Vet Hansel answers your questions about pet care in this weekly advice column, created in partnership with the Bahrain Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BSPCA). It will also be highlighting each week some of the animals in the BSPCA sanctuary, in the hope of finding each of them a loving home.
Question: How should I know that my cat has dental problems?
Answer: Periodontal disease is considered the most prevalent disease in cats three years of age and older.
The periodontium is comprised largely of the “unseen” portions of the teeth which lie below the gum line, in addition to the gums. Therefore, detection and assessment of periodontal disease can be subtle.
Signs of dental pathology can include bad breath, dropping food or chewing only on one side of the mouth, facial swellings or draining wounds, bleeding or discharge from the mouth or nose, sneezing, pawing at the mouth, tooth grinding, or discoloured teeth. Often there are no obvious signs of dental disease. Most cats with dental disease still eat without a noticeable change in appetite!
Dental disease begins when bacteria colonise the mouth and a plaque biofilm is formed. Over time, this biofilm mineralises and calcifies into tartar. The bacterial population accumulates, which leads to inflammation and results in periodontal disease. Additional factors such as misaligned teeth, systemic disease, nutrition and genetics may also contribute to disease.
There are four stages of periodontal disease, with stage one being the most minimal and progressing through to stage four. Stage one is the only stage that is considered reversible, through the use of professional and home dental healthcare. This is the reason that the recommended time to begin professional dental evaluations and cleaning is within the first or second year of a cat’s life.
Professional dental evaluation should be performed thereafter every 6-12 months and will involve a general examination while the cat is awake, but will also require anaesthesia to allow for complete examination. More frequent dental examinations may be required for cats with severe dental disease; your veterinarian can help to guide you in this process.
In addition to periodontal disease, cats can also develop other dental diseases, including feline odontoblastic restorative lesions (a FORL is an erosion of the tooth, commonly formed around the gum line – the neck of the tooth – but can also be found below the gum line in some cats, stomatitis (widespread inflammation of the mouth) and fractured teeth.
The gold standard for preventative dental home care is tooth brushing. Additionally, a variety of dental prescription and non-prescription diets, treats and toys, along with oral rinses, gels, sprays and water additives have been developed.
Dr Hansel Geo is a veterinary consultant and surgeon for the BSPCA and Charis Vets. Please send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org