Do cats get...dental disease?
Well, do they?
This is something you may not have thought of, or maybe you have. Long story short, yes. They do. But not in the way you or I get dental disease. True cavities, or dental caries, are rare in cats. In addition to tartar or dental calculus build up on teeth, cats get their own unique type of lesions known as Lymphocytic Plasmocytic Gingivitis Stomatitis, or LPGS...but what does that mean?!
Lets throw back to some Latin and Greek terminology and break it all down. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cells, originating from lymph, or immune tissue. Plasma Cells are another type of immune cells found in our bodies. Together, they are supposed to respond to infection and create inflammation in the tissues. Inflammation isn't all bad, it brings blood and other nutrients to the area to allow for healing. It's when the inflammation goes unchecked, or when infection is present that we are concerned. Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gingival tissue, or gums, and stomatitis is inflammation of the mouth. So together, Lymphocytic Plasmocytic Gingivitis Stomatitis, is an immune system response causing inflammation of the mouth and gums.
Sounds intense? It is. LPGS is quite painful and frustrating to treat. The cause of the auto-immune disorder is unknown, although some theories speculate that the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, or FIV, may play a role as a immune system dysfunction. Essentially, the immune system has determined that the normal plaque that builds up on teeth is a foreign substance that should be treated as an invader, and the immune systems kicks into overdrive.
So how to we treat? That depends on the individual cat and the severity of damage done by the immune response. First off, pain control and anti-inflammatories, sometimes in the form of steroids, are given. Often cats with LPGS aren't eating well or grooming themselves due to pain. Once pain is under control, or during this stage of treatment, a dental cleaning is scheduled. The offending dental calculus and plaque needs to be removed under general anesthesia with a professional cleaning. No at home treatment is administered outside of pain control during this time, as teeth brushing would be too uncomfortable. During the anesthetic event, full mouth dental radiographs (x-rays) NEED to be taken, to determine the root health of each individual tooth. In some cases the immune system response is so great that the roots become damaged and the tooth has to be extracted! Sometimes the need for extraction is quite extensive, with full mouth (in reality, from the K-9 teeth, aka "fangs", back) extractions needed. Your veterinarian will be able to guide you based on full mouth radiographs as to what the next steps are. If needed, a referral to a Veterinary Dentist can be recommended based on severity of the case.
Unfortunately there is no quick and easy treatment for Feline LPGS, and staging out treatments and procedures is often done from a financial standpoint, as anesthetic events plus radiographs and extractions can become costly.
Common signs of dental disease for cats is often quite subtle, with an unkept coat, dropping dry kibble, hesitancy to eat, drooling and odor from the mouth being the only noticeable changes.
Ideally, all cats have a bi-annual physical exam with their veterinarian. This nose to tail examination checks the oral cavity, along with body condition score (weight to body size ratio), and coat health, in addition to other important parameters, which can help determine the severity of dental disease.
If you suspect any type of dental disease, get your cat in with their veterinarian sooner rather than later. This saying might feel old, but it's true, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!