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Key takeaways

When a tooth fails to break through the gum line normally, a fluid-filled structure sometimes develops in the space where a tooth is expected to be. This is referred to as a dentigerous cyst.

  • There are usually no notable symptoms except for the apparently missing tooth
  • When a tooth fails to erupt it is often due to a developmental problem 
  • To diagnose a dentigerous cyst, a complete oral examination is required
  • Dental X-rays are usually necessary for a correct diagnosis
  • Biopsy of the cyst tissue is also recommended as it rules out potential tumors
  • Treatment consists of extraction of the unerupted tooth and removal of the cyst tissue
  • In more severe or difficult cases, bone surgery might be necessary if there is damage to the bone
  • The outcome is excellent in most cases and recurrence in cats is rare
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A closer look: Dentigerous Cysts in Cats

Dentigerous cysts are easy to overlook as it is not always obvious that a cat is missing a tooth. The area around the missing tooth might appear normal or there might be mild swelling. Also, there are other reasons aside from failing to erupt for a tooth to be missing.

In cases of dentigerous cysts, the “missing tooth” is not actually missing. Rather, it failed to erupt and is encapsulated within the cyst. Cats with dentigerous cysts usually do not feel pain unless the area becomes infected.

Dentigerous cysts might develop from any unerupted tooth, but the most common are the first premolar, the third molar, the canines, and the mandibular incisors. If any of these teeth are missing it evaluation for a possible dentigerous cyst is warranted

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Risk factors

Dentigerous cysts are one of the most common types of cysts in cats. The prognosis is generally good, especially with an early diagnosis. If the condition gets overlooked it might lead to a weakening of the surrounding bone and in severe cases, a pathological fracture.

In severe cases, the cyst might grow enough to damage the bone. In these cases, associated symptoms, such as facial asymmetry, fractures, inflammation of the gums around the swelling, might appear.

Possible causes

Dentigerous cysts appear when a tooth, normally a permanent one, fails to erupt through the gum line normally. Cysts develop from the enamel organ that surrounds the crown of the unerupted tooth. This condition often happens for developmental reasons such as a physical barrier (no room for the tooth to emerge) or a lack of eruptive force (a tooth that is stuck within the underlying bone or gums).

Main symptoms

Dentigerous cysts often do not present with noticeable signs and might go undetected in routine examinations. Usually the only noticeable sign is the appearance of a missing tooth.

Testing and diagnosis

The diagnostic process consists of a complete oral examination, generally performed under anesthesia. Other tests include cytology (microscopic evaluation) of the cyst’s fluid. Usually, dental X-rays are necessary to correctly diagnose a dentigerous cyst. Often histopathology (microscopic examination) of excised tissues is used to rule out any cancerous cause.

Steps to Recovery

Treatment for dentigerous cysts consists of extraction of the unerupted tooth and surgical removal of the cyst tissue. The excised tissues are later examined to make sure that the cyst is benign. If the cyst has grown large enough to damage the bone, bone loss is a possibility. In this case, a graft might be necessary to fill the cavity left by the cyst.

With removal of the cyst and extraction of the unerupted tooth, the prognosis is generally very good. Treatment is curative in most cases with little to no chance of recurrence, unless the excision is incomplete, in which case further surgery might be necessary.


Dentigerous cysts are not contagious. There are no specific preventive measures. Early diagnosis leads to easier and more effective treatment, but it is not always easy as cats’ teeth might be missing for many different reasons.

Are Dentigerous Cysts in Cats common?

Dentigerous cysts are common in cats.

Typical Treatment



VDS Mt. Laurel - Writing for Veterinary Dentistry Specialists
Jérôme D’Astous - Writing for The Canadian Veterinary Journal

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