Dear Doctor – Dental cleaning and anesthesia in cats

Letter to Tufts Veterinarians


Q My dear 16-year-old cat, whom I adopted from a local shelter 15 years ago, has mild to moderate gingivitis. I know it is very important to keep his gums healthy, but he has developed an intolerance to antibiotics, and I can no longer have his teeth professionally cleaned. Unfortunately, I find it impossible to brush his teeth myself. Is there any other way his teeth can be cleaned? Thank you for any information you can provide.
Gloria M. Coccia

A Dear Gloria: Antibiotics are not a solution to dental disease. For most pet owners, daily tooth brushing is the best way to keep teeth and gums healthy, but you have to start with a “clean slate.” There is only one way to get teeth cleaned and that is with a proper dental procedure performed by a veterinarian. This does require general anesthesia, but this is much safer than most people fear. Age is not the most significant factor for anesthesia risk; rather, overall health is more important. A proper pre-surgical workup — including a thorough physical examination and any other appropriate tests — can help greatly reduce anesthesia risks. The risks of the progression of dental disease are usually greater than properly prepared for and performed anesthesia. Sooner is better than later, as dental disease only progresses with time.
William Rosenblad, DVM
Adjunct Clinical Professor
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
at Tufts University


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