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Feline Dental Disease

Yes, cats can have dental problems just like people do. Cats can get cavities also. Most of their problems are due to tartar build up. The tartar lifts the gum away from the tooth. This allows bacteria to ascend the root of the tooth. The infection that results can lead to destruction of the periodontal ligament. This is the structure that holds the tooth to the bone. Once the periodontal ligament has been damaged the animal is likely to lose the tooth. Cats also develop resorptive lesions on their teeth. This is where the outer enamel layer is destroyed, leaving the sensitive pulp inside the tooth exposed. This is painful for the animal.
Diet is not the major cause of tartar buildup. Canned food may cause tartar to buildup more quickly than dry food. Ultimately tartar will buildup no matter what the pet eats. Tartar is a calcium-based deposit that comes from the saliva and is deposited directly on the enamel. Once it begins to accumulate it must be removed by your veterinarian. No amount of treats, chew toys or brushing can remove the deposit at this point. One of the main factors determining the amount of tartar buildup is the individual chemistry in the mouth. Some cats need annual cleanings; other cats need a cleaning every few years.
After a thorough examination and possible pre-anesthetic lab work the pet is given a general anesthetic. Trying to do a dental without anesthetic is dangerous for both the pet and the veterinarian, or dental technician. First, the plaque is removed with a scaling tool. Some veterinarians use an ultrasonic scaler to shatter the tartar away from the tooth. After the visible portion of the tooth is clean, a probe is inserted under the gum line to remove the tartar that has accumulated there. Any loose or broken teeth are evaluated and those that cannot be saved are removed. The thought of removing teeth concerns some pet owners, but it is usually the best thing for the pet's health. Next, the teeth are polished using dental paste. Finally a coating of fluoride is applied to reduce future plaque formation.
Depending on how extensive the procedure was, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics. Some pets will benefit from receiving oral sprays that inhibit plaque formation after a dental. Your veterinarian may even recommend brushing your pet's teeth on a regular basis. There are also special diets available that slow down tartar formation. Some pets only need a dental every few years; others build tartar up in as little as six months. Your veterinarian can advise you during your pet's regular physical exam.
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