Imagine having your own body slowly eat away at your teeth. It starts affecting multiple teeth and pain builds. But you’re not able to speak so you can’t express your pain and you don’t want to starve, so you just eat through the pain. Unfortunately, tooth resorption is a reality for up to 60% of our cats above the age of just six years old.
Signs of tooth resorption can include loss of appetite, weight loss, chattering teeth, hypersalivation and lethargy. However, it is important to remember that cats do not always show pain. We often think of cats as predators as they hunt mice and birds but because of their small size, they are also a prey species. Showing pain would single them out as weak to potential predators. Furthermore, think of the last time you had pain in your mouth, whether it be from a simple canker sore or a dental problem. Did you stop eating altogether and go into starvation? Of course not. You likely either ate through the pain until it healed or saw a dentist as soon as you could. Our pets will often eat through oral pain and without being able to express pain verbally, it is often unnoticed.
At this time, it is not understood why tooth resorption occurs in cats, but it is thought to be associated with tartar and periodontal disease. Tooth resorption can affect the tooth above the gum line (also known as the crown), below the gum line (the root) or both. For this reason, x-rays are required for proper assessment and treatment planning. As tooth resorption is not always visible above the crown, full mouth x-rays are much more critical for adequate detection. Often, if it is present in one tooth, it will be present elsewhere as well.
The treatment in most situations is the extraction of the entire tooth. In some cases, a crown amputation can be performed instead. This is where the portion of the tooth above the gum line is removed. This further highlights the requirement for dental x-rays so treatment can be done correctly.
Written by Dr. Brown, DVM