Why does my cat need dental care?

For the same reasons that we do! Cats can get dental problems that can be very painful and lead to a decline in their overall health. In the past, our role as veterinarians was really only to intervene when the problems in our feline patients became so serious that teeth needed to be extracted. Now through the use of innovative diets, preventative dental care at home and routine dental cleanings we can prevent a lot of these issues before they affect the health of our cats.
When I examine my feline patient’s mouth I am careful to look not only at the teeth but at the gingiva as well throughout the entire oral cavity. Some cats can get quite severe gingivitis and you can recognize this as a redness in the gingiva at the gum line. Just like in humans, plaque builds up on our pet’s teeth, and the bacteria in the plaque irritates the gums. These irritated gums can then bleed, allowing bacteria from the plaque to enter the bloodstream. Daily brushing can make a huge impact in your pet’s oral health. By removing the plaque daily, it prevents it from mineralizing into tartar.
Let’s face it. For some of our feline friends, brushing is just not a reasonable option. Fortunately, there are other tools that we can use at home to help keep our pet’s teeth clean. There are veterinary diets available that have been proven to protect against gingivitis and fight bacteria in your pet’s mouth.
For some cats, cleaning at home is not going to be enough to keep your cat’s mouth in good health. Some cats are particularly sensitive to the bacteria in plaque and can have quite painful irritation from it. These cats would definitely benefit from routine professional dental cleanings by your veterinarian. In addition, if you see signs of oral pain in your cat (drooling, dropping food from their mouth, reluctance to eat, pawing at their face) it is really important that you take your cat in for an exam. Perhaps you may notice that your cat has foul breath, or has been losing weight. In many cases, we will need to anesthetize your cat to properly evaluate the issue, and to thoroughly clean the teeth. Anesthesia free dental procedures are not able to clean beneath the gumline to prevent periodontal disease, nor are they able to look beneath the gum-line to identify problems before they become painful and expensive to treat. To do the best job possible, we need to radiograph the teeth to look for problems existing below the gum line. Cats are prone to getting resorptive lesions, which are painful cavities that can be difficult to identify without radiographs. I often discover dental issues that need to be addressed with my x-ray machine that otherwise would have been missed!
We now know, without a doubt, that proper dental care and good dental health helps our pet’s lead healthier and longer lives. Preventative health care is so important in all aspects of medicine-for both ourselves and our pets! Cats need to have annual exams so that we, as their doctors, can help recognize problems early as well as identify other potential health issues. Dr. Carey Keith