“Rocky” was a wonderful, seven-year-old, long-haired Tabby cat. He really loved his food, so it was a surprise when his owners discovered that he was not eating his usual daily quota of his favourite cat biscuits. Rocky had also become quite grumpy and was hiding away from the family which was unlike him, and his owners also noticed that he was also drooling excessively. He was brought into the surgery for an examination. Rocky had lost weight and I noticed that his mouth was painful to examine, and he had some bleeding gums and painful upper molar teeth noted. I recommended that a Dental procedure appointment was arranged for him to allow his teeth to be examined carefully under a safe, general anaesthetic and any Dental treatment done. When Rocky’s teeth were examined under anaesthesia, it was found that he had several painful, dental “neck” lesions on his molar teeth, which would need removed or burred down.
Cats are prone to a particular this kind of dental disease. They, like dogs, can also have dental plaque build-up and gum and dental disease secondary to this. However, Cats are also prone to painful dental lesions called Feline Odontoclastic Resorption Lesions: FORL lesions, or “neck lesions” of their teeth. Tooth resorption or FORL lesions are unfortunately a common problem in cats, with some research indicating that over 30% cats will suffer from this dental problem at some point in their lifetime.
Tooth resorption starts in the root of the tooth, beneath the gum-line. Gradually over time the tooth root is dissolved and replaced by the surrounding jawbone. This resorption continues inside the tooth into the visible tooth crown, which then weakens the tooth. The hard enamel covering of the tooth whilst being strong, is very thin in the cat and can easily be chipped off this weakened tooth. This damage to the enamel then exposes the sensitive nerves inside the tooth, which is very painful for the affected cat. Very often cats will give you no indication that they are suffering any discomfort and they can apparently eat normally, even with FORL dental disease apparent. However, we do know that the FORL condition is painful, and sometimes cats can be very subtle in their response to any dental discomfort. For instance, some cats will eat their food extremely quickly, so they do not have to spend much time chewing their food, as they know that this causes them pain. This can be mistaken as a good appetite. Sometimes cats will preferentially chew on one side of their mouths, which may not be spotted at home, but can be spotted in the consult room, because the side they prefer to chew food on generally has less plaque build-up. Sometimes cats will prefer dry over wet food, as the wet food may ‘stick’ to the sore tooth. Or they may prefer wet food to dry food, as they do not have to crunch or chew this. Occasionally, affected cats will stop eating altogether and they may show some obvious signs of pain in their mouths, such as being subdued, dribbling, pawing at their mouth or "chattering" their teeth.
FORL lesions can generally be spotted during a Dental check-up with your Vet. However, they are not always clearly visible during an examination … and not all cats are compliant in the consult room! It is sometimes only possible to spot these teeth under a safe anaesthetic. Certain teeth are affected more commonly than others, and where the tooth has become weakened, the gum may bleed easily or grow over the affected area and there may be secondary gum infection around the affected tooth. If these problems or symptoms are spotted, it is important to follow your Vets advice and make arrangements and an appointment for a Dental examination under a safely monitored anaesthetic. Dental X-rays will also be taken at this time to look for further evidence of affected teeth and tooth resorption.
The recommended treatment of FORL lesions is extraction of the affected, painful damaged teeth. In some cases, where on Dental X-rays the tooth root has nearly disappeared and has been replaced by bone, it may be possible to remove and burr down the visible crown of the tooth only, with the root continuing to be quietly reabsorbed.
If your cat suffers from tooth resorption lesions, then other teeth could be affected at any time in the future. So regular, on-going dental checks are particularly important to catch the problem early on before it becomes painful.
Rocky was much happier and much more comfortable after his Dental procedure, and he was now comfortable and happy, and back to eating voraciously again!
If you note any signs of discomfort or unusual eating habits with your cat, then do arrange for an appointment for a Dental Check-up.