What dental conditions should I watch for in my cat?
Along with gingivitis and feline periodontal disease, there are some less commonly seen dental conditions that owners should be aware of, such as tooth fractures, tooth root abscesses, and resorptive lesions. By recognizing the telltale signs of dental or oral problems, you can get your cat the treatment he needs quickly, before complications arise.
Retained deciduous teeth in cats
Like humans, cats have deciduous “baby” teeth. Ordinarily, the baby teeth are shed when the cat is between four and six months old, allowing the permanent adult teeth to erupt. However, in some cats, the deciduous teeth are retained and do not fall out normally. Unfortunately, retained baby teeth are quite common in cats, especially in Persians and Himalayans. If the baby teeth are left in situ, they can cause overcrowding. Overcrowded teeth can predispose your cat to developing feline periodontal disease and other “bite” issues. Cats with overcrowded teeth often develop “bad breath” and localized gingivitis caused by bacteria that readily gather and grow between the teeth. In addition, it’s important for cat owners to look out for permanent teeth that have come through as crooked, “double” rows of teeth, and bleeding, reddened gums around some of the baby teeth.
Fractured teeth in cats
Along with feline periodontal disease, broken or cracked teeth are a common dental problem in pet cats. The crown of the tooth comprises three separate parts: enamel, dentin, and pulp. The tooth enamel forms a hard outer layer, protecting the other structures within the tooth. Dentin lies directly beneath the enamel tooth shell and consists of tubules with nerve endings that radiate outward from the tooth pulp. The pulp itself is a highly sensitive area of living tissue, which contains nerves and blood vessels. Various types of trauma can damage the tooth: clashing teeth with another cat during play, gnawing on very hard bones or rocks, continually chewing on toys, and chewing at the bars of a kennel are all common causes of tooth damage. If the outer enamel is cracked and the sensitive pulp exposed, your cat will suffer extreme pain, and urgent veterinary treatment will be required. It may be difficult for owners to recognize that their cat has broken a tooth. Sometimes purple, gray, or pink staining on the tooth surface will indicate that the tooth pulp has bled, causing the dentin to become stained. Black spots on the surface of the affected tooth indicate that the pulp is actually dying. Your cat may appear miserable and sensitive around his mouth, and he may show reluctance to eat or have difficulty chewing his food. Your vet will make a definitive diagnosis of a tooth fracture by taking dental radiographs and probing the tooth (under general anesthetic) to establish whether the pulp cavity has been exposed. There are two primary treatment options for tooth fractures: extraction and (endodontic) root canal treatment.
Tooth root abscesses in cats
A tooth root abscess is a severe infection around the base of a tooth root, usually after damage or trauma to the tooth has occurred. Bacteria enter the injury site, attacking the tissue and causing inflammation and pain. Tooth root abscesses can also occur as a complication of feline periodontal disease. Your cat may struggle to eat and may begin tipping his head to one side in an attempt to avoid the pain caused by the abscess. As the abscess grows, facial swelling may appear, often around the eye, depending on the proximity of the tooth roots. If your cat will allow you to look inside his mouth, you may see swelling or a red, angry-looking area of the gum. A vet will prescribe antibiotics to control the infection, together with analgesics and/or anti-inflammatory drugs to make your cat more comfortable. Treatment will involve either root canal therapy or extraction of the affected tooth root if the surrounding structures are too severely damaged to be saved.
Resorptive lesions in cats
There are two forms of resorptive lesions in cats. The first is where there is resorption of the tooth root and is very similar to internal resorption in human’s teeth. We do not know the cause of this and it is usually non-painful until there is exposure to the oral environment. The other type is where the resorption occurs at the gingival surface. This is due to the inflammation of feline periodontal disease and is very painful. Resorptive lesions most commonly occur at the gingival area of the tooth. Resorptive lesions can occur as a complication of long-standing periodontal disease. All breeds can be affected. It is difficult for the owner to notice these lesions, as they can be masked with periodontal disease. The early signs to look out for include the following:
behavioral changes (e.g., reluctance to eat and sensitivity around the mouth)
If your cat shows any of these signs, consult your vet. Sometimes, the only way to diagnose resorptive lesions is via veterinary radiographic examination under anesthetic. Where the condition has been detected, extraction will be required. You can prevent your cat from developing resorptive lesions by brushing his teeth every day and having his oral health checked regularly by your vet. Controlling inflammation of the oral cavity is helpful in the prevention of this condition.
Orthodontic problems in cats
A cat should be able to close his mouth without any tooth causing damage or trauma to the adjacent tissues or teeth. Cats have a “scissor bite,” where the lower incisor teeth bite just behind the upper ones. In most breeds, the lower row of canine teeth (or fangs) occlude between the corner incisor and the upper canine, and the premolars interdigitate. In severe cases, tooth extraction may be the only option; however, it is preferable not to do this, as it can complicate matters if the teeth are healthy. The ultimate aim of the specialist dental vet is to move the cat’s teeth to a comfortable, functional position. Orthodontic treatment can sometimes involve fitting a brace to the teeth to move them into a more correct and comfortable position. In pedigree cats, your vet will probably recommend neutering so that the genetic dental occlused problems are not passed on to the animal’s offspring.
Feline dental problems
Many feline dental problems are caused by feline periodontal disease.
Look out for warning signs of dental problems in your cat, including foul breath, eating problems, and pain.
Consult your vet immediately if you think your cat has dental problems.