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Common Dental Problems in Cats

Learn some of the common oral health problems that affect cats.

Many people never see the inside of their cat's mouth. After all, cats don't smile by pulling their lips off their teeth, and it can seem like a dangerous thing to do, sticking your fingers in where they aren't welcome. However, your cat's dental health is critically important to their overall well-being and quality of life, so you do need to know a little bit about what goes on in there, what can go wrong, and what you can do to help keep your cat's mouth healthy.

Here are some of the most common dental and oral problems that occur in cats.

Periodontal Disease

Most cats have some degree of periodontal disease by the time they are two or three years of age. First, plaque builds up on the teeth, and then it becomes tartar. The bacteria living in the plaque and tartar travel below the gum line, resulting in inflammation and infection of the gums and the tooth roots. This disease under the gum line eventually leads to loosening of the teeth.

The best way to help your cat avoid periodontal disease is by brushing his teeth routinely at home with a small brush and pet toothpaste and having him checked over by a veterinarian regularly. Cats also need complete dental cleanings done under anesthesia at the veterinary clinic periodically.

Stomatitis

Stomatitis is a dental condition that occurs in some cats in which the gums become extremely inflamed and painful. Not only that, but the rest of the soft tissue in the mouth, including the tongue, roof of the mouth, and mucosal tissues can also be affected. Cats with stomatitis often develop ulcers on the soft tissues of the mouth, and they might drool excessively. Often, cats with stomatitis rub at their mouths with their paws and have decreased or absent appetites.

The exact cause of stomatitis isn't well understood by scientists yet, but it is thought to be an autoimmune process where the body overreacts to the bacteria in the mouth, attacking its own tissue along with the microbes. Cats that are infected with FIV or FELV are more likely to develop stomatitis than other cats, and there are certain breeds of cats that are represented more highly as being affected by this condition.

Stomatitis is treated with antibiotics, pain medications, tooth cleaning, and extraction of teeth. You can learn more about it here: "Stomatitis in Cats."

Broken Teeth

Fractured teeth are seen fairly commonly in cats, especially on the tips of the sharp canine teeth, which are prone to breaking off when something firm is bitten into. In fact, x-rays are usually done when a person is bitten by a young cat to ensure that a tooth tip hasn't been left inside the person.

Some tooth fractures are not a problem for the cat, but if a break reaches the inner sensitive part of the tooth or occurs below the gum line, it needs to be treated, usually with extraction. Broken teeth are prone to developing infections and can be painful if left untreated.

Bad Breath

Bad breath, or halitosis, is common in cats. Usually, it indicates periodontal disease or infection in the mouth, but it can also mean that the cat has a systemic problem like kidney failure. If your cat has bad breath, it's crucial that you don't ignore it, thinking it's normal for cats to have a stinky mouth. Instead, bring it up to your veterinarian, who can do a thorough oral examination and diagnose the source of the odor.

Oral Cancer

Cancer of the mouth is diagnosed relatively commonly in cats, and the primary oral cancer seen in them is squamous cell carcinoma. It can occur on the roof of the mouth, under the tongue, or along the inside or outside of the gum lines. Oral cancer in cats is typically extremely aggressive, destroying the tissue around it and delving into the bone quickly. Oral cancer in cats also usually metastasizes, or spreads, too other areas of the cat's body quickly, particularly the lungs.

Cats with oral cancer often drool excessively, act lethargic, drop food out of their mouths when they try to eat, paw at their mouths with their front paws, and often appear painful and lethargic.

Oral tumors can be debulked, which means that as much as possible is surgically removed, but it has usually already spread or invaded the bone by the time it gets large enough to cause symptoms. This is one of the reasons it's important to check your cat's mouth often and have routine dental cleanings done. A mass in the mouth might be noticed and removed more quickly then, while it may still be treated effectively.

You May Also Like These Articles:

Home Dental Care for Cats

Halitosis: Bad Breath in Cats

Feline Leukemia Virus

Stomatitis in Cats

Kidney Disease in Cats

Common Causes of Ear Problems in Cats

Warning Signs of Cancer in Cats

Arthritis in Cats

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