Dental problems are some of the most common diseases seen in cats. Cats often hide their oral discomfort, but occasionally, a cat may reveal its pain by pawing at its mouth, drooling or turning its head to one side while eating, to avoid chewing on the painful side of its mouth. Some cats stop eating because of dental pain. Others may stop eating dry food and only eat wet food.
Your Cat’s Mouth
Kittens are born without teeth. Baby teeth begin to appear in the first two weeks. At 6 weeks of age, all 26 of your kitten’s baby teeth should be present. By 6 months of age, 30 adult teeth replace your kitten’s baby teeth. The 30 teeth include 12 little incisors in front, four canine teeth (the two upper and two lower fangs), 10 pre-molars and four molars.
Periodontal disease, or gum disease, commonly affects cats. This disease is caused by plaque the sticky, bacteria-laden coating on the tooth surface and the body’s response to those bacteria and the toxins they release. Oral bacteria can enter the bloodstream through diseased oral tissues, affecting other organs, such as the heart valves and kidneys. As the immune system responds to the plaque, the gums become inflamed. This is the first phase of periodontal disease: gingivitis.
Left untreated, the inflammation progresses and the second phase of periodontal disease (periodontitis) occurs, and may cause receding gums, bone loss and periodontal ligament damage. If not removed, the plaque mineralizes into tartar or calculus within days and requires mechanical removal.
Fortunately, the first stage (gingivitis) is reversible if your cat receives a professional cleaning and if you institute a home care program.
Periodontitis, however, is irreversible. The early stages are characterized by gingivitis and halitosis (bad breath). Up to 80 percent of cats 3 years of age and older suffer from gingivitis. You must alert your veterinarian to the red flags of gingivitis and begin professional cleaning, in some cases, between 6 months and 1 year of age.
Daily home care is essential. Brushing your cat’s teeth can help prevent dental disease. Within only a few days of a professional dental cleaning, plaque is already building up on your cat’s teeth. The ultimate goal of home care is to remove plaque before it becomes calculus.
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