Animal Medical Hospital
& Bird Clinic
Veterinary Care

Commonly Asked Questions:

What is involved with a dental cleaning for my cat?

Very unlike our own routine dental cleanings our pets require general anesthesia because they will not sit still with their mouths open. In most cases pre anesthetic lab screenings and cardiac screenings are required to help ensure the safest anesthetic protocols. It may also be advised to begin antibiotic treatment to get a head start in treating infection caused by dental disease prior to anesthesia.

The goal of dental scaling and polishing is to remove the tartar and invisible plaque. Tooth scaling will be performed both by hand and using our state of the art ultrasonic cleaning equipment to remove tartar both above and below the gum line. The tartar beneath the gum line causes the most significant gum recession. The teeth are then polished in order to help prevent subsequent plaque build-up.

To attempt to avoid multiple anesthetic procedures we attempt to do as much oral/dental work needed in one visit.  Dental radiographs are usually needed to discover if disease is present under the gum line that would otherwise go unnoticed which helps determine if extractions are necessary. Digital dental radiographs can also be used for screening of any other suspicious oral, nasal, or skull findings. We will need a telephone number where you can be reached during the dental cleaning so that we may attempt to discuss any additional work that may be indicated once we begin.

How common is dental disease in cats?

Dental disease is the most frequent condition seen by veterinarians. Approximately two-thirds (68%) of cats over three years of age have some degree of dental disease. The most common problems are due to periodontal disease, gingivitis and cervical neck lesions (also called resorptive lesions or odontoclastic lesions).

What signs am I likely to see?

There are a number of signs that should alert you to dental disease or other mouth problems presenting your cat. Your cat may show a decreased interest in food, or approach the food bowl and then show a reluctance to eat. It may chew with obvious caution and discomfort, drop food from the mouth, or may swallow with difficulty. Dribbling may be seen, possibly with blood, and there may be a marked unpleasant odor to the breath. In some cases the cat may be seen pawing at their mouth or head shaking. A reluctance to eat may lead to weight loss, which can become quite marked. Many cats will refuse dry food and demonstrate a preference for moist or canned foods. Dental disease and oral pain may account for the “finicky appetites” that many cats display.

What causes dental disease?

The most common cause of dental disease in cats is due to tartar and calculus accumulation. As in humans, cats accumulate bacterial plaque on the surface of their teeth, If the plaque is not removed quickly, it becomes mineralized to form tartar and calculus. The bacterial products and decaying food stuck to tartar are one potential cause of bad breath.

Tartar is easily identified by its tan or brown color - it normally starts at the gum edge, especially on the back teeth (premolars & molars). In severe cases it may cover the entire tooth.

The accumulation of tartar and bacteria on the teeth surfaces lead to infection and gingivitis (inflammation of the gums). If the disease is caught at an early stage and a thorough veterinary dental scaling and polishing performed, most of the teeth and gums will have a full recovery. However, if gingivitis is allowed to persist untreated, then irreversible periodontal disease will occur. During this process the bone and ligaments that support the tooth are destroyed leading to excessive tooth mobility and eventual tooth loss. Infection around the socket causes the formation of pus and a foul odor and may spread deep into the tooth socket creating an abscess, or even more severe problems.

Once periodontal disease starts, the degenerative changes cannot be reversed. These changes make it easier for more plaque and tartar to collect, resulting in further disease.

Is gingivitis always associated with dental disease?

A slight degree of redness seen as a thin line just below the edge of the gum may be considered normal in some kittens and adult cats with no evidence of dental disease.

Some cats develop severe gingivitis with minimal signs of accompanying dental disease. The affected areas may extend beyond the gums to other areas of the mouth, such as the throat or tongue. The cause of this condition is not fully understood but it is likely to be multi-factorial and may differ between individual cases. This condition is often very difficult to control and may require repeated or constant treatment, and its accurate diagnosis can involve extensive investigative procedures.

What are cervical neck lesions?

Cervical neck lesions result from a progressive destruction of the enamel resulting in slowly deepening “holes” in affected teeth. Once the sensitive parts of the tooth are exposed, these lesions are intensely painful, and the only available treatment is to extract the tooth. The cause of this disease is unknown; however, poor oral hygiene is suspected to play a role in the disease-process.

What can I do to help prevent dental disease in my cat?

The rate of tartar accumulation is very variable between individual cats, and in some cases this may necessitate professional cleaning on a regular basis (every 6-12 months). Plaque and tartar begin forming in as little as six hours after your pet’s dental cleaning. Regular dental cleanings will be always be necessary just as they are in humans. However, there are steps you can take to lengthen the amount of time between cleanings. See the recommended home dental care program for all pets below.

Can I use human toothpaste?

Do not use human dentifrice or toothpaste on any account. These are foaming products and are not meant to be swallowed. Additionally, many types of human toothpaste contain sodium, which may cause problems in some pets.

We recommend the following routing home dental care:

Daily brushing with a cat appropriate tooth brush or finger brush and cat safe toothpaste

Application of Oravet Sealant Gel two weeks after the initial application at the time of the dental cleaning (if you choose to have this performed), then once weekly thereafter can help slow the build up of plaque

Hills food company has a balanced, every day diet with added dental technology to help slow the build up of plaque and tarter. Ask about Healthy Advantage Oral Care Plus or their Hills Prescription T/D diet.