Tooth Resorption in Cats

Cat isn't interested in eating food

Oral health issues are common in cats and cause no shortage of discomfort for our feline friends. Tooth resorption is one of the most common types of dental disease in cats and is quite painful.

However, because cats are the masters of disguise, you may not even know that your cat has this condition until the pain and discomfort are too great to hide.

Let’s go over all you need to know about tooth resorption in cats, including what it is and how to treat it.

What Is Tooth Resorption in Cats?

Tooth resorption occurs when the body attacks healthy tooth tissue by destroying and resorbing it. This disease has gone by several other names:

  • Cat caries
  • Neck lesions
  • Cervical line lesions
  • Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions

It’s helpful to understand some basic tooth anatomy before explaining tooth resorption in detail:

  • Enamel: Hard, white outer surface of the tooth
  • Crown: Visible part of the tooth above the gumline
  • Root: Part of the tooth below the gumline
  • Root canal: Inside of the tooth that contains structures like blood vessels and nerves
  • Dentin: Hard, bony substance that surrounds the root canal
  • Periodontal ligament: Soft tissue that holds the tooth in place

Tooth resorption usually attacks the enamel first and then travels to the inner part of the tooth, causing irreversible damage along the way. What’s left is frequently a bump on the gum line where the affected tooth used to be.

In other cases, tooth resorption leaves a hole in the tooth’s center that resembles a cavity. However, tooth resorption and cavities are different. With tooth resorption, the body is attacking healthy tissue. Cavities occur when acid produced by bacteria in the mouth damages the enamel and dentin. Cats can get cavities, but only rarely.

Feline tooth resorption most commonly affects the lower premolars, the teeth between the canines and molars. It occurs in 20 to 60 percent of all cats and approximately 75 percent of cats over 5 years old (1).

Tooth resorption is categorized into two types, according to what the resorption looks like on a dental X-ray:

  • Type 1: The crown is damaged but the root appears normal. The periodontal ligament can easily be seen.
  • Type 2 (replacement resorption): The root is disintegrating and resembles bone. 

Causes of Tooth Resorption in Cats

There is no known cause of tooth resorption in cats; all breeds are susceptible. The incidence of tooth resorption often increases with age, with adult cats most affected.

Dental hygiene (or the lack thereof) does not play a role in tooth resorption. Although good oral care helps keep your cat’s mouth healthy, a lack of dental care will not lead to tooth resorption.

Typically, one tooth will be affected initially, and others will follow suit. When multiple teeth are affected, the resorption rate will differ between teeth: one tooth may have advanced resorption, while another may be in the beginning stages.

Cat Tooth Resorption Symptoms

Tooth resorption is extremely painful and uncomfortable, but your cat will do their best to hide it. Hiding pain stems from your cat’s wild ancestry: showing any sign of weakness or discomfort in the wild would make them an easy target.

Despite their best efforts, though, your cat may eventually have noticeable symptoms of tooth resorption. These symptoms are like those seen with other dental diseases when the teeth are unhealthy: 

Eating changes

  • Refusal to eat
  • Preferring soft food
  • Dropping food from the mouth
  • Not chewing before swallowing
  • Jaw chattering when eating due to pain
  • Favoring one side of the mouth when chewing

Other symptoms

  • Oral bleeding along the gumline
  • Running away from the food bowl at mealtime
  • Muscular spasms or trembling in the jaw if the affected area is touched

Not all cats with tooth resorption will show signs of the disease.

Diagnosing Tooth Resorption in Cats

If you notice these symptoms, take your cat to your veterinarian for examination and diagnosis. 

Diagnosing tooth resorption begins with a basic physical exam and history. However, the extent of tooth resorption cannot be adequately assessed just by peering in the mouth during the physical exam. 

Your veterinarian will sedate your cat to take full-mouth dental X-rays and perform an oral exam. The X-rays and oral exam will help your vet rule out other oral health issues, such as periodontal disease, that could be causing your cat’s symptoms. 

The dental X-rays will also allow your veterinarian to determine whether your cat has type 1 or 2 tooth resorption. 

Tooth Resorption in Cats Treatment

Treatment for tooth resorption in cats depends on the type of tooth resorption. 

Type 1 is treated with tooth extraction, including the crown and root. Your veterinarian may refer you to a board-certified veterinary dentist for treatment if your cat’s tooth resorption is moderate to severe.

Type 2 is treated with crown amputation, in which the damaged portion of the tooth is removed while leaving the resorbing root intact.

Pain control is necessary before and after treatment. Before the procedure, your veterinarian (or veterinary dentist) will perform a local nerve block. For a local nerve block, an analgesic such as lidocaine is injected into the nerves near the surgical area to numb the area and relieve pain.

Your veterinarian will prescribe pain medication to reduce your cat’s pain while your  cat is recovering at home. This medication may be a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as meloxicam, but your veterinarian will decide which specific pain medication will be best for your cat.

Antibiotics may be given several days before the procedure and then afterward to prevent bacterial infection. However, because antibiotic resistance is a growing problem in veterinary medicine, antibiotics are not given for every dental procedure in pets. Your veterinarian will consider the severity of your cat’s tooth resorption and overall health to determine whether antibiotics would be necessary.

How Much Does It Cost To Treat Tooth Resorption in Cats?

Treatment for tooth resorption is pricey. The total cost of treatment depends on many factors:

  • Oral exam
  • Dental X-rays
  • Preoperative blood work
  • Anesthesia
  • Medications
  • Type of procedure (extraction or crown amputation)
  • Number of teeth to be extracted
  • Hospitalization
  • Surgical supplies
  • Need for a veterinary dentist
  • Where you live

Generally, diagnosis, preoperative blood work, and anesthesia will cost several hundred dollars. Extractions can cost about $100 each. However, the total cost will vary from one cat to the next and could cost as much as several thousand dollars if you are referred to a veterinary dentist. 

With so many individual costs, request a detailed estimate when discussing treatment options with your veterinarian. 

How to Prevent Tooth Resorption in Cats

Woman brushing cat's teeth

Tooth resorption in cats is not preventable. However, good at-home and professional oral care goes a long way in keeping your cat’s mouth healthy. At-home care includes brushing your cat’s teeth once daily or every other day. 

Your veterinarian can recommend at-home feline dental products. You can also browse the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) website for VOHC-accepted products.

Annual wellness exams, dental X-rays, and dental cleanings will complement good at-home care to detect oral disease early and keep your cat’s mouth as healthy as possible.

References

  1. “Tooth Resorption.” Cornell Feline Health Center. Retrieved from

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