Oral health is just as important for cats as it is for people, and most cats will need an annual professional teeth cleaning. Even with preventative measures (dental diets, dental treats, and/or brushing), tartar eventually builds up and needs to be removed. After all, we brush our teeth twice daily and still need a professional cleaning twice a year! There is no difference in the prevalence of dental disease in cats on wet food vs dry food. Over the counter dry food diets will NOT help decrease tartar formation in cats. However, there are specially formulated prescription dental diets and dental treats available that can help slow down tartar accumulation.
Periodontal disease, an infection of the gums, is incredibly common in pets. It’s estimated that by the age of two, 70 percent of cats have some form of periodontal disease. As in people, dental disease in animals can be quite painful. However, most cats will continue to eat even with severely advanced dental disease. And, unresolved dental disease can lead to long term heart, liver and kidney disease. Common signs of oral disease can include, but is not limited to: decreased appetite, picking at food, suddenly preferring soft food over dry food, drooling, odor from the mouth, sleeping more, lethargy, increased “crabbiness” and shying away from head petting. As most cats are not overly fond of having their mouths manipulated, especially if it is already painful, a thorough oral exam under anesthesia is the best way to identify oral lesions. Anesthesia is safe, and there is no age limit. There is no such thing as an animal being “too old” for anesthesia; however, older cats often do need additional testing to determine their anesthetic needs. Many older cats will actually get a “second life” after their painful oral disease is resolved!
A note about Anesthesia-free Dentals
Anesthesia-free dentals are never recommended. This is for several reasons. First, there is no way to do a thorough cleaning of the teeth. All tooth surfaces need to be cleaned and inspected, including subgingival cleaning. Typically only the outer tooth surface is cleaned during anesthesia free dentals. Second, there is no way to do a good, thorough oral exam of an unanesthetized cat. An oral exam typically includes visually inspecting the teeth, probing for pockets and other lesions, and examining the tongue, inside cheeks, and throat for growths or irritation. Third, just as with people, after the teeth are scaled (cleaned), they must be polished with a high speed polisher. This smooths out all of the small abrasions made to the enamel during the cleaning process. With out this very important step, tartar will actually accumulate faster after a cleaning! This is something that cannot be done in an unanesthetized patient. Finally, cleanings under anesthesia are safer, less stress full, and far less painful. For an anesthesia-free cleaning, the cat must be manually restrained while the teeth are scraped with a sharp instrument. If the cat starts moving there is a very high chance of the gums being lacerated, causing unnecessary pain and trauma.