Dental Disease

What usually causes dental disease?

The most common cause of dental disease is tartar accumulation. As in humans, cats and dogs accumulate bacterial plaque on the surface of their teeth, which if not removed quickly becomes mineralised to form tartar (also called calculus). The bacterial products and decaying food stuck to tartar are one potential causes of bad breath.

If tartar is allowed to remain on the teeth, several things may happen. The tartar will mechanically push the gums away from the roots of the teeth. This allows the teeth to loosen in their sockets and infection to enter the root socket. The teeth will loosen and fall out or have to be extracted sue to infection and pain. Infection will accumulate in the mouth, resulting in gingivitis, tonsillitis and pharyngitis (sore throat). Although antibiotics may temporarily suppress the infection, if the tartar is not removed from the teeth, infection will quickly return. Infection within the mouth can be spread to other parts of the body and potentially cause kidney and heart disease. 

What signs am I likely to see?

There are a number of signs which may alert you to the possibility of dental disease or other mouth problems being present. As many of us know the discomfort and pain suffered from tooth ache, our pets have their own ways of signalling this:

  • Less interested in food or approach the food bowl and then is reluctant to eat, or back away
  • Bad breath
  • Chewing with obvious discomfort, drop food from the mouth, or may swallow with difficulty
  • Dribbling possibly with some blood stained saliva
  • Pawing or rubbing their mouth or head shaking
  • A reluctance to eat may lead to weight loss which can become quite marked.
  • Reluctant to play with toys


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. Also some diseases cause extreme gingivitis in cats like calici virus. If in doubt then please ask your vet to check your cat’s mouth.


What are tooth neck leisions?

Neck leisions result from a progressive destruction of the tooth substance effectively resulting in slowly deepening ‘holes’ in the teeth concerned. Once the sensitive parts of the tooth are exposed these leisions are intensely painful, and usually the only available treatment is to extract the tooth.


What happens when my pet has a dental procedure?

Proper cleaning of the teeth requires complete co-operation of the patient so plaque, tartar and any diseased teeth can be removed properly and safely. This involves an anaesthetic. Although anaesthesia always carries a degree of risk, the modern drugs used in practice today minimise this risk even in older pets. Depending on your pet’s age and general health status you may want or be advised for your pet to have a blood test prior to your pet’s general anaesthetic to evaluate liver and kidney function and general health.

Once anaesthetised there are three steps in the cleaning process:

  • Scaling, removes the tartar above and below the gum line. This is done using ultrasonic cleaning equipment
  • Polishing, smoothes the surface of the teeth, making them resistant to additional plaque formation
  • Flushing removes dislodged tartar from the teeth and helps to remove the bacteria that accompanies tartar


If any extractions are needed they will be done after these steps and then a final flush will be done again.

When your pet is discharged a nurse will inform you if or how many teeth were extracted and talk you through after care instructions. Some pets may be sent home with a course of antibiotics and some may need a painkiller to help with the first few days of recovery. If your pet has needed tooth extractions then a follow up appointment with a nurse will be made to check your pet’s gums are healing properly and they are returning to their normal selves.

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