Cats very frequently suffer from dental problems. However, the good news is that we can do much to help and prevent these conditions in our pets. Oral or dental problems can cause pain and difficulty in eating which is detrimental to the cat's quality of life. If your cat seems reluctant to eat, is pawing at its mouth, growling at or backing away from its food or showing other signs of oral discomfort it is worth asking your vet to check its mouth.
Cats' teeth are very similar to our own in many ways. Just like us, cats have two sets of teeth in their lifetime. The first set of teeth come through shortly after birth and can be extremely sharp. When the kitten is between four and six months of age it will begin to lose these deciduous teeth and a set of permanent adult teeth will replace them. Most owners do not notice this happening but occasionally a tooth will be seen to fall out of the mouth and this should not be cause for alarm.
A cat's permanent teeth must last for its entire lifetime and it is worth considering helping your cat to look after them. Just like humans, cats teeth will last longest if they are regularly cared for and this includes brushing them (if possible) and regular dental check ups.
Some of the problems cats get with their teeth are due to an inappropriate diet; this is very similar to the situation in humans. Cats which are fed exclusively on soft tinned or sachet foods will not have the opportunity to crunch and chew food properly in the way wild cats would do when they chew and crunch through their prey. This chewing and crunching helps to remove plaque from the teeth before it has time to calcify and become too hard. Therefore it is a good idea to include some crunchy biscuits in your cat's diet as well as wet tinned food.
It is possible to care for our cat's teeth in several different ways. If you have a young kitten you could try to start brushing its teeth on a regular basis (either daily or every other day). Start by handling your kitten and gently putting your fingers in its mouth and touching the gums all around the mouth. When the kitten accepts this reasonably well you could purchase a finger brush and some special toothpaste formulated for animals. Do not use human toothpaste because cats do not like the flavour or the tingling sensation of these. You could use the C.E.T. toothpastes which are quite well tolerated by cats. There is also a gel (Logic) which helps to prevent the build up of plaque on the teeth; it may be easier to use this than try to brush your kitten's teeth if they do not like the brushing action since you can just apply a little of it around their gums after they have eaten.
If you have an older cat who is not used to having its teeth brushed it may be impossible to start now. So you could try alternative ways to help prevent dental problems. You can buy chews which help to reduce plaque and calculus build up (for example C.E.T. chews). You can also get special diets which may help (these are available from most vets). As a rule it may help your cat's teeth if some part of the diet is given in the form of hard crunchy biscuits.
When dental problems do arise it generally begins as a build up of plaque and calculus on the teeth. This leads to bad breath, gingivitis, gum recession, caries, erosive neck lesions and stomatitis; eventually teeth will start to fall out. Many of these conditions are painful and cats may start to paw at their mouth, back away from their food, not want to eat and perhaps salivate more than usual. If your cat starts to show any of these signs it would be wise to get your vet to check its teeth.
If your cat already seems to have problems with its teeth then it is possible to have this treated at your vet's. They will be able to examine your cat's teeth under general anaesthetic, clean them (using an ultrasonic de-scaler), polish them and remove any teeth which are affected by caries, fractures, neck lesions or where gingivitis is very severe around the tooth.
In general the more you can do to prevent dental disease in cats the better. Whether you have a young kitten or an elderly cat there is almost certainly something you could do to help keep their teeth in a good condition.