Will a dental cleaning really make my pet feel better?
My oldest cat Lula (aka my Princess!) has had some dental issues over the course of her 12 years with me. While she doesn’t build up tartar very fast and her gums look great, she has a history of tooth resorption – a painful condition in which certain cells in the tooth become overactive, and break down the tooth. As the tooth breaks down the sensitive dentin is exposed, and is painful anytime the affected tooth is touched, including while eating. While some cats with tooth resorption may show increased salivation, oral bleeding or difficulty eating, in most cases tooth resorption does not show outward signs and cats suffer in silence. Imagine one of your own teeth essentially dissolving away in your mouth-OUCH! But cats’ instinct is to conceal weakness so as not to appear vulnerable to predators, and often hide signs of illness or pain.
Lula is a particularly tough cookie and she LOVES to eat, so she never shows any outward signs of being in pain – she keeps right on inhaling her food. And she’s quite the sassypants normally, so it’s hard to tell if she’s grumpy because she’s hurting or just annoyed with me, my sister, or her kitty brothers for… well, just existing.
Even though she has had teeth extracted in the past for resorption, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to when one of her teeth goes south – she gets a preventive care exam every 6 months and her teeth will look great each checkup for years and then, POOF! She’s got a horrible angry red tooth that looks like a hole has been drilled right through to the pulp.
That’s exactly what happened a couple of months ago – I brought her in for her Whole Health Plan, a Level 3 because she’s in her senior years and catching diseases like thyroid problems or kidney disease early can make a huge difference in her life quality and longevity. I’d begun having to bathe her every few weeks to keep her fur healthy (a fearsome task at best!) because she was not grooming her back well and seemed hesitant to jump sometimes. I thought it might be time to get her on some pain medication for arthritis. At her exam Dr. Beedle saw it- an ugly, red resorption on one of her teeth. So I scheduled a dental cleaning right away – Dr. Beedle surgically extracted that angry tooth and took full-mouth x-rays since sometimes resorption occurs below the gumline where you can’t even see it. It had happened with Lu before in 2010 – one tooth was visibly bad, but there were two more that were also bad beneath the gumline once we looked at the x-rays. Fortunately this time her other teeth were in good shape below the gums and Lindy cleaned them up beautifully.
We went home with some pain meds and soft food for a few days and her extraction site healed up nicely over the next week. Then I started noticing something else… she was grooming herself perfectly and her fur looked great. She was jumping up on high shelves she’d not ventured onto before. My sister said with a mix of astonishment and glee “Lu has been letting me pet her without growling lately! It even seems like she likes it!” And then, the ultimate – my sister texted me a selfie with Lula SITTING IN HER LAP.
I’ve had some pretty serious dental and orthodontic issues myself, and know how cranky and generally unhappy a painful tooth can make me. And not just the tooth pain itself – I get headaches, have trouble sleeping, and even drinking my beloved coffee becomes unpleasant. It was clear that Lula had been uncomfortable for a while but just couldn’t tell me.
I never want my pets to suffer in silence. I think of my cats like babies; not in a creepy, fourteen-cats-and-counting spinster way, but in the sense that I have chosen to be their caretaker and they are vulnerable creatures who cannot tell me what hurts. By choosing them I choose to be responsible for their needs, whether that is food, shelter, comfort or healthcare. Preventive care exams and following Dr. Beedle’s dental cleaning recommendations are just as important as filling the food and water bowls each day.
And they keep up their end of the bargain, enriching my life each day with their funny, sassy, sweet and adorable antics. And from the look of my Facebook feed, the people in my life feel the same way about their pets… and mine!