It is estimated that up to 80% of our pets suffer from dental disease. In spite of painful teeth, the signs are often subtle, with smelly breath, difficulty eating, dribbling and going off food only occurring once disease is advanced. Before this, there may be no obvious signs at all! It is therefore essential to have yearly dental checks, to catch disease early and eliminate painful teeth and gums.
For dogs, dental disease usually results from poor oral hygiene, over-crowding or broken/chipped teeth. Cats have additional causes of dental disease. The most common are feline resorptive lesions (FRLs), or holes in a tooth adjacent to the gum. More than 70% of cats over 5 years have at least one FRL! They are extremely painful and extraction is the treatment of choice, as pet dental fillings are unavailable in NZ. Sometimes FRL’s are only discovered under general anaesthesia, once tartar/calculus has been removed, or by dental xray. Dental xrays are extremely useful, as they show up disease below the gumline and this will often change the number of teeth requiring treatment, as well as extraction method.
Another cause of oral pain is feline stomatitis, which can appear at any age. This is a nasty disease causing inflammation and ulceration throughout the mouth and throat, starting with the gums. It is very painful and once advanced, causes weight loss, decreased grooming, dribbling and difficulty eating. It is thought to be caused by an excessive immune reaction to the plaque that forms on teeth or to the dentin that teeth are made from. The FIV and Calici virus may also play a role. Medical treatment helps short term, but unfortunately affected cats often need surgery and multiple extractions to cure it.
As you can see, cats have many painful oral conditions they may be hiding, with no way of telling us. The good news is that these can easily be rectified with a trip to the vet, dental exam and treatment.
Nina Smith BVSc