By far the most common dental condition seen in cats is known as feline tooth resorption. It is a condition that is estimated to affect nearly 50% of cats over the age of three years. This condition is a progressive and painful and will lead to severe oral discomfort and infection within the mouth. Anyone who has ever bitten their tongue or suffered a mouth ulcer can understand how uncomfortable this is for your feline friend.
As the name suggests, resorption is a condition by where the tooth progressively gets destroyed and eventually can disappear from within the mouth all together. The unfortunate part for our feline friends is that despite much research we are still unsure as to the exact cause of it.
The destruction may begin in the tooth’s crown (above the gumline) or in the root (below the gumline) and begins as either the enamel or cementum starts to disappear. This can then progress into the dentine which is sensitive, and eventually the pulp cavity. Not only will the tooth be affected but the damage to the enamel or cementum at the surface initiates inflammation within the oral cavity. Bacteria will adhere to the tooth, pain, bleeding gums and increasing infection will ensue.
Whilst a conscious examination of your cat can start to identify potential problems, a full general anaesthetic and radiographs of the mouth are required to assess the full extent of the disease. Root problems are often not identified until these radiographs are taken and treatment options will depend on what is found.
Initial low grade changes just to the hard structures of the teeth may be monitored as progression time is unpredictable. Once we are seeing changes exposing the sensitive dentine and/or pulp cavity we need to look at extraction or crown amputation and closure of the gums. Secondary infections and inflammation will need to be assessed and treated when present.
Cats often do not show overt clinical signs with dental disease. However, we may see reduced appetite, weight loss, discomfort in the mouth or increased vocalisation. Often due to the progressive nature of the disease, cats adapt to the feelings of pain and may seem ‘normal’ to their owners. We can assure you this is not the case and the importance of treatment cannot be emphasized enough.
Whilst brushing teeth, dental treats and diets can be incredibly useful to reduce the onset and progression, we highly recommend yearly dental examinations and treatments for your feline. Just as we visit the dentist (or should!) regularly for our own oral assessments, our felines should be no different.