Have you ever seen a cat chewing on only one side of her mouth, swallowing her food whole, or suddenly refusing to eat anything but soft canned food? If so, you may have witnessed a case of feline tooth resorption.
This painful dental condition affects up to 60% of adult and senior cats, but its symptoms can be difficult to recognize with the untrained eye. For this reason, cats don’t always get the care they need to relieve their pain and prevent further dental damage.
Here’s what every cat owner needs to know about feline tooth resorption.
What Is Tooth Resorption In Cats?
Feline tooth resorption is a dental disease that occurs when the body breaks down and absorbs the structures of your cat’s teeth. It usually starts in the enamel along the gum line and continues towards the tooth’s center chamber where the blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, and nerves are located. Eventually, all that will remain is a small bump on the gums.
Unlike dental decay, tooth resorption is not caused by bacteria but rather the body’s own biological processes.
What Causes Tooth Resorption?
Despite how often it occurs, the cause of feline tooth resorption is unknown. According to Jennifer Rawlinson, DVM, chief of the dentistry and oral surgery section at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine:
There are a few theories, but no one is sure about what really stimulates this condition. Some researchers, for example, theorize that an excess of vitamin D in commercial cat food might be to blame, but other researchers don’t necessarily agree. So, for now, we don’t have an answer.”
What Signs Of Tooth Resorption Do Cats Show?
Cats are excellent at hiding their pain, a skill they evolved to avoid predators. However, if you monitor your cat’s behavior, you may notice subtle signs like:
Does your cat stop eating when you or another pet enters the room? This may be her way of hiding subtle signs of pain, such as chewing slowly, turning her head to the side while chewing, dropping food out of the side of her mouth, and leaving food behind when she is typically the type to finish her meals.
Cats can be temperamental, but they also tend to be consistent. If your kitty suddenly seems cranky or no longer wants to engage in activities she loves, it may indicate a painful condition like tooth resorption or arthritis.
Bleeding or Changes In The Mouth
Resorptive lesions usually appear along or below the gumline, so you may be able to notice blood in this area without prying your cat’s mouth open. She may also drool or have blood in her saliva. When your cat yawns, try to peek inside and look for a hole or dark pink stain in the center of one or more teeth.
What Can Be Done?
First, visit your veterinarian for a general checkup. If the clinic offers dental radiographs, he or she may recommend sedating your cat to minimize stress and ensure quality images. These radiographs will help your vet determine the extent of damage to the teeth and below the gum line.
Some vets may try to save some of the tooth by performing a “crown amputation with intentional root retention.” This removes the painful parts of the crown, but the root is left in place to continue to resorb. However, in most cases, it is best to extract the entire tooth.
Soft Food/Low Vitamin-D Diet
While the exact cause of tooth resorption is unknown, some research shows that high levels of vitamin D in commercial cat foods may contribute to feline tooth resorption. Ask your vet to help you choose a high-quality soft food low in vitamin D. Canned foods are gentler on your cat’s teeth and help introduce more moisture, helping with kidney and urinary tract health.
Can Feline Tooth Resorption Be Prevented?
Tooth resorption in cats is a widespread problem with no known cause or method of prevention. Unfortunately, if one tooth is affected, others tend to be as well. Watch your cat for the signs listed above, and visit your vet for annual oral exams and radiographs to help your kitty’s mouth stay healthy and pain-free!