Tooth Resorption in Cats
Tooth resorption (TR) occurs when the hard tissue under the tooth enamel (called dentin) wears down and is eventually destroyed. Over time, all parts of affected teeth become involved and worn down. More than 50% of cats over 3 years of age will be affected by TR. Tooth resorption may also be referred to as cavities, dental neck lesions, external or internal root resorptions, feline odontoclastic resorption lesions (FORLs), and cervical line erosions. TR lesions can be found on the outer part of the tooth where the gum (pink fleshy part) meets the tooth surface. Typically seen in the lower jaw premolars, TR can affect any tooth. Keep reading to learn about the causes, treatment, and prevention options for cats.
What causes tooth resorption in cats?
The cause of TR is not known, but experts support the following based on proposed theories: an autoimmune response, viral infection (calicivirus), or metabolic imbalances involving calcium regulation.
What are the signs and symptoms of tooth resorption in cats?
Cats with TR often show no signs visible to their owner. However, the lesion is quite painful, especially when touched or when the cat eats.
Some affected cats will have jaw spasms, pain and trembling of the jaw whenever the affected area is touched, increased salivation, bleeding from the mouth (can come and go), or difficulty eating.
Routine dental health screening by having your cat examined by a vet at least once a year remains important to monitor their oral health and for early detection of any problems.
Diagnosing Tooth Resorption in Cats
A thorough physical exam by your vet, along with sedation to further evaluate the mouth, gums, and teeth using dental x-rays is the best way to diagnose TR in cats.
If your cat is showing any symptoms as described above, your vet may also recommend blood tests, urinalysis, sedation, and dental x-rays. If your vet diagnoses TR in your cat, they can discuss a medical treatment plan which may include dental extractions and pain management.
Please note that in 1 out of 2 cats with no obvious lesion seen by the vet during a thorough exam under sedation, dental x-rays showed evidence of TR. This further emphasizes the importance of dental x-rays for your cat’s oral health, comfort, and well-being.
Treating Tooth Resorption in Cats
Once TR has been diagnosed, dental x-rays are key to evaluate all the teeth and determine a treatment plan that best fits your cat. Treatment ranges from extracting the entire tooth and roots to extracting part of the affected tooth.
Tooth resorption ranges from stage 1 to stage 5, with stage 1 being the least amount of discomfort, to stage 3 and 4 being the most painful and having the most destruction of the tooth. In stage 5, most of the tooth has been destroyed, leaving only a small bump covered by gum tissue. Cats diagnosed with stage 5 TR and without inflammation do not need treatment as they are not experiencing pain and discomfort and the affected area has essentially healed.
Can tooth resorption be prevented?
Since the cause of TR in cats is unknown, it is challenging to prevent. And veterinary experts know that more than 50% of all cats develop TR during their lifetime.
The best way to monitor and care for your cat’s oral health is by having them checked at least once a year by their primary vet. Routine dental exams under anesthesia should be performed, along with cleaning, polishing, and radiographing (taking x-rays) of the teeth.
When to Contact a Vet
Have you noticed that your cat is salivating, may be painful, or shies away from you when you touch in or near their mouth? Have you noticed any blood-tinged saliva, dropping food, or not eating? Contact your primary vet and schedule an appointment for your cat.