Dental disease is a very common problem in both young and older cats. It is thought that as many as 85% of cats aged three or over, have some sort of dental disease. As cats get older, disease tends to become more severe. The cause of dental disease starts with the accumulation of plaque on the surface of the cat's teeth (the result of bacteria and saliva after eating).
Our cat's teeth can suffer from the following dental diseases:
- Tartar formation - Tartar is also sometimes called calculus. It is a hard substance which is like a thin yellow/ brown layer covering the tooth or a portion of it. It is the stuff that dental hygienists remove when we humans go for a scale and polish. Tartar forms when plaque (a complex layer of saliva and bacteria), is allowed to stick to a tooth and set. Tartar accumulation can lead to periodontal disease and gingivitis.
- Periodontal disease – This refers to any disease around the outside of the tooth. This includes the gums and the structures supporting the tooth below the gum line. These bits aren’t visible to us, but are really important.
- Gingivitis – The name of the disease we give to inflammation of the gums. This can be mild and just looks like a red line along the teeth margins. In very severe cases, it can be associated with advanced gum disease, periodontal disease and eventual loss of teeth.
- Tooth loss - As a result of gum erosion, the cat's teeth will eventually become loose. They may fall out eventually but this will take a long time and be painful.
To some extent the above diseases can be prevented or at least kept at bay with sensible diet and home care. There are some other dental diseases however for which the cause is unknown and therefore not easy to prevent – no matter how diligent at teeth cleaning an owner is!
Dental diseases with no known cause
- Feline resorptive lesions (FRLs) – Whereas dogs and humans suffer from periodontal disease, FRLs are specific to our feline friends. They are common lesions and probably affect about 70% of cats over the age of five. FRLs look like a red fleshy spot on one or more of your cat’s teeth. They usually form at the neck of the tooth (gum line) and can progress to affect the whole tooth, it is associated with erosion of dentin within the tooth. These lesions are very painful and since there is no effective treatment, extraction is the only solution. Dental x-ray may identify affected teeth that are not visible to the naked eye.
- Stomatitis - This is a condition which causes very bad breath, despite the teeth looking relatively clean. The gum area – even where there are no teeth, is red and inflamed. The cat will often be off their food and will appear painful if the mouth is opened. The cause of this condition is still unknown but it may be associated with viral infections such as FIV and appears to arise from a problem with the immune system.
- Fractured teeth - Cats get up to all sorts! This means they often tend to lose the odd half a tooth – especially the canines. They can be very good at masking pain with fractured teeth and most continue to eat. If the inside of the tooth is exposed, the tooth will need to be treated or removed.