Mouth and tooth disorders

Cats use their mouths for eating and for grooming themselves. The mouth usually keeps itself healthy by producing saliva, but regular checks and even brushing the teeth will help prevent problems.

Keeping teeth healthy

It is important to check your cat’s mouth regularly and keep the teeth clean to prevent the buildup of plaque. This is a sticky film consisting of bacteria and food debris, which builds up after eating.

Over time it can mix with minerals in the saliva, forming a hard, yellowish brown deposit called tartar (calculus). Your vet may be able to suggest antiplaque foods or additives.

Brushing your cat’s teeth at least once a week can also help. You need to use special cat toothpaste— never human toothpaste—and a cat toothbrush (or wrap your fingertip in gauze).

Lift the lips gently, then brush or massage along the teeth and gumline.

Gingivitis and stomatitis

Disorders such as gingivitis (inflamed gums) and stomatitis (inflammation inside the mouth) are most often caused by the cat’s immune system reacting against bacteria in plaque.

Other causes include infectious diseases such as feline calicivirus (FCV).

Stomatitis can also be due to a foreign body lodged in the mouth or a reaction to a household chemical. In gingivitis the gumline is dark red. If left untreated, the gums may recede or separate from the teeth, leaving inflamed pockets where infection can take hold (periodontitis).

In stomatitis the inside of the mouth is red and sore. In both cases the cat may be in obvious pain drool, and have difficulty eating or avoid certain foods. In severe cases, teeth may become loose or fall out altogether.

Your vet may anesthetise your cat to remove tartar with an ultrasonic descaler and to polish the teeth. Loose and diseased teeth are likely to be removed. Antibiotics are usually prescribed to clear up infection, along with a pain-killing drug.

Dental abscess

This is a pus-filled swelling that develops at the root of a tooth, due to infection entering the tissues. It may be very painful, causing the cat to paw at his face.

Your cat may struggle to eat or may try to eat with just one side of his mouth. He may avoid hard foods or lose his appetite, drool, and have bad breath.

You may see gray pus at the gumline, or a lump under the skin on the cheek. The vet may anesthetize your cat before looking in the mouth and taking radiographs.

Your cat may be prescribed antibiotics and pain relief, but if the abscess is severe the tooth may be extracted.

Malocclusion

In malocclusion the teeth are misaligned and do not fit together properly when the cat closes its mouth. It can result from injury to the jaw or from overcrowded teeth.

Malocclusion can interfere with eating and can also trap food and plaque, increasing the risk of infections.

Certain short-nosed breeds, such as Persians, may have jaws too short to fit all the teeth. In some cats, when adult teeth come through baby teeth do not fall out, so the adult teeth grow crooked. Your vet may extract the misaligned teeth.

Growths

The most common type of tumor (growth) in the mouth is squamous cell carcinoma, a form of cancer. It grows from the cells lining the mouth and throat and most often arises under the tongue or in the gums.

Older cats are most at risk. A tumor may be seen as a nodule or a lumpy mass. Your cat may have bad breath, drooling, and bleeding or ulcers in the mouth, and may find it hard to swallow or close the mouth.

The cat may develop loose teeth or a distorted face. Tumors grow fast and need prompt attention. Your vet may radiograph the cat’s head and take a tissue sample from the growth to identify the tumor.

Treatment may involve surgery to remove the tumor and radiation to kill remaining cancer cells. The tumors often recur, so your cat will need regular monitoring.

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