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Dental disease in cats

Dental disease is a disease of the teeth and gums – it can affect as many as 85% of cats aged 3 years and older. It can lead to infection of the bone surrounding the teeth as well as other organs as oral bacteria can enter the bloodstream through diseased tissue.
There are many different types of dental disease in the cat, and cats can have one, many, or all of these types throughout their life or at the same time.
Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gingiva (the gum surrounding the tooth). It can lead to gum recession (can expose roots of teeth). In severe cases, cats can have difficulty eating, and be very sore. Gingivitis can be reversible and preventable, but if left untreated can lead to periodontitis and tooth root infections as the bacteria eat away at the surrounding tissue and bone.
Stomatitis is a more general and severe inflammation of the mouth, gums, and lips. It can cause ulcers in the mouth, tongue, lips, and back of the throat. It can be very painful to eat and even to open the mouth. It is thought to be caused by the immune system attacking its own oral tissues as an abnormal response to bacteria in the mouth. It can be exacerbated by other diseases and viruses. 
FORL – feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions are very painful. Parts of the tooth break down and resorb, resulting in unstable teeth. The cause of FORLs is unknown, though it is suspected that an unknown virus plays a part. These lesions are often not appreciated without dental x-rays, which also help plan the removal of affected teeth.

What causes gingivitis/periodontitis?

  • The most common cause is a build-up of plaque and bacteria on the teeth
  • Infectious diseases such as FIV + FeLV
  • Lack of dental care
  • Genetics
  • Positioning of teeth in the mouth
  • Deciduous (baby) tooth retention
  • Trauma or congenital abnormalities

Who gets it?

  • 85% of cats over 3 years have some form of dental disease
  • Brachycephalic breeds (British and exotic shorthairs, Persians, chinchillas) due to teeth positioning
  • Persians, Siamese, Burmese, and Abyssinians are more likely to develop FORLs
  • Stomatitis can affect any age or breed. Some kittens develop juvenile stomatitis while teething

What does it look like?

  • Red and/or swollen gums
  • Bad breath
  • Discolouration of teeth
  • Drooling
  • Difficulty and/or not eating (picky eater, only eating wet food)
  • Weight loss
  • Changes in behaviour – hiding and/or more irritable
  • Pain opening mouth
  • Unkempt coat

Can it be treated?

  • Dental disease can be reduced with a high-quality dental diet, dental chews (greenies), tooth brushing, and prophylactic scaling and polishing (including dental x-rays) under general anaesthesia
  • A prophylactic scale and polish remove the accumulated plaque and calculus, reducing bacteria in the mouth and gums. X-rays show what is happening with the tooth roots and associated bone -over 66% of dental disease is underneath the gum
  • Severely diseased teeth may need to be extracted to prevent further disease progression
  • Stomatitis cannot be prevented if there is an immune-mediated cause, however, reducing the bacterial population in the mouth can reduce the severity slightly. Full mouth extractions are sometimes the only way to completely cure stomatitis. Cats recover and cope very well without teeth – they can even eat normal dry biscuits once the mouth has healed
  • FORLs cannot be prevented as we do not completely understand the cause. Teeth with minimal plaque can develop FORLs and the only way to relieve pain is the removal of these affected teeth. Removing FORLs during one dental procedure will not necessarily prevent further FORLs from forming on other teeth


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O’Halloran Hill Vet Centre

123 Main South Road
O’Halloran Hill, SA 5158

Hilton Vet Centre

142 Sir Donald Bradman Drive
Hilton, SA 5033