What's a Dentist for Cats? - Cat Info Detective

What’s a Dentist for Cats?

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Greetings crazy cats! Skye Blake here with a question… did you know there are dentists for cats?

Yes, indeedy… there are now veterinarians who specialize in complex dental diseases and surgeries.

paw prints coming in from a distance

Let’s discover more about them…

The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs. 

Who Is Skye Blake?

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Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you! 

Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page. 

Sources are given at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping.

What’s a Dentist for Cats?

veterinarian, dentist

The field of specialized small animal dentistry (including cats) is a relatively new one.

Your vet has probably done a mouth checkup and cleaning (including tartar removal), especially if your cat is a senior.

Regular vets are trained to do dental exams, cleanings and tooth extractions, but sometimes they run across a case that’s more complex.

cat with open mouth, canine teeth

This is when they refer you to a Board-Certified Veterinary Dentist™, who are the most highly trained in their field.

In the United States these dentists work with all kinds of smaller pets like cats, dogs, rabbits and ferrets.

Those who specialize in large animal dentistry are certified in equine dentistry.

Qualifications To Be a Veterinary Dentist

man studying, vet

What are the qualifications for a veterinary dentist?

After four years of college, they must earn a 4-year doctorate in veterinary medicine and surgery.

Then they must do a residency (training program) in veterinary dentistry under the guidance of a Diplomate Residency Director.

vet dentist specialist

In order to become board certified, a vet dental specialist must also pass the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC®) examination.

Each vet who passes the exam is certified by the AVDC as one who has shown specialist knowledge and experience in veterinary dentistry and is now a Diplomate.

What’s the AVDC®?

doctors, training, school, veterinarian, dentist

The “AVDC” is the American Veterinary Dental College.

“The primary objectives of AVDC are to determine the standards required for recognition of board certified veterinary dentists and to conduct the credentials review and examination procedures necessary to identify veterinarians who have reached the specialist veterinary dentist standard and earned the status of Board Certified Veterinary Dentist™ and Board Certified Equine Veterinary Dentist™.”1 About the AVDC – AVDC.org

diploma, graduation cap, hat

“AVDC is recognized as the specialist certification organization in veterinary dentistry in North America by the American Board of Veterinary Specialties.

AVDC diplomates are veterinary dental specialists.” 2 What is a Veterinary Dentist? | AVDC.org

Board-Certified Veterinary Dentists work with Board-Certified Specialists in Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia® in almost all cases because dental procedures must be done under anesthesia.

What Does a Cat Dentist Do?

graphic of veterinary dentist, cat teeth

Board-Certified Veterinary Dentists deal with diseases of a cat’s mouth, jaw and teeth.

Here are some areas of medicine they handle…

Endodontics

drawing of inside of tooth - pulp, cat dentist

Endodontics is a fancy name for treating diseased or injured soft pulp (nerve, artery, vein) inside a cat’s tooth.

If you’ve had the fun of a root canal you already know what endodontics is!

Dental specialists have tools and techniques that can save teeth your cat would usually have removed.

vet dentist, tools

They do procedures like standard and surgical root canal therapy or vital pulp therapy.

These therapies have had a very high success rate.

The goal is for them to last the rest of your cat’s life… just like your own dental work.

Jaw Malocclusion

ginger tabby yawning, teeth, open mouth

Jaw malocclusion is the misalignment of the jawbones caused by various problems.

It makes it hard for your cat to eat and drink because it’s painful and can end up with jaws that are locked closed or open.

Sometimes it’s because of trauma and sometimes from conditions like arthritis in joints or swelling of muscles used for chewing.

Oral Cancer

Tabby, white cat - closeup of yawning, angry open mouth

You may be surprised to learn that oral cancer is common in both cats and dogs.

It can affect the mouth, jaw and other parts of the face and usually shows up as tumors.

This is one reason it’s so important to have regular vet visits and dental checks.

If you catch it early, it can usually be removed by cutting out any abnormal tissue and enough healthy tissue around it to be sure it’s gone.

vet surgery, surgeon

Sometimes parts of the upper or lower jaw have to be removed (especially in more advanced cases).

A Board-Certified Veterinary Dentist can perform this surgery in ways that can allow your cat to still have a functioning jaw and be able to eat normally.

If the case is too severe, these dentists can sometimes put in metal mini-plates for stabilizing the jaw enough to work properly.

