Cat Dental - How Dental Care Affects a Cat's Overall Health

How does dental health impact the overall health and wellbeing of my cat?

Cats are very good at hiding pain and discomfort. When cats have dental disease, a bad tooth, gingivitis, or any sort of mouth pain, it can be hard to detect that. Pain affects their overall quality of life, and so I feel like that's one of the biggest issues we have when a cat has dental disease. They often have a painful mouth, and they hide it really well until it's gotten pretty bad to the point where they can't hide it any longer. By that time it's usually a serious issue for them, causing a lot of pain and issues with the quality of life.

Dr Krystal Bove
Oakdale Veterinary Group

What types of dental care should I be giving to my cat at home?

If you can start at a young age, there are special toothbrushes that you can buy and even little finger brushes that you can put on the tip of your finger, as well as cat toothpaste. You can find these products online or at the pet store. We also sell them here at the clinic. I know the thought of brushing your cat's teeth sounds strange, but if you can start when they're a kitten and get them used to having their teeth brushed, that's really helpful. Any amount of brushing you can do, even if it's just once or twice a week, is helpful. Ideally, it would be every day but I understand that that's hard to do with busy work schedules. But even a couple of times a week is great, particularly if you can train your cat to get used to that.

There are special water additives that you can add to their water—antibacterial solutions that help with the plaque biofilm on the teeth. Some cats don't like the flavor of that, and so they may not drink the water with the additive in it. The other thing that we have are prescription diets that help with preventing plaque buildup on the teeth. Hills has a prescription diet as well as Royal Canin. But again, sometimes cats can be really picky. So the one thing we do recommend for all cats is a dental cleaning every year at the vet hospital with general anesthesia and x-rays to stay on top of things that may be occurring in the mouth.

What are the signs and symptoms of issues of oral health in my cat?

There are a lot of ways that cats can manifest pain from dental disease. One common thing is drooling, and sometimes the drool can have some blood tinge to it. They can also sometimes have a little puffy mouth if there's inflammation or gingivitis. They can paw at their face if they have a painful tooth. A lot of times too they will be reluctant to eat, or they'll eat but drop their food—they start to crunch their kibble and it hurts so some will fall out of their mouth. Other signs of oral health issues in cats can be really vague, like excessive grooming or weight loss. I've had some clients tell me that their cat started to drink a lot of water. In other words, these are changes in behavior that are not normal for your cat, which can indicate dental pain.

How do veterinarians diagnose dental problems in cats?

The first thing we do is a complete physical exam. You schedule an appointment for your cat and we would look in the mouth during the exam and look for signs of dental disease, gingivitis. That's where we would start. If there's any indication during a physical exam that we have a bad tooth or there's something abnormal in the mouth, then we would move on to making an estimate for you for general anesthesia for a full dental cleaning.

At our practice, we do full x-rays of the mouth for any dental procedure because a lot of times the disease is below the gumline. So we need to take x-rays so we can see the roots of the teeth. Based on what we find during the procedure and during the dental cleaning and x-rays, we call and discuss if any extractions may be indicated and go from there based on the complete picture. All of that starts with a basic exam first. That's step one.

What are some possible conditions caused by poor cat dental care and what are the treatments?

I think the biggest thing is pain. That can be a quality of life concern. Cats get what are essentially cavities. They're called resorptive lesions. Sometimes you can see them on the tooth. They're like little red holes or divots in the tooth. Those can be really painful and can be a quality of life concern. Some cats get viral infections that can cause severe gingivitis that can cause infection in the mouth. Bacterial shedding from the mouth into the body can affect all other organs, the heart, liver, and kidneys, which is why we recommend doing routine blood work before we go into any anesthetic procedure. We make sure that all of the organ functions are normal before anesthesia. Mostly, however, the conditions caused by poor dental care are pain and poor quality of life for your pet.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (209) 287-3222, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.