a real mouthful: two dental diseases unique to cats
In addition to sharing most of the dental problems that can plague our canine companions, cats unfortunately have the added bonus of being susceptible to two other diseases unique to their species: feline tooth resorportion and gingivostomatitis.
Feline tooth resorption
Feline tooth resorption is very common in cats, affecting more than 50% of all cats at some point in their lives. Tooth resorption goes by many other names, including cavities, neck lesions and feline odontoclastic resorption lesions (FORLs). The cause of resorptive lesions remains unknown, but autoimmune responses and/or calicivirus infection are thought to be culprits.
Resorptive lesions are usually found on the tooth at or around the gum line. They start as small erosions in the dental enamel and progress both in size and depth. Eventually, the erosions are deep enough to expose nerves, making the lesions extremely painful. Affected pets may have difficulty eating, or may display jaw spasms or teeth chattering when the lesion is touched.
Sometimes the extent of the lesion cannot fully be determined unless dental X-rays are taken. These are a normal part of a dental procedure under anesthesia. By visualizing the tooth root, your veterinarian will be able to determine what actions to take to fix the problem. Sometimes the tooth will be removed in its entirety, and sometimes just the removal of the crown will be sufficient.
Gingivostomatitis is a painful inflammatory condition thought to be caused by an allergic response to plaque on the teeth. The result is swollen, inflamed, painful gums and often the condition expands to include the tissues of the hard and soft palate and back of the throat.
Early signs may be easy to miss, but once the disease is established, the swollen, red gums are easily noticed. In addition, it is painful enough to cause your cat to lose interest in eating. Excess drooling may occur, and you may notice your cat’s fur becoming scruffy looking because she has stopped grooming.
Treatment options are numerous, but include treating with oral or injectable steroids, antibiotics, laser therapy and the use of immune modulators to try to slow the body’s immune reaction. Oftentimes, removal of the tooth leads to resolution, so whole mouth extractions (removal of ALL the teeth) can be curative.
Be on the lookout for these feline specific dental problems, and be sure to bring it up to your vet at your pet’s next wellness exam. If your cat’s mouth is painful, don’t wait – schedule an appointment right away, before the condition worsens.