Gum Disease in Cats
Periodontal disease is one of
the most common problems seen in veterinary practice. It occurs in two forms:
The first is gingivitis, a reversible inflammation of the gums. The second is
periodontitis, an inflammation of the deeper structures supporting the teeth.
Both begin when plaque and calculus are deposited on the teeth near the gum
line. This occurs in about 85 percent of all cats
over 2 years old, and it can be found in some cats even before they are 1 year
The edges of healthy gums fit tightly around the teeth. In a cat with
gingivitis, rough dental calculus builds up in an irregular fashion along the
gum line, producing points at which the gum is forced away from the teeth. This
creates small pockets that trap food and bacteria. In time, the gums become
inflamed and then infected.
Plaque is a soft, colorless material that is not easily seen with the naked
eye. It consists of food particles and other organic and inorganic material,
plus millions of living and growing bacteria. It is yellow-brown and soft when
The plaque quickly hardens into calculus (also called tartar), a mixture of
calcium phosphate and carbonate with organic material. These calcium salts are
soluble in acid but precipitate in the slightly alkaline saliva of the cat.
Calculus is yellow or brown and produces the characteristic tartar stains.
Calculus forms on irregular surfaces on the teeth, which creates an ideal
environment for the formation of plaque. It begins to accumulate within one
week of removal.
This buildup of calculus on the teeth is the primary cause of gingivitis.
Gum infections may also occur with several diseases, including feline panleukopenia, feline viral respiratory disease complex,
kidney and liver failure, nutritional disorders, and immune disorders.
The first sign is that the gums appear red, painful, and swollen, and may
bleed when rubbed. Next, the edges of the gums recede from the sides of the
teeth, allowing small pockets and crevices to develop. These pockets trap food
and bacteria, which produces infection at the gum line and sets the stage for
periodontitis and tooth decay. Other signs are loss of appetite, ungroomed
appearance, drooling, and bad breath.
Treatment: Once signs of gingivitis are visible, a significant degree of
dental tartar, calculus, and gum-pocket infection will be present. The teeth
should be professionally cleaned by a veterinarian, after which the cat should
be placed on a home dental care program. Brushing
the teeth daily, or at least two or three times a week, will be required to
prevent the recurrence of gingivitis. There are special diets formulated to
reduce plaque and tarter and to prevent gingivitis.
Periodontitis is an infection of the teeth and gums with destruction or
damage to the support structures of the tooth. It is the progression of
untreated simple gingivitis. It is considered irreversible but, at least in
some cases, treatable. Rarely, loose teeth will develop strong roots again with
treatment. Periodontitis can lead to an abscess of the root of the
tooth or teeth.