The warning signs of tooth resorption and cavities in cats

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The warning signs of tooth resorption and cavities in cats - A tabby cat meowing with their mouth open wide

Instead of developing cavities, the most common form of tooth decay in cats is called tooth resorption. Resorptive lesions may be difficult to spot but can look like a cavity in some cases. If you are a pet parent, read on if you have ever wondered:

  • What causes cat tooth resorption?
  • How do I know if my cat has a resorptive lesion?
  • How do vets diagnose and treat a cat’s poor dental health?
  • Can tooth decay be prevented in cats?

Cats don’t experience dental decay the way people do, so it’s important to learn the signs of feline dental disease and take steps to keep your cat’s teeth healthy. Periodontal disease and tooth resorption are the most common forms of dental disease in cats. Tooth resorption cannot be prevented and is usually caught during routine dental checkups and professional dental cleanings.

What is the difference between feline tooth resorption and dental cavities?

Resorptive lesions and dental cavities are both forms of tooth decay that form holes in the white enamel covering the tooth surface. However, the way they form and how they affect the tooth are quite different. Cavities occur when the bacteria in plaque feed on sugar from food on the teeth and form an acid that eats away at the tooth enamel from the outside. Dental cavities usually form in the crevices of molars where it is harder to clean. Tooth resorption occurs when the inside of a cat’s tooth begins to dissolve. The reason why tooth resorption occurs in cats is unknown.

Are feline cavities and resorptive lesions common in cats

Cat tooth resorption is a very common dental issue, affecting up to 60% of cats. Meanwhile, cavities in cats are extremely rare. A cat’s diet is low in sugar and carbohydrates that bacteria in plaque need to form the acid that causes cavities. In addition, the shape of a cat’s teeth, the characteristics of their saliva, and the natural bacteria living in their mouths inhibit the growth of cavity-causing bacteria.

What are the symptoms of tooth resorption in cats?

Most cats do not show symptoms of early tooth resorption despite the dental condition causing oral pain. An early tooth resorption lesion appears as a small pink spot on the tooth. These spots are easily overlooked by cat owners and usually identified by a veterinarian during an oral examination. As the condition progresses, more of the enamel dissolves away, revealing a larger pink area as the underlying tissue is exposed. The remaining enamel may turn gray as the inside of the tooth dies. Sometimes the roots remain, leaving a small bump beneath the gums, but in many cases the entire tooth dissolves without a trace.

Tooth resorption is a painful condition. Though cats have a tendency to hide signs of pain, keep an eye out for:

These symptoms can indicate signs of pain in the mouth from resorptive lesions or other forms of dental issues such as periodontal disease or tooth fractures. Normal teeth appear white and shiny without foul-smelling breath, and healthy gums are a uniform, light pink color.

How do veterinarians diagnose and treat tooth resorption?

The goal of treating feline tooth resorption is pain relief. Treatment varies depending on how much of the tooth has resorbed. A veterinarian may be able to see a resorptive lesion during a basic wellness exam. However, early lesions can be difficult to spot without an anesthetic exam and dental X-rays. X-rays are also necessary to determine the extent of the damage below the gumline and around the roots. Feline tooth resorption cannot be stopped or reversed, and the tooth cannot be saved. Treatment involves removing the crown of the tooth and leaving the roots or removing the entire tooth. In cases of end-stage resorption where the entire tooth, including the roots, dissolves, treatment may not be necessary.

Can feline tooth resorption be prevented?

Because it is unknown why tooth resorption occurs in cats, it cannot be prevented. Oral care such as tooth brushing and dental products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council can help prevent gum disease but not tooth resorption. Regular dental examinations with a veterinarian can help catch and treat resorption and other forms of dental disease in cats.

Why are dental exams important?

Oral exams under anesthesia allow a vet to see every tooth and probe under the gumline to check for damage. X-rays also help veterinarians visualize the tooth roots and identify any damage below the gumline. Regular dental exams and professional cleanings help catch dental diseases such as tooth resorption and periodontal disease. Catching resorptive lesions early minimizes the amount of pain a cat endures as the tooth erodes. “Many pet parents delay dental care because they’re worried about anesthesia,” explains Vetster veterinarian Dr. Jo Myers. “While anesthesia is never risk-free, it is far riskier to ignore dental disease. Let your vet know about your concerns and ask what they will do to make the procedure as safe and comfortable as possible.”

What should I do if my cat has a spot on their tooth?

Talk to a vet any time you notice a change to your cat’s teeth, breath, or behavior. Spots on the teeth are highly unlikely to be cavities and are more likely to be resorptive lesions. Symptoms of poor oral health may be a result of tooth resorption, periodontal disease, injuries to the teeth, or something more serious like a tumor. If you have questions about your feline friend’s dental health, you can book an appointment with an online vet who can answer your questions.

FAQ - Warning signs of tooth resorption and cavities in cats

Are cavities common in cats?

Cavities in cats are extremely rare. However, tooth resorption is a common condition in cats that causes decay and eventual tooth loss, similar to cavities in humans. With tooth resorption, the cat’s tooth begins to decay from the inside, whereas cavities form from the outside. Tooth resorption cannot be stopped or prevented. A tooth extraction is necessary to prevent tooth pain as the condition advances.

What does feline tooth resorption look like?

A resorptive lesion first appears like a small pink spot on the surface of a cat’s tooth. As the condition progresses, more enamel dissolves and exposes larger areas of the underlying pink tissue. Sometimes the remaining enamel turns gray as the inside of the tooth dies. Sometimes the roots of the tooth are also affected, resulting in resorption of the entire tooth. When the process of resorption is complete, the only remaining sign may be a small bump under the gums.

How painful is cat tooth resorption?

Tooth resorption is a very painful condition for cats due to tooth enamel dissolving away and exposing the sensitive inner layer of the tooth. Even a very small amount of exposed tooth pulp is painful for a cat when it comes into contact with food or toys. Cats enduring tooth resorption may wince or flinch when biting or chewing, chatter their teeth, have difficulty eating, feel irritation, drool, and show other changes in behavior.

How do I know if my cat has tooth pain?

Painful teeth due to tooth resorption or broken teeth can result in a cat flinching or wincing when they chew or bite, as well as a loss of appetite. They may also chatter their teeth and drool. Cats also have a tendency to hide when they are in pain and become more vocal or irritable or aggressive.