Orthodontics

cartoon goat wearing braces on teeth

If you have kids, you probably know about orthodontics, but I’ll bet you didn’t know cats can need braces!

Sometimes cats can have a bite that’s not normal (“bite” is how the lower jaw meets the upper jaw).

This can be uncomfortable and make it hard to chew food, making your cat avoid eating.

cat eating kibble

An abnormal bite can also increase risks of broken teeth and even a broken jaw.

Orthodontic therapy may include bite evaluations, orthodontic appliances (the pet equivalent of braces), crown reductions, and selective extractions.”3 Advanced Dentistry – Veterinary Dentistry Specialists (vdsvets.com)

Palate

savannah cat yawning, mouth open, teeth

“Palate” is the roof of your mouth, and your cat’s. It has two parts..

  • Hard palate – the front bony part
  • Soft palate – the back flexible, fleshy part

You’ve probably heard of a cleft palate, which is something that babies can have where the two palate sides don’t fuse together normally before birth.

ginger, white cat with mouth open, yawning

This causes an opening between the nasal passages and roof of the mouth that shouldn’t be there.

A cleft palate happens in cats and dogs, as well as humans.

Other palate problems can be there when a baby is born or develop over time.

Dental specialists can correct almost all cleft palate problems in cats with surgery.

Periodontics

graphic of white cat laughing

“Periodontics” is a dental specialty focused on preventing, diagnosing, and treating problems affecting the gums, bones and anything else that support your cat’s teeth.

When a dentist scrapes your teeth to remove plaque, that’s part of periodontics… it’s the same for your cat, but sometimes more complex diseases happen.

Dental specialists deal with these more complex problems. Some of the treatments they handle are…

veterinarian, doctor, dentist
  • Scaling or cleaning to remove plaque and calculus
  • Root planning and subgingival curettage to treat root exposure or pockets
  • Gingivectomy, the surgical removal of diseased or overgrown gums
  • Periodontal flap surgery to eliminate pockets or cover exposed roots
graphic of brown cat-cheshire cat smile
  • Tissue regeneration surgery to regrow bone and other attachment tissues to save teeth and prevent jaw fractures
  • Tooth restoration, the area of dentistry that involves placing crowns and fillings, and repairing and reconstructing damaged teeth and roots

Prosthodontics & Restoratives

graphic of dentist holding magic wand and tooth

Prosthodontic and restorative dentistry sounds fancy but is simply about repairing or replacing missing and broken teeth.

Many people have crowns, bridges and dentures, which are all part of it.

This isn’t usually necessary for cats because we do fine (thank you very much) without teeth.

It’s easier and less expensive to just remove problem teeth, especially for older cats.

greyhound dog with mouth open

Metal crowns are useful for dogs to replace or help strengthen teeth and protect them from infection.

This is important for working dogs that need the extra support, such as police or military dogs, hunting and other service dogs, whose jobs require a strong mouth and teeth.

Salivary Glands

cat licking mouth

Sometimes the glands that produce saliva swell and become uncomfortable. This can also happen in salivary ducts.

Usually vets deal with this by draining the glands or ducts and giving your cat antibiotics.

If the issue doesn’t get better, surgery might be the next step to remove the affected area.

Discover More…

graphic of vet looking at tooth decay through magnifying glass

There are many dental, jaw and mouth problems that may need more specialized care than your regular vet is equipped to handle.

If you think your cat needs extra care, discuss the situation with your vet, who can recommend a specialist to handle your cat’s particular problem.

You can also find a veterinary dentist at “Find a Veterinary Dental Specialist – AVDC.org

vet stethoscope & iphone - medicine

Now that you know the importance of dental care for cats, discover the answer to that nagging question… “But how do I get my cat to let me clean her teeth?” at “Cleaning Cat Teeth!

Discover more about vets and cat health at “Cat Food!


Sources

Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.

Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.

Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own. Sometimes they refer to primary sources.

When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.

List of Sources

Advanced Dentistry – Veterinary Dentistry Specialists (vdsvets.com)

What is a Veterinary Dentist? – AVDC.org

VETERINARY DENTAL ORGANIZATIONS | Foundation for Veterinary Dentistry

Cat Dental Care: Everything You Need to Know – Veterinarians.org

Pet Dental Health” – Pet Food Institute

The Veterinary Oral Health Council

Updated April 14, 2024

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