It can be difficult to assess pain in cats accurately as they are stoic animals and hide pain well until it becomes severe. This can make it difficult for cat owners to detect whether their cat has painful teeth. For this reason, it’s important to have your cat’s mouth examined by your veterinarian or a veterinary dentist at least yearly.
Periodontal Disease in Cats
Like people, cats develop periodontal disease which is defined as the loss of normal supporting structures including bone, gingival tissue, and ligaments, which surround the teeth. Periodontal disease results from bacteria on the tooth surface which cause inflammation of the gums and eventually leads to tooth loss.
Prevention of feline periodontal disease includes routine dental cleaning under anesthesia by your veterinarian as well as home dental care. Cleaning and polishing the teeth, examination of the mouth, and dental radiographs (x-rays) are done before a treatment plan can be made. Teeth with periodontal disease may be extracted if the disease is advanced enough. Once back at home, tooth brushing can be started using either a small toothbrush or a cotton-tipped swab (the type you would use to clean your own ears) and enzymatic toothpaste designed for pets. Click here to view a demonstration of how to brush your cat’s teeth at home. Finally, enzymatic dental chews and dental diets can be used. Click here to view a complete list of diets, chews and treats with the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of acceptance.
Tooth Resorption in Cats
While periodontal disease can be uncomfortable, cats can have another dental disease which can be even more painful. Tooth resorption, previously known as neck lesions or feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions, is a painful condition with no known cause. They are “holes” in the tooth which usually occur at the gumline but can affect the roots as well. Often times they are covered with a layer of tissue extending from the gums. They are very tender and cats with tooth resorption will often chatter when the tooth is touched, even while under anesthesia. It was once thought that these lesions were caused by infectious agents, but no association can be found with the commonly diagnosed feline viral or bacterial diseases including feline leukemia virus, herpes and calici viruses, or Bartonella bacteria. There is no way to prevent tooth resorption and the treatment for affected teeth is extraction which takes away the source of pain.