The Hidden Dangers of Neglecting Your Cat’s Teeth

Introduction

Dental cleanings for cats involve a veterinarian thoroughly cleaning a cat’s teeth above and below the gumline to remove built-up tartar and plaque. Regular dental cleanings are an important part of maintaining good feline oral health. Plaque and tartar can accumulate quickly on a cat’s teeth if not removed regularly through brushing or professional dental cleanings.

Feline oral health is extremely important. Poor oral health in cats can lead to gingivitis, periodontal disease, pain, systemic issues, and even tooth loss. Plaque buildup harbors harmful bacteria that can enter a cat’s bloodstream if not removed through regular dental care. Professional dental cleanings allow thorough plaque and tartar removal above and below the gumline, areas a cat owner usually can’t reach effectively at home.

Veterinary dental cleanings for cats typically involve a pre-anesthetic exam, full mouth dental x-rays,scaling and polishing above and below the gumline, fluoride treatments, and home care recommendations. Regular professional dental cleanings combined with at-home brushing provides optimal feline oral health care.

Plaque Buildup

Plaque is a sticky film made up of bacteria, food particles, and saliva that accumulates on a cat’s teeth every day. As plaque builds up, minerals in the saliva harden the plaque into tartar, which adheres firmly to the teeth. Tartar is rough and porous and can develop above and below the gum line. According to the VCA Animal Hospitals, the longer plaque and tartar remain on the teeth, the more damage they can cause.

Tartar contributes to periodontal disease in two ways. First, tartar above the gumline provides an environment where even more bacteria can accumulate. These bacteria release toxins that cause inflammation and destroy the tissues that hold the teeth in place. Second, tartar below the gumline can damage the gums and jawbone. The tartar pushes against the gums, which recede and expose more of the tooth surface and roots. This allows even more plaque to accumulate and the cycle continues.

Gingivitis

Gingivitis is the early stage of periodontal disease and is characterized by inflammation and reddening of the gums (Hill’s Pet Nutrition). It occurs when plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, accumulates on the teeth. The bacteria in the plaque release toxins that irritate the gums. This irritation causes the gums to become inflamed and bleed easily when touched or brushed. The inflammation makes the gums red, puffy, and painful. There may also be bad breath and receding gums as the condition worsens.

Gingivitis is quite common in cats, especially as they get older. The inflammation is usually reversible at this stage through regular teeth cleaning and proper oral hygiene. If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to much more severe periodontal disease and tooth loss (Mooresville Animal Hospital). That’s why it’s important to have a veterinarian examine your cat’s teeth annually and address any signs of gingivitis right away.

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease is an advanced stage of gum disease characterized by inflammation and infection of the gums and bone loss around the teeth (Feline Dental Disease). As plaque and tartar accumulate on the teeth, bacteria begin to infect the gums. This causes gingivitis, where the gums become inflamed and can bleed easily. Over time, the inflammation spreads deeper below the gumline, infecting the roots and bone structure that support the teeth. The infected gum tissue slowly pulls away from the teeth, creating gaps called periodontal pockets. Bacteria and debris collect in these pockets and begin eating away at the bone. This is called advanced periodontitis. The bone loss causes teeth to loosen and eventually fall out if left untreated.

Periodontal disease is painful due to the inflammation and infection damaging tissue around the teeth. Signs include reddened, swollen gums, bad breath, loose or infected teeth, reduced appetite, and pawing at the mouth. Without treatment, bacteria from advanced gum infections can spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream. This puts cats at risk for damage to major organs like the heart, kidneys and liver (Dental Disease in Cats – VCA Animal Hospitals).

Tooth Loss

Plaque and tartar buildup can lead to tooth loss if not treated properly in cats. As plaque accumulates on the teeth and under the gums, it will harden into tartar. This provides an environment for bacteria to thrive and cause inflammation in the gums, known as gingivitis. As gingivitis worsens into periodontal disease, the inflammation spreads deeper below the gumline, destroying the tissues and bone that support the teeth. Eventually, severe periodontal disease will cause teeth to loosen and fall out due to the lack of supporting structures. According to the article on Wellpets, “Most cats will lose one or more teeth during their lifespan due to periodontal disease or tooth resorption” (1). Regular teeth cleanings and dental care can prevent plaque and tartar buildup, thus avoiding the tooth loss that occurs from untreated dental disease.

