Like dogs, cats are affected by periodontal disease and fractured teeth, but in addition their oral problems include tooth resorption and stomatitis (inflammation of the oropharynx).
Like dogs, cats tend to hide pain and are even better than dogs at hiding oral pain. Studies show that animals experience pain similar to humans, but they have evolved not to show signs which would be regarded as weakness by other members of their species or even other species.
Modie in photograh at right may say that “cats rule . . . and dogs drool!” But unfortunately, some very painful feline dental issues do cause cats to drool.
It is estimated that 60-75% of all mature cats have evidence of tooth resorption. Previously called cat “cavities,” tooth resorption begins at the surface of the tooth where enamel and or cementum (the hard enamel equivalent on the root) is eaten away leaving defects in the tooth. Research has shown that these are not true cavities, and that restoring them (placing a filling) does not stop the resorption process.
Once these defects reach the inner layers of the tooth, cats experience extreme discomfort. (Their jaws may quiver when these areas are probed.). In addition, bacteria found in the mouth may now have access to the blood stream and may infect heart valves, liver and kidneys.
- Full mouth radiographs are indicated to properly evaluate any cat with tooth resorption.
- Complete extraction is the treatment of choice.
Teeth with radiographic signs of advanced root resorption and no concurrent periodontal disease may be treated by sub gingival crown amputation. Annual exams are recommended for all mature cats in order to identify tooth resorption. Semi annual dental examinations and annual dental x-rays are recommended for all cats with previous diagnosis of tooth resorption.
Stomatitis in cats is a severe inflammation or ulceration of the oral tissues. It is frequently debilitating causing:
- Bad breath
- Difficulty eating
- Excessive drooling
Some cats experience so much pain they may be observed crying out and dropping food when attempting to eat.
Current data suggests that this disorder may have an immune mediated etiology but is generally considered to have many contributing factors. Corticosteroids have been used to provide relief initially but long-term use loses its effectiveness and may even cause diabetes.
Cats with this disorder rarely respond to medical treatment without meticulous oral hygiene (difficult to achieve in a cat with a painful mouth). For most cats 80% or more will receive complete cure by extraction of all their teeth. Some cats may require additional medical treatment even after all of the teeth have been removed. Antibiotics may provide some benefit by reducing gingival infection but provide no long-term relief.
Periodontal disease is one of the most common oral problems identified in cats. Periodontal disease in cats, just like in humans and dogs is caused by the bacteria in plaque. Left on the tooth surface plaque becomes mineralized by calcium salts in saliva. This mineralized debris called calculus or tartar, provides a rough surface for more plaque to adhere. The bacteria in the plaque begins to change to a more virulent form and infects the gums and connective tissue around the teeth.
- The infection eventually invades the bone holding the tooth in the mouth
- Eventually the tooth will become loose and fall out, the body’s way of healing the disease
- This process may take weeks to months causing severe pain and discomfort to the cat.
In addition, bacteria may enter the blood stream and cause damage to heart valves, liver and kidneys.
Cats with periodontal disease may also have concurrent problems like tooth resorption and tooth fractures. Full mouth dental x-rays are indicated for every cat with periodontal disease.
The below intra oral radiograph (x-ray) shows how the infection has caused much of the bone around the tooth to be lost, as well as loss of part of the root.
Cats tend to hide pain, and studies show that they experience pain similar to humans. They have evolved not to show pain and not to show signs which would be regarded as weakness by other members of their species or even other species.
Annual exams are recommended for all cats
Fractured Canine Teeth
Cats frequently will fracture their canine teeth (fangs). Even a small fracture of the tip may cause pulp exposure as the cats pulp chamber extends very close to the tip.
Pulp exposure provides an entrance for bacteria to invade and invariably leads to infection and death of the pulp tissue. Every fractured tooth should be x-rayed and depending on the results may be treated by extraction or root canal therapy.
Oral tumors have been estimated to account for nearly 10% of all feline cancer. Almost all oral tumors are malignant in cats (90%). There are some masses or oral swellings that may be identified that are benign, such as ostomyelitis or infection of the bone caused by periodontal disease.
All oral masses or swellings should be examined under general anesthesia and full mouth dental x-rays should be obtained. Biopsy may also be indicated and provide useful information directing treatment.