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When cats are in pain, they can’t tell their pet parents about it. In fact, there’s a good chance they might not even let on that something’s wrong in the first place. Cats are really good at disguising their discomfort, and dental pain is no different.
Despite doing their best, though, many cats may exhibit subtle symptoms of dental pain. Recognizing those symptoms and getting treatment right away is vital for alleviating discomfort and restoring their quality of life.
Oral health issues are common in cats. Approximately 80% of cats show signs of dental disease by the time they’re three. Without treatment, their oral health can worsen, leading to loose teeth, difficulty eating, and infections, all of which can be incredibly painful and harmful to a cat’s overall health and wellbeing.
Common causes of cat tooth pain include:
Like their pet parents, cats can accumulate a sticky substance on their teeth known as plaque. Without regular removal, this substance can irritate the gum tissue and cause inflammation. It can also harden into tartar, a solid substance that requires professional cleaning to remove.
That inflammation is the first stage of a progressive condition known as gum disease. Healthy, pink gum tissue becomes red and swollen. It also begins to pull away from the teeth, leaving space for food particles and bacteria to fall below the gumline.
A small percentage of cats can suffer from stomatitis, a more extreme immune response to plaque accumulation on their teeth. It results in excessive swelling, redness, and pain.
Tooth decay — or tooth resorption — is the progressive destruction of the crown or root of a cat’s tooth. The dentin and enamel of the affected tooth break down, resulting in lesions that resemble cavities. Over time, the pulp and nerve inside the tooth can become exposed.
While a cat’s teeth are strong, they aren’t impervious to damage. Situations such as biting down on something hard or oral trauma can result in chips or cracks in the teeth. Fractures can grow over time and may eventually expose an affected tooth’s root, triggering pain.
Infections can develop for one of many reasons, including advanced gum disease and tooth fractures. Bacteria get trapped inside of the tooth and begin to multiply. Without treatment, the bacteria can eventually spill into the cat’s bloodstream and cause other significant health complications, including heart disease and liver problems.
The most common tumors that develop in a cat’s mouth are squamous cell carcinoma, malignant tumors requiring early diagnosis and treatment. These tumors can cause considerable discomfort.
In some cases, cats may get something stuck between their teeth, such as a piece of string or food. This can put pressure on the teeth, causing pain.
Symptoms of cat tooth pain include:
Decreased appetite and interest in food
Chewing on one side of the mouth
Dropping food while eating
Drooling (pet parents may notice blood mixed in the saliva)
Pawing at the mouth
Resistance to face touching
Facial swelling or swelling near the eyes
Treating a cat’s tooth pain will vary based on several factors, including the severity of the issue and the cat’s age. The pet parent’s regular vet can perform a thorough exam, which may include dental X-rays. The vet may then perform a thorough dental cleaning and examination under anesthesia before recommending a course of treatment.
In cases of mild gum disease, a cleaning may be sufficient for alleviating a cat’s oral discomfort. In more severe cases, a cat may need a root canal, tooth extraction, or treatment from a dental vet that specializes in reconstruction.
One of the best ways to prevent dental pain in cats is with regular tooth brushing. While acclimating a cat to an oral hygiene routine can be a bit tricky, it isn’t impossible. A little patience and a lot of love can help make a cat feel comfortable with it.
Additional ways to maintain good oral hygiene include:
Routine dental cleanings from a professional vet can also help keep a cat’s teeth and mouth clean and healthy.
Dental health issues may be common in cats, but that doesn’t mean pet parents can't help. A good, at-home oral care routine, regular vet visits, and routine professional cleanings can all ensure a cat’s oral health and optimal overall well-being.
Recognizing the symptoms of dental issues is also important. At the first sign of dental pain in cats, pet parents can contact a Fuzzy veterinarian 24/7 via Fuzzy Vet Chat for cat health advice. The sooner the issue is addressed, the sooner their cat’s quality of life will be restored.