(1) https://www.wellpets.com/blog/105-caring-for-a-cat-with-few-or-no-teeth

Bacteria in Blood

When cats develop plaque buildup from lack of teeth cleaning, the plaque contains large numbers of bacteria. These bacteria can burrow down under the gumline and enter the bloodstream, a condition called bacteremia. According to the VCA Animal Hospitals, plaque “is a biofilm and home to many thousands of bacteria that are capable of causing infection” (source). Bacteremia allows these bacteria to spread throughout the cat’s body via the blood.

Once in the bloodstream, the bacteria can travel to major organs like the heart, kidneys and liver. Here the bacteria can cause damage, inflammation, infections and even systemic illness. Bacteria in the blood from poor dental health is a serious risk for cats. Getting regular dental cleanings helps remove plaque and tartar to prevent bacteria from entering the blood.

Organ Damage

Over time, bacteria from untreated dental disease can enter the bloodstream and spread to major organs, potentially causing serious complications. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, the bacteria most commonly associated with plaque in cats is Bartonella henselae, which can lead to infective endocarditis if it spreads to the heart valves.

Bacteria entering the bloodstream also increases the workload on the kidneys and liver to filter out toxins. As described by VCA Animal Hospitals, the kidneys and liver can eventually suffer reduced function if overworked trying to counteract dental disease. Kidney values will elevate on blood tests in more than half of pets with severe dental disease.

Therefore, a major risk of postponing professional dental cleanings is the gradual systemic damage that can occur to vital organs like the heart, kidneys, and liver from the spread of plaque bacteria. Cats showing symptoms of lethargy, appetite loss, vomiting, and bad breath may already have bacteria compromising organ function.

Sources:
https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-dental-disease
https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/dental-disease-and-its-relation-to-systemic-disease-in-pets

Pain and Discomfort

Cats naturally hide signs of pain and discomfort, but avoid eating due to severe mouth pain caused by plaque buildup, gingivitis, and periodontal disease. This results in many issues including weight loss, liver problems, and protein/vitamin deficiency. As plaque and tartar accumulate, bacteria spreads under the gumline leading to infection and inflammation. Abscesses and significant gum issues are extremely painful. Dental disease not treated promptly with a thorough teeth cleaning under anesthesia can become severe quickly.

Research shows that by 3 years of age, 70% of cats have some form of dental disease. Bad teeth in older cats must not go untreated or the cat will suffer chronic pain affecting eating, resulting in devastating health decline. Regular dental cleanings and exams are essential for cats to maintain good oral health and avoid discomfort.

Solutions

There are several solutions for maintaining good oral health in cats and preventing issues from plaque buildup and periodontal disease.

The gold standard is professional veterinary dental cleanings under anesthesia. These should be performed regularly, usually once a year, to fully clean the teeth above and below the gumline. This requires sedation because it involves scaling and polishing each tooth thoroughly ([1]).

For at-home maintenance between professional cleanings, brushing your cat’s teeth daily or several times per week is recommended. Use a soft bristled cat toothbrush and pet-safe toothpaste. This helps remove plaque before it hardens into tartar ([2]).

There are also dental diets formulated to help control tartar. These prescription foods have a specialized kibble texture that helps scrub the teeth as the cat chews. Feeding exclusively this diet has been shown to reduce plaque and tartar buildup ([3]).

Other options include dental treats, gels, rinses and water additives. These can reduce bacteria and provide minerals that promote dental health between brushings ([2]). However professional cleanings and brushing are still needed for best results.

With proper preventative care and oral hygiene routines, cat owners can help protect their pet’s teeth and avoid serious dental disease complications.

Conclusion

In conclusion, regular dental care is crucial for cats to maintain good overall health. Without proper teeth cleaning, plaque and tartar can accumulate, leading to serious dental diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis. These conditions can be very painful for cats and impair their ability to eat. Bacteria from the mouth can also spread through the bloodstream and damage internal organs. To avoid these problems, cat owners should implement a dental care routine of brushing, dental treats or chews, and professional cleanings. With proactive care, cats can enjoy healthy teeth and gums for years to come. The long-term benefits of good feline dental health are well worth the effort.

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