Cat Dental Prophylaxis
Does your cat have bad breath, build up (calculus) on their teeth, bleeding gums, a sensitive mouth, drooling, or is over 4 years of age? If you answered yes to any of these, you should have your cat’s mouth checked by your veterinarian. Your cat will probably need a dental prophylaxis, which is a cleaning of the teeth, cleaning under the gum line, x-rays, inspection of the entire mouth, tooth/teeth extraction (removal of tooth/teeth), and polishing of the teeth under general anesthesia.
Dentals Under General Anesthesia
Many people ask why the cat must go under anesthesia. The reason, especially with cats, is they do not like their mouth messed with or opened. If it is a painful mouth, they like it even less which increases the risk of the vet staff getting bit, it is scary for the cat to have people right up in their face, it is almost impossible to get under the gum line while they are awake, and you cannot get x-rays of the mouth while a cat is awake. For cat dental prophylaxis that does not have extractions, the cleanings normally do not take a long time which means the cat is not under anesthesia for long. See my article on Dog Dentals, Dog Mouths and the 4 Stages of Periodontal Disease to learn more about dental prophylaxis and the 4 stages of periodontal disease.
Feline Resorptive Lesions
Cats can have sore mouths that make them not want to eat, drool more than normal, and may have bad breath. This can be caused by the cat’s body attacking the teeth and causing lesions (holes) on the gumline of the teeth that exposes the nerve of the tooth or teeth affected and cause pain. These lesions are called feline resorptive lesions or FRLs. These normally require extraction of the tooth or teeth or if the root of the tooth has become part of the bone of the jaw or face then taking the crown of the tooth or teeth will be removed and smoothed out to relieve pain. To know if the root of the tooth or teeth has become part of the surrounding bone you must take dental x-rays. Therefore, it is very important to have good dental x-rays taken when having any dental prophylaxis done so the vet team knows what is going on under the gum line and know the best way to proceed with removing a tooth or teeth.
Feline Chronic Gingivo-Stomatitis
Cats can also get feline chronic gingivo-stomatitis or FVGS which can have the same symptoms as FRLs but normally these cats have extremely bad breath, and it affects the gums and surrounding tissues, not the teeth. This disease is caused by the body having a reaction to the bacteria in the mouth causing extreme inflammation including the gums, back of the throat, lips, and tongue. These cats should be tested for FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) and FeLV (feline leukemia virus) to make sure the cat’s immune system is not compromised by these diseases, but it does not usually change the way it is treated. If the cat has been having this for a long period of time and other treatments have not helped, the cat may need a full mouth extraction (removal of all teeth) to hopefully prevent the body from attacking the bacteria in the mouth. Some other treatments are a full mouth cleaning every few months if there are no signs of inflammation, and steroid injections including Depo Medrol which can last a few months after getting a few doses but should not be given long-term steroids to pets may develop kidney disease and/or diabetes. For some cat’s cold laser treatments have helped, but not always effective. Your vet and vet team will have different treatments that have helped some cats, and you never know what will help until you try it. Cats are so hard to treat for a lot of diseases since each cat is so different, but FVGS is one of the diseases that it is even harder to find something that works for most cats. Some cats that have full mouth extractions still get inflammation of the mouth and then other treatments are needed to keep the cat from having a painful mouth, trouble eating, drooling, and bad breath. Cats with FVGS normally have antibiotics as needed for bacterial overloads in the mouth.
Full Mouth Extractions
Cats sometimes do need all their teeth removed or extracted to help the mouth not be as inflamed and the cat not be in pain anymore. This is only done if nothing else has helped the cat and the cat is in constant pain, not eating as it should, and will benefit from having all the teeth extracted. Cats can do just fine without any teeth and eating. Normally these cats cannot eat kibble but making food, feeding cooked food, raw food, or dehydrated foods are good options for cats that do not have teeth. (Check out my article on Healthy Cat Food to see how to switch food or what food might work better for your cat with no teeth or a sensitive mouth besides kibble).
Why Brush Your Cat’s Teeth
To help keep the above diseases from getting worse or to help keep the cat from being in a lot of pain you should brush your cat’s teeth at least once a day. It is much easier to get a kitten used to brushing their teeth, so it is recommended that all kittens have their teeth brushed daily. You must only use pet-approved toothpaste since cats cannot spit out the toothpaste as we do. Human toothpaste also has xylitol in it which could be toxic to cats so do not use human toothpaste on your pets.
Brushing Your Cats Teeth
Whether it is a kitten or an older cat that you are just starting to brush its teeth make sure to start with just a little bit of toothpaste on your finger and let the cat lick it off your finger. Do this for a few days and then try rubbing your finger with toothpaste on it onto the cat’s teeth. Once they get used to this and you have been doing it for a few days then you can try a finger brush, a pet toothbrush, or a child’s toothbrush with pet toothpaste on it. By this time your cat should be used to their teeth being brushed and you should make it part of your daily routine and have their teeth brushed every day. Once the cat is used to getting their teeth brushed you can give the task to older kids in the house to help them be a part of the process and sometimes, they remember better than adults. If your cat will not let you brush their teeth you can try a powder to add a powder to their food that may help. There are also supplements that can help with mouth health. Check this one out.
Preventing Dental Disease
It is always better to prevent dental disease than it is to treat it since treatment can be expensive and most of the time irreversible. Most cats over four years of age have some degree of dental disease. Therefore, brushing your cat’s teeth is so important. If your cat’s mouth is painful do not start brushing their teeth as this can make it difficult when their mouth is not painful, they will not let you brush as they will associate brushing with pain. Cats remember the pain and will associate things with pain. After dental prophylaxis and the mouth is healed is a good time to continue brushing your cats’ teeth. After dental prophylaxis make sure to talk to the vet or technician about what you should be doing at home besides brushing to help keep the mouth healthy if needed.