Can A Cat Live With A Bad Tooth?

What are the common dental problems in cats?

Some of the most common dental problems in cats include:

Periodontal disease – This involves infection and inflammation of the tissues surrounding the tooth. It can progress through various stages from gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) to advanced periodontitis where there is significant bone loss around teeth.1

Tooth resorption – This is when the tooth structure breaks down due to the action of cells called odontoclasts. It often starts below the gumline and works its way towards the crown. The tooth eventually gets destroyed and may fall out.2

Gingivitis – Inflammation limited to the gums, which can be caused by plaque and tartar buildup. The gums become red, swollen and bleed easily.

Broken/damaged teeth – Teeth can crack, chip or break from trauma. Cats may also have congenitally missing teeth.

Signs your cat may have a bad tooth

There are several common signs that may indicate your cat has a problem with their teeth. These include:

  • Difficulty eating – Your cat may have trouble picking up food, chew only on one side of their mouth, or drop food from their mouth while eating. Cats with dental pain often avoid dry food and only eat soft food. (VCA Animal Hospitals)
  • Excessive drooling – A cat with a bad tooth may drool more than usual. The drool may contain blood. (PetMD)
  • Weight loss – Dental pain can make it difficult for a cat to eat properly and get adequate nutrition. A cat with untreated dental disease may start to lose weight. (Cornell Feline Health Center)
  • Bad breath – Rotten teeth or infected gums cause a foul, unpleasant odor from the mouth.
  • Facial swelling – Abscesses around the teeth and gum inflammation can cause swelling on the face around the mouth.
  • Pawing at the mouth – Your cat may excessively rub or scratch at their mouth, face, and ears if they have dental discomfort.

Dangers of leaving dental problems untreated

Leaving dental problems like gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth resorption untreated in cats can lead to severe health consequences. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, as plaque and tartar accumulate on the teeth and gums, bacteria under the gums can enter the bloodstream and spread infection throughout the body.

Untreated dental disease also causes progressive bone loss in the jaw. The bacteria stimulate the body’s immune response, leading to loss of the bone and ligaments surrounding the teeth. Eventual tooth loss can occur as the teeth loosen from the damaged bone, states Cornell University’s Feline Health Center .

The spread of infection and inflammation from dental disease can potentially damage vital organs like the heart, kidneys and liver. Bacteria from an infected tooth root abscess can enter the bloodstream and lodge in remote organs, explains VCA.

In addition, cats with severe dental pain tend to have behavioral changes like reduced grooming, altered eating patterns, irritability and even aggression. The chronic pain and infection takes a major toll on their quality of life.

Cats with dental disease are also at higher risk for developing other illnesses. The constant stress on the immune system makes them more vulnerable to conditions like kidney disease, diabetes and hyperthyroidism according to Cornell’s Feline Health Center.

Professional treatment options

There are a number of professional treatments a veterinarian may recommend to treat dental problems in cats:

Teeth cleaning/scaling – This is the most common treatment and involves thoroughly cleaning the teeth above and below the gumline to remove tartar and plaque. The teeth are scaled using both hand and ultrasonic scalers. According to VCAAnimal Hospitals[1], a thorough dental cleaning and polishing is performed annually as part of a cat’s routine healthcare.

Tooth extraction – If a tooth is severely damaged, decayed, or has an abscess, the veterinarian may recommend full extraction. This is done under general anesthesia. The tooth is loosened and then gently elevated out of the socket using dental instruments. The empty socket eventually fills in with scar tissue[2].

Root canal therapy – Also known as endodontic therapy, this treatment can help salvage a damaged tooth. The diseased pulp is removed and the inside of the tooth cleaned and disinfected. The tooth is then filled and sealed[3].

Crowns/caps – These prosthetics are placed over severely damaged or worn teeth to restore function and appearance. The damaged parts of the tooth are trimmed away and a crown fitted over the remainder of the tooth[2].

Orthodontics – Braces or other appliances can be used to correct malocclusion (misalignment) or other orthodontic issues. However, this is rare in cats[4].

Always consult your veterinarian to determine the right course of treatment for your cat’s specific dental issues.



Caring for your cat after dental work

Following your veterinarian’s post-operative instructions is crucial for your cat’s recovery after dental surgery. This includes administering any prescribed medications as directed, such as antibiotics or pain medication. It’s important to give your cat the full course of antibiotics, even if they seem to be feeling better.

For the first few days after dental surgery, you’ll need to feed your cat soft food that is easy to chew and swallow. Canned/wet food or softened kibble mixed with warm water works well. According to PetMD, you should offer softened foods for at least a week after extractions

Monitor your cat closely during recovery for any signs of complications, like bleeding, swollen gums, reduced appetite, lethargy or vomiting. Wellpets recommends checking the surgical site daily for signs of infection like redness, swelling or discharge Contact your vet if you notice any abnormal symptoms.

Providing proper at-home care and following your vet’s recovery instructions will help ensure your cat heals comfortably after dental surgery.

