Dental Disease In Cats

Cats, as they age, are prone to the development of dental problems. These problems take for the most part one of two forms. One is periodontal disease and the other is FORLs or feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions which in a laypersons terms are cavities.

Periodontal disease is caused by plaque bacteria at the margin of the gums and the teeth and may extend under the gum or gingivum to affect the deeper supporting structures of the teeth. The response to plaque bacteria varies from patient to patient. Those with a good immune response have little or no progression of periodontal disease while others with an altered immune response may have localized or generalized evidence of disease. This disease can vary from mild gingivitis to severe periodontal disease with a breakdown of the periodontal ligament fibers and loosening of the teeth secondary to the deep infection.

The best treatment for periodontal disease is prevention. While most cats will not permit daily brushing, some do and this should be done when possible. Another prevention method is the use of dental diets such as T/D by Hills. This diet works best when fed as the only food.

Oral examinations should be performed on a regular basis by your veterinarian who will prescribe the appropriate treatment. This frequently requires the use of an ultrasonic scaler with the patient under a general anesthetic. The scaler is used to remove the visible supragingival calculus (tartar). Then comes the very critical subgingival tartar and plaque removal using the appropriate hand curettes. The gingival sulcus is then lavaged to remove all loose bits of calculus. The teeth are then polished with a low speed handpiece and a fine prophy paste. Finally the teeth are irrigated to remove the polishing paste.

FORLs (Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions)

This term refers to the cavities which develop at the gingival margin. These lesions are very common in cats and very painful. The cause of FORLs has not been clearly established but it is imperative that these teeth be properly extracted. The roots are often ankylosed (fused) to the surrounding bone and great care and proper dental handpieces are required to completely remove the root structures. Owners are frequently unaware of the problems associated with these cavity lesions but often remark on the favourable changes seen after the treatment. These lesions can generally be detected by a veterinarian during routine oral examinations or during the dental prophy procedure.

There is concern by some cat owners about the use of general anesthesia for dental work. Anesthesiatic agents in current use are very safe in the hands of properly trained professionals and should be respected but not feared. Anesthesia enables the veterinarian to gently handle the gingival and subgingival tissues with minimal trauma to the tissues and reduces any discomfort for the patient.