Tooth Resorption in Cats
The most common dental disease in domestic cats is a destructive process called tooth resorption. This painful condition is believed to affect more than 65% of cats during their lifetime. The cause of tooth resorption is currently unknown, but the condition seems to develop when a cell within the tooth called an odontoclast is activated and removes calcium from within the tooth structure. The tooth then starts to erode, often from within. As the disease progresses, the pulp cavity becomes exposed, causing sensitivity and pain.
Cats with previously diagnosed tooth resorption are likely to develop the disease in other teeth. Annual oral examinations are recommended to identify new lesions as they develop.
Signs of tooth resorption can be subtle or more obvious depending upon the individual cat and the degree of disease. Some cats may have difficulty eating dry food or they may avoid chewing food on one side of the mouth. Other cats may demonstrate jaw chattering or resent handling of the mouth. Many more cats may be stoic and unlikely to show signs of pain or discomfort; therefore, regular veterinary evaluation is recommended to look for evidence of tooth resorption.
Diagnosing tooth resorption involves general anesthesia and dental radiography (dental “x-rays”). Cats should be evaluated to ensure they are good anesthetic candidates before undergoing a dental procedure. This involves a thorough physical examination, blood work, and sometimes imaging of the chest (i.e., radiographs or echocardiography). Once a patient is safely anesthetized, the teeth should be cleaned and evaluated for dental disease. Probing around the surface of every tooth will screen for tooth resorption.
Early in the disease process, tooth resorption may look like a small hole within the tooth. As the lesions progress, more destruction of the tooth may be present. Often, granulation tissue will grow over the destroyed portion of the tooth, giving the appearance of the gingiva growing onto the tooth surface. Dental radiography may reveal more lesions below the gumline. The combination of periodontal probing and dental radiography will help determine the best treatment for your cat.
Since tooth resorption is a progressive disease, many veterinary dentists feel that extraction is the best option for all affected teeth, even those with evidence of mild disease. Most cats do much better with fewer teeth versus painful teeth. After successfully extracting the affected teeth, many owners find that their cats seem happier and are much more active.
Keeping gingivitis under control may help prevent some cases of tooth resorption, but many are not preventable.