As many as 85% of cats older than 3 years of age have some degree of dental disease, leading to significant pain and serious health issues. Your cat’s tooth alignment, diet, genetics, mouth chemistry, and dental care contribute to their oral health. Our team at Just Cats Clinic wants to help by providing information about dental disease in cats, and offering advice on how you can safeguard your cat.

Gingivitis in cats

Gingivitis refers to inflammation of the gums. When your cat eats, food particles accumulate in their mouth, attracting bacteria. The bacteria form a film on the surface of the teeth called plaque. If not removed, minerals in your cat’s saliva are deposited in the film, causing the plaque to harden and form tartar. This bacterial accumulation leads to gingivitis, which can vary in severity.

  • Mild gingivitis — Mild gingivitis can begin as soon as 48 hours after a dental cleaning when plaque begins to form. At this stage, the tooth root is not affected and no bone loss has occurred.
  • Moderate gingivitis — As plaque continues to accumulate and hardens into tartar, the gingiva become more inflamed, and the gum can start to separate from the tooth, causing gingival pockets. 
  • Severe gingivitis — As bacteria continue to invade under the gum line, gingivitis becomes severe, and gum recession progresses. As the gums continue to recede, the tooth root can be exposed, causing pain and discomfort. Many teeth that develop an exposed tooth root require extraction.

Gingivitis signs can include drooling, halitosis, bleeding gums, and difficulty eating, but the condition often is not recognized until your cat is evaluated by a veterinary professional, because cats are so good at hiding their pain and discomfort.

Periodontitis in cats

Advanced gum disease leads to bone deterioration and a breakdown of the supporting tooth structures. Periodontitis can lead to tooth loss and, in some cases, jaw fractures, as the bone becomes unstable. The bacteria can also invade your cat’s bloodstream, damaging organs throughout the body, including the kidneys, heart, and liver. 

Stomatitis in cats

Stomatitis refers to inflammation of the inside of the mouth. Inflammation can spread from the gingiva to the other soft tissues inside your cat’s mouth. When this condition occurs, the inflammation is typically disproportionate to the amount of plaque and tartar present in the cat’s mouth. The exact cause of this disease is unclear, but an abnormal immune response may be involved, and some cases are associated with chronic diseases, such as feline calicivirus and feline immunodeficiency virus. Stomatitis is a painful disease, causing signs that include drooling, decreased appetite, weight loss, and pawing at the mouth.

Resorptive lesions in cats

Tooth resorption is a common problem, occurring in up to 60% of cats. In a normal tooth, the root canal, which contains blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, and nerves, is surrounded by a bony substance called dentin. When tooth resorption occurs, the dentin erodes, leading to irreparable tooth damage. Odontoclasts, which are the cells responsible for normal tooth remodeling, are activated for unknown reasons, causing tooth destruction. Increasing age and the presence of other dental disease increases your cat’s risk for these lesions. Three types of resorptive lesions have been identified:

  • Type 1 — These lesions are typically associated with stomatitis and periodontal disease, and soft tissue inflammation may be the causative agent that activates the odontoclasts. The lost tooth structure is not replaced by bony tissue.
  • Type 2 — The cause of type 2 tooth resorption is unproven, but theories include injury from eating hard food and excessive vitamin D in the diet. In type 2 lesions, bone replaces the lost tooth structure.
  • Type 3 — These lesions present with parts of the tooth exhibiting type 1 lesions and other parts exhibiting type 2 lesions.

Tooth resorptive lesions are extremely painful, and the condition can only be accurately diagnosed and the types differentiated with full mouth X-rays.

Preventing dental disease in cats

Cats need appropriate dental care to safeguard them from serious problems caused by dental disease. Steps you can take to promote your cat’s oral health include:

  • Professional veterinary dental cleanings — Your cat should be evaluated once a year to see if they need a professional veterinary dental cleaning, which is the best way to provide appropriate dental care for your cat. These procedures involve dental X-rays, and a thorough oral examination and dental cleaning performed under general anesthesia to properly address the plaque, tartar, and invading bacteria under your cat’s gum line. 
  • Daily toothbrushing — Brushing your cat’s teeth daily is also important to keep their mouth healthy, since plaque formation can begin as soon as a few hours after a dental cleaning. Ensure you use products made specifically for pets, since human products can be dangerous for cats.
  • Dental wipes — If your cat will not let you brush their teeth, dental wipes are available that you can use to clean their teeth regularly. While this option isn’t as effective as a thorough brushing, it is a good alternative. 

Keeping your cat’s mouth clean and healthy is important for their overall health care. If you would like to schedule a professional veterinary dental cleaning for your cat, contact our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Just Cats Clinic, so we can keep their pearly whites strong and healthy.