What is happening in your cat’s mouth?

by Dr. Dave Thompson

With all the advances of modern medicine over the past 30 years, many diseases that plagued a high percentage of cats are now much better controlled because of effective vaccinations, dewormers and safe flea control products. More cats are neutered, so cat bite abscesses and some serious transmissible diseases have greatly diminished.  In addition, more cats are living exclusively indoors, have fenced yards, or are being kept inside at night.  Despite all of these advances, one feline problem has seemingly worsened.  Now we see lots of cats with horrible oral disease because something wonderful is happening…cats are living longer.

Oral problems in cats are sometimes challenging for pet families to identify because many cats do not cooperate when you try to examine their mouths.  Also, the majority of cats with significant oral disease show no outward symptoms.  Tartar is often so prevalent that it covers and hides many problems.  It is not surprising that the average pet family has no training regarding feline oral diseases and doesn’t really know what they are looking for when trying to identify problems.

Razpberry is a typical example of hidden dental disease. He is a cute 3 year old, 10 lb male neutered cat.  He would often try to avoid family members as they approached and was less affectionate than they felt he should be.  Their veterinarian examined Razpberry and referred him to Animal Hospital of North Asheville after he examined the mouth.

Razpberry demonstrates three common oral problems of cats: Stomatitis, Tooth Resorption and Periodontal Disease.

Periodontal disease is the most common disease of cats. It affects 70% of cats nationwide by age three.  Without home care, tartar forms on teeth but migrates below the gums, resulting in the release of endotoxins from the bacteria that destroy the bone around the tooth root.  The white bracket in the x-ray shows how much bone has been lost from around the tooth root due to infection (periodontal disease).  Periodontal disease occurs below the gum line and requires x-rays to evaluate it.

Tooth Resorption (feline cavities) affects 51% of cats nationwide.  On the x-ray, note the “cavity” at the red arrow.  On the picture, note the same dramatic cavity at the blue arrow.  This was not visible until the tartar was removed under anesthesia during the dental cleaning.

Stomatitis is a severe, potentially life threatening inflammation of the gum tissue (see the white arrow and white bracket in the picture).  This condition affects all breeds and all ages of cats.  An early case like this one frequently has a better response to treatment.  It is wonderful that  Razpberry’s family and their veterinarian recognized that this is a serious condition and referred him to us for care early.  Over time, stomatitis typically spreads to the back of the mouth and can cause so much swelling and pain that the pet cannot swallow.  In addition, it becomes much more resistant to treatment as time passes.

Treatment for cats with these problems is individualized as each presentation is different.  Razpberry had full mouth x-rays to evaluate every tooth.  Teeth that had no hope of being saved were extracted with precise technique, and x-rays were taken after extraction to be certain that the entire tooth and all diseased bone was removed.  Inflamed tissue was excised and gum flaps were precisely closed with absorbable sutures.  All remaining teeth were scaled and polished and coated with an odorless, colorless wax to deter new tartar.

A few weeks after his dental procedure, Razpebby’s Mom and Dad brought him in for a follow up exam, where we found that all areas of infection and inflammation were completely resolved. This picture, taken the day of his follow up exam, shows a now pain-free Razpberry and a happy Mom and Dad. They reported that the evening of his surgery he ate well and his appetite, activity and personality have dramatically improved.  Dad said, “Razpberry has become so affectionate now and is constantly wanting attention and is so much fun to be with!”

Pets greatly benefit from an annual dental evaluation and cleaning.  Our goal is to always prevent the formation of tarter through tooth brushing at home and regular professional dental cleanings here (just as people do); however, if you see that tartar is already forming on your pet’s teeth, it is clearly important to go ahead and schedule a professional dental cleaning.  The basic goal of veterinary dentistry is, “Every pet should have a comfortable mouth that is not infected.”