hours after a meal. Within 24 hours, plaque starts to harden into tartar.


Tartar is harmful in two ways. First, it serves as a place where bacteria can reside and multiply in the mouth. There is substantial scientific evidence that bacteria from tartar get into the blood stream and are deposited in various organs. Heart and kidney disease may result.


Second, tartar builds up at the gum line. As the tartar deposit gets larger, it pushes the gums away from the roots of the teeth. Eventually, the teeth will loosen and fall out.


Isn't it correct that cats that eat dry cat food don't have tartar buildup?

There are many misconceptions about tartar buildup in cats. Diet plays a role. Because dry food is not as sticky as canned food, it does not adhere to the teeth as much and thus, does not cause tartar buildup as rapidly. However, eating dry food does not remove tartar from the teeth. Once tartar forms, a professional cleaning is necessary.


One of the main factors determining the amount of tartar buildup is the individual chemistry (determined by genetics and other factors) in the mouth. Some cats need yearly cleanings; other cats need a cleaning only once every few years.


What does tartar do to the teeth?

If tartar is allowed to remain on the teeth, several things may happen.

  1. The tartar will mechanically push the gums away from the roots of the teeth. This allows the teeth to loosen in their sockets and infection to enter the root socket. The teeth will loosen and fall out or have to be extracted.

  2. Infection will accumulate in the mouth, resulting in gingivitis (gums), tonsillitis, and pharyngitis (sore throat). Although antibiotics may temporarily suppress the infection, if the tartar is not removed from the teeth, infection will return quickly.

  3. Infection within the mouth will be picked up by the blood stream and carried to other parts of the body. Kidney and heart infections frequently begin in the mouth.




What is involved in cleaning my cat's teeth?

Proper cleaning of the teeth requires complete cooperation of the patient so plaque and tartar can be removed properly.


Anesthesia is required to thoroughly clean the teeth. Although anesthesia always carries a degree of risk, the modern anesthetics and monitoring equipment in use today minimize this risk, even for older cats.


Depending on your cat's age and general health status, blood work may be recommended before anesthesia to evaluate blood cell counts and organ functions.


Depending on your cat's age and organ functions, intravenous or subcutaneous fluids may be given to your cat during the anesthesia and teeth cleaning.


There are four steps in the cleaning process that will be used on your cat:

  1. Scaling removes the tartar above and below the gum line. This is done with hand instruments and ultrasonic cleaning equipment.

  2. Polishing smoothes the surface of the teeth, making them resistant to additional plaque formation.

  3. Flushing removes dislodged tartar from the teeth and helps to remove the bacteria that accompany tartar.

  4. Fluoride coating decreases teeth sensitivity, strengthens enamel, and decreases the rate of future plaque formation.

Note: Sometimes the tartar build-up and tooth loosening are so bad that when the tartar is removed, that tooth falls out during the teeth cleaning. That means that tooth was held in only by the tartar!


Loose teeth are a source of pain, discomfort, infection, and halitosis and need to be removed for your cat's health. Cats have 30 teeth and the loss of a few or many teeth does not interfere with your cat's ability to eat. Surprisingly, cats can get along very well without any teeth.


What type of scheduling is needed for teeth cleaning?

It will be necessary to withhold food after 6 PM the night before, and to withhold water after midnight the night before.


The cat will need to stay indoors that evening and be kept quiet and safe to insure that no accidents (falls, and so on) occur until complete recovery from anesthesia. If that is not possible, you may elect to have the cat spend the night in the hospital.


Please withhold food and water for one hour after returning home. The cat should be given a small amount of food and water that evening and returned to normal feeding the next morning, at which time the cat should be completely recovered from the anesthetic.


If instructed, please give the antibiotic as directed until gone.


How can I prevent tartar formation on my cat's teeth?

After your cat's teeth have been cleaned, we would like to recommend a few steps which will help to reduce the process of plaque and tartar buildup:

  • Brushing of the teeth is the most effective means of removing plaque before it turns into tartar. We recommend the use of a toothbrush and toothpaste made especially for cats. This should be done daily, but we know that not all cats will tolerate it. Ask your veterinarian for a cat toothbrush and toothpaste.

  • Using a dental rinse to reduce the bacterial count in the mouth is sometimes indicated. If so, your veterinarian will direct you as to its usage.

  • Having your cat's teeth cleaned professionally every 6-12 months or at the first sign of tartar buildup can be very beneficial to most cats. This will minimize damage to the gums and roots, and will help to prevent loss of teeth.