Choosing a Program
Dental disorders in cats are normally caused by genetics, diet, and age. However brushing your cat's teeth can help prevent and slow down the development of dental disorders. The symptoms of dental disorders depend on the type. Some symptoms only result in a crooked or unique smile, while other dental disorders result in pain and possible infections. While your cat cannot tell you if he or she is in pain, dental disorder symptoms often occur if the condition in your cat is serious. Choosing the right dental plan for your cat should be based on your cat's current oral health, but also on any preexisting medical conditions.
A dental home care program should be carried out if your cat’s overall health is high. Daily care is ideal, but even weekly brushing of the teeth and gum has proven beneficial. Although dental care is most easily accomplished in kittens about the time the permanent teeth appear, it can be introduced gradually in older cats as well. If brushing your cat's teeth at home is too difficult, or your cat's health is low, than an annual checkup or professional cleaning might be the better choice. Regardless of which program you subscribe to, keeping your cat's mouth healthy will greatly contribute to keeping your cat healthy and happy.
Brushing Your Cat's Teeth at Home
The brushing procedure should initially be kept simple and should be followed with a pleasant reward. For example, brushing only one or two teeth with water, and then gradually including more teeth, and finally adding a veterinary dentifrice to the regimen at a later time is a good progression for training. Avoid the use of human toothpastes. Select one of the tuna or other pet-friendly flavors instead. The foaming action of the human paste detergents can cause an upset stomach and if swallowed daily can lead to stomach and gut irritation.
Ideally, a soft infant toothbrush or a brush designed specifically for use in pets should be used. If this is refused, a soft cloth wrapped around the index finger can be used to clean the teeth and gums. Finger brushes (i.e. pediatric rubber fingers with small brushes built-in at the tip, available from your veterinarian) are especially effective.
Your veterinarian can also demonstrate the correct method of brushing so that your fingers are safer and brushing is most effective. Note that inner surfaces of the teeth that sit next to the tongue in cats do not need careful brushing because of their naturally abrasive tongue. Your veterinarian may also recommend use of a mouthwash or rinse.
While both baking soda paste and hydrogen peroxide/water mixtures have been advocated in the past as suitable dentifrices, currently available commercial products are preferred, especially those that include chlorhexidine or stannous fluoride. These are available from your veterinarian as a liquid or toothpaste.
Professional Teeth Cleaning
Here are some things to expect as you prepare your pet for a dental procedure:
- Pre-anesthetic evaluation conducted a few days prior to (or on the morning of) the procedure. Tests selected for the evaluation will vary depending on the pet’s health, age, and other factors.
- Each patient is different and each owner-animal relationship is unique. Therefore, at admission, the owner should expect to spend some time discussing the tentative treatment plan with the veterinarian so that everyone understands what is planned and why. At this point, a detailed estimate and consent form will be generated and the owner asked to provide a consenting signature.
- Prior to the procedure, the patient will be anesthetized to allow a safe and complete assessment and treatment of the oral cavity. This should include detailed probing and charting of all abnormalities and intra-oral dental radiographs (X-rays) to assess the roots and surrounding bone. If the detailed examination reveals unexpected problems, the veterinarian will contact the pet owner to explain the new problem and outline the revised treatment plan and estimate. Therefore, the owner should make sure to be available by telephone throughout the day of the procedure.
- All mineral deposits (tartar) and plaque (a bacterial slime coating the teeth) will be removed from the crowns, and more importantly from below the gum line through a procedure known as scaling and polishing. This procedure is often carried out by a veterinary technician.
- If any teeth require removal (extraction), local anesthetic nerve blocks can be used to allow for a lighter plane of general anesthesia as well as for pre-emptive pain management, which means using pain medicine to prevent pain from developing. Extraction sites will be stitched closed with absorbable material to allow for rapid recovery and healing.
- At discharge, all problems and treatments will be reviewed with the owner and post-operative instructions outlined.
For complicated dental procedures or conditions, a patient may be referred to a veterinary dental specialist.