The Common Dental Issues in Cats

Did you know that cats are more prone to dental problems than dogs? While both can suffer from issues like tartar build-up and fractures, there are two conditions that cats commonly experience, but almost never affect dogs.

Tooth Resorption

Tooth resorption is a prevalent condition in cats, with around 30-40% of healthy cats and 70% of cats seeking dental treatment being affected by it. This condition, also known as enamel defects, neck lesions, or feline oral resorptive lesions (FORLs), causes the enamel of the teeth to break down. Initially starting below the gum line, the deterioration progresses towards the tip of the tooth. Once the enamel defect reaches the surface, the sensitive inner pulp of the tooth, which contains blood vessels and nerves, becomes exposed to the air, resulting in severe pain.

Unfortunately, cats with tooth resorption often don’t show overt signs of pain. However, if you notice them dropping food while chewing or suddenly turning away during meals, it’s essential to have them examined by a vet. Regular dental check-ups are crucial for detecting small and subtle lesions that can only be identified through x-rays and tooth probing under anesthesia.

Once a resorptive lesion develops, the affected tooth cannot be saved. If left untreated, the enamel will dissolve entirely, and the gum will heal. Missing teeth in cats without prior dental work are usually due to resorption. While this process takes time, there is no way to control the pain in the meantime. Therefore, affected teeth should be extracted as soon as possible.

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The cause of tooth resorption in cats remains unknown. However, there is a strong correlation with gingival inflammation in some cases. Keeping your cat’s teeth clean through brushing or using a dental-specific diet may help prevent resorption and reduce tartar build-up, ensuring that any developing lesions are promptly diagnosed and addressed.

Gingivostomatitis Complex

Gingivostomatitis complex is a severe inflammation of the soft tissues of the gum and mouth. Unlike gingivitis, which is typically associated with plaque and bacteria, feline gingivostomatitis shows excessive inflammation even without significant plaque accumulation.

This condition is excruciatingly painful, making affected cats reluctant or unable to eat. They may drool excessively and have unpleasant breath. Grooming can cause their saliva to stain their coat a brownish color. Due to the pain, they are often resistant to having their mouth examined.

The exact cause of gingivostomatitis complex is still unknown. While previous infection with feline calicivirus is a common factor, not all cats with calicivirus develop this condition. It is believed to be an overreaction of the immune system to plaque, bacteria, or possibly even something within the tooth structure itself.

When it comes to treatment, normal oral hygiene measures are insufficient. Tooth brushing is typically too painful for affected cats. The most recommended treatment is often “full mouth extractions,” where all or most of the teeth, especially the cheek teeth, are extracted. While it may seem extreme, this option offers the best chance of maintaining a good quality of life for these cats. Studies have shown that around 60% of cases fully resolve after extractions, with another 20% experiencing significant improvement.

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Another approach involves using medication to control the excessive immune reaction. This option is suitable for cases where full mouth extractions are not possible or deemed as the best choice. Corticosteroids are the most reliable drugs for managing the immune response, but they carry the risk of side effects, including the development of diabetes. Over time, these drugs may also become less effective. In a few cases, cats may not be cured by dental extractions alone and require lifelong medical treatments.

Remember, regular dental checks for your cat are essential to catch these conditions in their early stages. Ensuring proper dental care can significantly improve your cat’s overall oral health and quality of life.

Kitten with a Toothbrush

Cat yawning