At-Home Dental Care

Taking care of your cat’s teeth at home through brushing, chews, treats, and rinses is an essential first step in slowing the progression of dental disease (Source 1). While professional cleanings are still recommended every 6-12 months (Source 2), there are things you can do at home to keep your cat’s teeth cleaner between visits.

Brushing your cat’s teeth daily, if they will tolerate it, can reduce plaque buildup that leads to tartar, gingivitis, and eventually tooth loss. Use a soft-bristled brush and cat-safe toothpaste. Go slowly and keep sessions positive and short.

Feeding dental treats or kibble designed to reduce tartar can also help scrape plaque off teeth. Look for the VOHC seal from the Veterinary Oral Health Council when choosing dental foods or treats (Source 3). Avoid feeding people food, especially sugary treats.

Scheduling regular vet oral exams and professional cleanings every 6-12 months is important, even with diligent at-home care. Veterinarians can spot issues you might miss and perform a deep cleaning above and below the gumline (Source 2).

Providing safe chew toys can satisfy a cat’s instinct to chew and scrape plaque. Look for USDA approved rawhide alternatives or products designed to clean teeth as cats chew (Source 3).

With diligent at-home dental care and regular professional cleanings, you can help your cat maintain good oral health for years to come.

When to see a vet

If you notice any signs that your cat may have a dental issue, it’s important to schedule a veterinary visit right away. Some signs that require prompt veterinary attention include:

  • Visible tooth damage – Chipped, broken, or missing teeth indicate your cat likely has an underlying dental problem that needs treatment.
  • Facial swelling – Swelling around the face, jaws or mouth is often a symptom of a dental abscess or infection that needs immediate care.
  • Bad breath – Persistent bad breath or foul odor from your cat’s mouth is a red flag for periodontal disease or other issues.
  • Excessive drooling – Increased drooling can signal your cat is having mouth pain or issues eating and chewing.
  • Weight loss – Refusing food or difficulty eating due to dental pain can lead to decreased appetite and weight loss.
  • Behavior changes – Irritability, reduced grooming habits, hiding, or other unusual behaviors may indicate your cat is dealing with dental discomfort.

Don’t delay in getting veterinary assessment if you notice any of these signs. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, dental infections left untreated can become life threatening. Your vet can perform a thorough oral exam, take x-rays if needed, and recommend appropriate treatment options to restore your cat’s health and comfort.

Costs of professional dental treatments

The costs of professional dental treatments for cats can vary widely depending on the extent of dental disease, the procedures needed, and your geographic location. Some general costs include:

Exam fees – The initial dental exam by a veterinarian often costs $50-$150. This will involve an oral inspection and may include dental x-rays.

Bloodwork/imaging – Your vet may recommend pre-anesthetic bloodwork ($60-$150) and dental x-rays ($100-$300) to assess your cat’s health for anesthesia and get an in-depth view of dental problems. According to Forbes, the average for bloodwork and x-rays combined is $165.

Tooth extraction – Extracting a tooth can range from $100-$600 per tooth depending on difficulty. Molars or multi-rooted teeth often cost more.

Dental cleaning procedure – The standard teeth cleaning itself under anesthesia is typically $200-$500. A more intense deep cleaning may be $800+.

Medications – Antibiotics or pain meds may add $25-$100+ to the total bill.

In total, cat dental cleanings often range from $400-$1200 based on your cat’s needs. However, costs exceeding $1500 are possible with multiple extractions or other significant dental work according to BetterPet.

Prognosis for cats with treated dental issues

The prognosis for cats with treated dental issues is generally very good. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, “Dental care increases the length and quality of life of cats” (source). With professional treatment, most cats with dental disease can be restored to full health and function.

Some key aspects of the improved prognosis after treatment include:

  • Greatly improved ability to eat once painful teeth are extracted or treated. Cats regain their normal appetite.
  • Restored ability to chew and swallow food comfortably without pain or difficulty.
  • Reduced risk of complications like infections spreading to other organs.
  • Cat’s normal behavior returns once dental pain is alleviated.

While dental disease can significantly impact a cat’s quality of life if left untreated, the prognosis with professional veterinary treatment is excellent. Most cats return to their full normal functioning and have a restored lifespan when dental issues are properly addressed.

Life expectancy with untreated dental problems

The life expectancy for a cat with untreated dental disease depends on the severity of the condition. Dental infections and severe periodontal disease can shorten a cat’s lifespan if left untreated, as the bacteria from tartar buildup enters the bloodstream and can damage internal organs like the heart, kidneys and liver (1).

Lack of proper nutrition due to dental pain and inability to chew food properly also reduces lifespan for cats with untreated dental issues. Studies show that dental care is crucial for cats to live a long and healthy life (2).

However, cats with mild to moderate dental disease that does not cause systemic illness can still live for years, albeit with significant pain and discomfort. Proper at-home dental care and regular veterinary cleanings are essential for maximizing longevity and quality of life in cats prone to dental problems (3).

Overall the prognosis depends on the individual cat and severity of disease. But in general, lack of professional dental care decreases lifespan and increases health risks in cats with dental issues.

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