Tooth resorption is, unfortunately, a common problem in cats, with some research indicating that over 30% cats will suffer from this dental problem in their lifetime.
What is it?
Tooth resorption starts in the root of the tooth, beneath the gum-line. The tooth root is gradually dissolved, and replaced by the surrounding jaw bone. This resorption continues inside the tooth into the crown, which weakens the tooth. The hard covering of the tooth (the enamel), whilst being very strong, is very thin in the cat and can be chipped off this weakened tooth. This exposes the sensitive nerves inside the tooth, which is painful for the cat.
How do I know if my cat is affected?
Very often cats will give you no indication that they are suffering any discomfort in their mouths- they will apparently eat ‘normally’. However, we do know the condition is painful, and sometimes cats will be very subtle in their response to the discomfort. For instance, some cats will gobble their food, so they do not have to spend much time chewing as it causes pain. This can be mistaken as a good appetite. Sometimes cats will preferentially chew on one side of the mouth, which may not be spotted at home. Sometimes cats will prefer dry over wet food, as the wet food may ‘stick’ to the sore tooth. Occasionally, cats will stop eating altogether and may show obvious signs of pain in their mouths, such as dribbling, or pawing at the face.
Sometimes the vet will spot tell-tale signs in the consulting room. This can be a pointer to the presence of tooth resorption. Certain teeth are affected more commonly than others, and where the tooth has become weakened, the gum may grow over the affected area. If these problems are spotted, it is important to examine your cat under an anaesthetic, to take dental Xrays and look for further evidence of affected teeth. It is sometimes only possible to spot these teeth under an anaesthetic.
What is the treatment?
To date the only recommended treatment is extraction of the affected tooth. In some cases where the root has nearly disappeared it may be possible to remove the crown only and suture the gum, with the roots continuing to be reabsorbed by the body.
Can it be prevented?
Unfortunately not. As we do not know the cause, there is nothing we can do to prevent the problem. It is important to understand that if your cat suffers from tooth resorption, that more teeth could be affected at any time in the future. Regular checks are important to catch the problem early.
Rachel Perry MRCVS
Whilst all of our vets are able to perform dental treatment on your pet, Rachel has a long-standing professional interest in veterinary dentistry and oral surgery and has undertaken many post-graduate studies in the field. If you would like her to examine your pet, please call the surgery. She can discuss your pet’s dental health, and help you decide upon the best treatment plan. Rachel also carries out advanced veterinary dental procedures, such as root canals for broken teeth, advanced treatments for gum disease to save rather than extract some teeth, treatments for teeth in the wrong place, lumps and bumps, broken jaws…..Rachel is always excited to talk about teeth! For more information and photographs, please see www.perrydentalvet.co.uk.