With just a little care and maintenance, your kitty could have the coveted grin of the Cheshire Cat in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." But it's like pulling teeth to get Kitty to brush after every meal. Without an annual checkup, including a dental check, tooth problems can go unnoticed.
What Went Wrong?
There are several reasons why your vet may have recommended a tooth extraction. Sometimes a dental disease is so severe that treating it is necessary to avoid chronic pain. Common issues with a cat's teeth include defects in the tooth enamel or fractures in the tooth structure. Problems with the jaw can lead to inflammation of the pulp of the affected teeth, or there can be an abscess in the making. When your vet sees your cat annually, or biannually for geriatric cats, she may see something in your cat's mouth you hadn't noticed. Cats are very good at hiding their pain, so your cat could potentially have a sore tooth but continue to eat as if nothing were wrong.
The decision to extract a tooth rather than try to save it is based on a number of factors, and your vet can determine which treatment plan is best for your kitty. A pussycat full of plaque can be a pathetic pussycat indeed. Most likely, your vet will recommend a dental cleaning and, while the cat is under anesthesia, be able to give the inside of your cat's mouth a thorough exam. So your vet may not be able to tell you if a specific tooth needs to be extracted until he has taken an unobstructed look at the tooth in question. If there is swelling and redness on the gums surrounding the affected tooth, it may be just a matter of cleaning the plaque and addressing any possible infection. Conversely, your vet may decide extraction is the best way to treat the problem.
Once your cat is safely under the influence of some sweet sleeping serum, your vet can get on with the procedure at hand. She will look for signs of calculus buildup on one side of the mouth, a clear indication that the cat is deliberately eating on one side to avoid pain on the other. The presence of this telltale sign indicates how far the problem has progressed. The vet will create an opening at the extraction site using a scalpel, then employ a high-speed dental drill to expose the roots. Extraction tools are used to remove the tooth. The socket is cleaned, sanitized and stitched. X-rays may be taken at any time during the procedure.
Who's Your Vet?
For routine dental cleanings, your regular vet is more than capable of handling the job. If an extraction or other dental surgery is indicated, however, it's best to choose a vet who has been board certified by the American Veterinary Dental College. These vets have furthered their basic education to include specializing in dental problems. Ask if the vet will be performing the procedure or if most of the work will be done by a tech. Discuss potential complications that may arise during or after the procedure, and make sure you understand your post-op instructions.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.