Dental Health Month: Feline Tooth Resorption
February 25, 2019
February is National Pet Dental Health Month. Let’s review one of the most common problems we see in our pet cats: Tooth resorption.
To understand tooth resorption, we have to back up and talk about normal teething. Like human children, kittens have baby (AKA deciduous or primary) teeth which are present early in life but are replaced later by adult (permanent) teeth. During teething, the body resorbs (breaks down) the roots of the baby teeth, starting at the tips. Eventually, when there isn’t enough root left to hold the baby tooth in place, it falls out. This process takes place in an organized manner and everything heals quickly after the tooth falls out.
Tooth resorption in adult cats is when this process affects adult teeth. We do not understand why this occurs in cats nor how to prevent it. It can happen with or without the presence of other dental problems like plaque, tartar, or periodontal disease. There may be a genetic component. Many cats who have had teeth affected will go on to have more teeth affected, while some do not.
While resorption of baby teeth begins at the tip, resorption of adult teeth can start anywhere on the root. If the process stays under the gumline, it may not be visible without dental x-rays but can still cause problems by damaging the surrounding bone. If the lesions extend above the gumline, they may be clearly visible; these lesions are not only painful, but may become contaminated with bacteria that further increase inflammation.
Unfortunately, there is no treatment for adult teeth affected by tooth resorption other than to extract (pull) them as they appear. Untreated tooth resorption can cause pain, infections, or damage to the bone of the jaw. Just one more reason why dental care is so important for our cats!
Karen Christopherson DVM