The number one problem in cats over the age of five are dental related. Many of these problems can be avoided with proper dental care. Like humans, cats have baby teeth first and then adult teeth afterward. They usually get their first set of teeth around two to four weeks of age. The mother cat will start to wean her kittens once they start biting which is roughly around four weeks of age. The adult set of teeth usually comes in around four to six months. A cat has thirty teeth in a full set of adult teeth, which include: pre-molars and molars, canines and incisors.
Plaque is a sticky whitish film made up of bacteria from food, and saliva, which attaches to your cat's teeth. It is the beginning of dental problems in animals as well humans. If left untreated it can cause more severe problems down the line; some of which could be life threatening. Plaque can be removed by brushing, or chewing (animals) or scaling. Scaling is done at the dentist (veterinary) office. It requires using a surgical instrument to scrape away plague and tartar. The doctor scraps both above and below the gum line and this procedure improves the condition of the teeth without causes any damage.
If plaque is not removed within 48 hours it progresses to the next stage, a condition known as tartar or calculus. Tartar is a hard yellowish, brown and sometimes black substance that attaches to the teeth and can only be removed by scaling. It is made of the dead plague substances that have mineralized and salts that contain calcium deposited by the cat's saliva.
The plaque that is most damaging is actually the plaque that is buried underneath the gum line. These bacteria attach to the gums and pushes through to the bones where it causes irritation and inflammation of the gums. This condition is called gingivitis. Also certain cells, known as plasma cells and lymphocytes also invade the mouth to cause inflammation. Left unchecked, gingivitis will infect the bone socket of the teeth resulting in tooth loss.
You will see broken teeth in older cats often enough when they have not had proper dental care. If left unchecked this condition can progress to Stomatitis of the mouth which is extremely painful for the cat, in turn your cat will refuse to eat or drink, and may exhibit drooling. Finally dental disease can progress to the stage of cancer, where tumors can be found in the gums and oral cavity.
Anorexia - not eating
Red, bleeding swollen, gums
Blood in the saliva
Horrible smelling breath
Discolored (Yellow/brown/black teeth)
Missing or broken teeth
Prevention and Treatment
Since cats cannot brush their own teeth it stands to reason that a pet owner needs to help them with it. Frequent checkup with the veterinarian who will look at the teeth, gums, and oral cavity can help keep your cat's mouth in good shape.
Brush your cat's teeth at least once a week
Choose dry food over wet food for your cat. Wet food is okay once in a while but it tends to be over all less healthy and it also sticks to the teeth more readily.
There are foods on the market that advertise plaque removal, though they should never be used in exclusion of veterinarian visits, they can be used in addition to your veterinarian visits. There are also herbal and homeopathic remedies as well.
Once tartar has set in the veterinarian will remove the tartar by scaling.
For severe gingivitis and Stomatitis, the veterinarian will use a fluoride treatment, administer antibiotics, and or corticosteroids or extract teeth.
Prevention is always the best medicine; take care of your cat's oral health as you would take care of your own.