ALISON LAURIE-CHALMERS: Vet speak – A large number of cats can develop tooth problems
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“Hans” was a beautiful, eight-year-old, Seal Point, Siamese cat who was brought into the clinic as he had not been eating well recently.
He had been drooling excessively and chewing his food awkwardly, and was becoming quite grumpy and difficult to handle, which was not like him.
On examination I noted that he had a painful, bleeding lesion on the side of one of his upper back molar teeth. He was booked in for a full dental exam. Dental disease can cause pain and discomfort and is an extremely common problem in cats. Eighty-five per cent over the age of just three can have some form of dental disease.
Pain is often very difficult to detect in cats, as they do tend to hide the symptoms very well. Dental pain can however be extremely debilitating, so prompt action should be taken. Signs can include withdrawn behaviour, hiding away, a lowered head, salivating excessively, a decrease in appetite, chattering jaws, chewing awkwardly while turning their head, absence of normal grooming behaviour and temperament changes.
Fortunately, most common forms of dental disease are largely preventable and often treatable. The three most common in cats are gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth resorption.
Gingivitis is a condition in which the gums around the teeth become inflamed, red, swollen, and painful. This is the result of a process that begins with the build-up of plaque. As the plaque builds up it migrates toward the base of the tooth. When plaque becomes hardened, it is referred to as calculus or tartar. Calculus provides a rougher surface that the disease-causing bacteria can also attach to. The cat’s immune system mounts a response to these bacteria, resulting in the gum inflammation that we refer to as gingivitis.
Gingivitis can also be brought on by several infectious or systemic diseases, including leukaemia, feline immunodeficiency, calicivirus, severe kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, and autoimmune diseases.
Cats with gingivitis may be reluctant to eat or show a preference for soft foods and develop bad breath.
The treatment will depend upon how severe your cat’s case is and cause. If it’s not controlled, it can progress to periodontitis, a condition that eventually cannot be reversed. In periodontitis, the tissues that attach the tooth to the underlying gums and bone are affected, leading to loose teeth and tooth loss. It is almost always the result of untreated gingivitis, so controlling the initial gingivitis is crucial and key.
Cats with periodontitis show recession of the gum tissues, exposure of tooth root surfaces, and an excess mobility of the teeth.
Tooth resorption is a process in which the tooth structure breaks down, beginning inside the tooth. Tooth resorption is the most common cause of tooth loss in cats, with up to 70 per cent of cats showing some sign. It is usually first identified as a pinkish bleeding defect in the tooth at the gum line. Unfortunately, by the time it’s visible, the tooth is already significantly damaged. Such lesions can be extremely painful and can develop very quickly.
Teeth with these lesions do require to be removed. Often the “crown” of the tooth, the part visible above the gum line, is amputated and then burred and smoothed down, as the affected tooth root has already been resorbed.
“Hans” had a painful lesion, and had this tooth crown amputated and burred down. He ate well and was so much happier and amiable afterwards.
If you are concerned about your cat’s dental health, contact your vet.
Alison Laurie-Chalmers is a senior consultant at Crown Vets in Inverness.