It may not seem like much, but your cat’s dental health is a huge component of his/her wellbeing. Numerous studies have linked dental disease with diabetes, heart disease, and more. And we’re not just worried about getting the tartar cleaned off or looking for broken teeth.
One of the more common problems that we find in cats is called a resorptive lesion, a process where the body starts attacking or destroying its own teeth. More than half of all cats older than three years old will have at least one tooth affected by resorption. Dogs can also be affected, but much less frequently. These tooth defects have also been called cavities, neck lesions, or feline odontoclastic resorption lesions (FORLs). The premolars on the lower jaw are the most likely to be affected, but tooth resorption can be found on any tooth.
Tooth resorption can range from superficial enamel defects that are not very painful to complete loss of a tooth. Commonly the resorption starts at the gum line and progresses, eroding the sensitive dentin of the tooth. It is also possible for a cat to have visibly healthy teeth, but we only start seeing the full extent of the problem when we take x-rays. The roots of some of these teeth can even be so significantly affected that they absorb back into the jaw.
Some affected cats may show pain and jaw spasms whenever the affected area is touched. Other cats may show increased salivation, bleeding from the mouth, or difficulties eating (or reduced food intake). Some show no symptoms at all.
The cause of resorptive lesions is currently unknown, but several theories have been proposed: an autoimmune response to the teeth, calicivirus, or a metabolic imbalance relating to calcium regulation.
It is very important to address these resorption lesions when we find them as they are often incredibly painful. This pain can be significant enough that it affects the cat’s desire or ability to eat.
Treatment for tooth resorption usually involves either extraction (removal) of the entire tooth and roots, or a partial tooth extraction (also known as a crown amputation). Many of these cats show significant improvement in their at-home life after we remove the affected teeth. Some owners even note that their older cat is acting like a kitten again!
If you have any concerns with your pets’ oral health, please reach out to us. We usually start with a routine examination but can also discuss setting up a full dental evaluation under anesthesia where we can get x-rays and a closer look at all those sharp little teeth!