Periodontal disease is the most common disease that affects our feline and canine friends. 90%-95% of cats and dogs over the age of 2 years have accumulated enough dental plaque between the tooth and gum to allow bacteria to thrive and prosper, hardening into tartar.
(Dental plaque in cats, as in humans, forms between the tooth and gum and consists of a layer of bacteria that combines with food particles and saliva, coating the tooth. Dental tartar (or calculus) develops when this plaque hardens and mineralizes. Professional feline dentistry includes the cleaning, scaling, and polishing of the teeth.)
This build up of plaque and tartar around the gums and the resultant growth of bacteria lead to the first stage of periodontal disease in cats; gingivitis – inflammation of the gums. The gums of a healthy cat will be pink in color, firm to the touch, and closely attached to the teeth.
While cats are able to tolerate mild cases of gingivitis, once it has progressed to the stage in which cats are drooling, unable to eat comfortably, and display horrid breath, you will likely find the gums to be swollen, reddened, and perhaps even bleeding.
If not treated promptly, a case of gingivitis can quickly turn into periodontitis; inflammation around the teeth. Here the bacteria form pockets of infection around the teeth and destroy the supporting tissue, causing painful abscesses and potential tooth loss.
It is crucial to understand that periodontal disease affects not only the teeth and gums of our beloved fur friends but also has the potential to cause serious, even fatal, illnesses as the proliferating bacteria enter the bloodstream through the bleeding gums and wreak havoc in the liver, kidneys, or heart.
While cats do not experience cavities in the human sense of the word, they do develop cervical line lesions. For reasons unknown, the tooth and its root dissolve and the erosion causes cats intense pain as it penetrates the enamel of the tooth and enters into the middle section where the blood vessels and nerves are located. These lesions most often develop just below the gums, also contributing to gingivitis. 45%-85% of cats over four years of age have one or more of these lesions.
So what constitutes preventive feline dental health steps we can take at home? Studies show that regular and weekly brushing of the teeth is the most effective way to prevent plaque build up. A soft bristled nylon toothbrush can be used, or even cotton swabs or gauze wrapped around your finger. Use only special dental preparations made for cats. Never use human toothpaste or baking soda.