Tooth resorption is the gradual destruction of a tooth or teeth caused by cells called odontoclasts. It usually starts on the outside of the tooth at the gumline, appearing as skin overgrowth or obvious lesions. Although most common in the lower jaw, resorption can occur in any tooth.
This extremely painful dental disease affects approximately 40 percent of healthy adult cats. Between 60 and 80 percent of cats that visit the veterinarian for treatment of dental disease suffer from tooth resorption.
Tooth resorption is also referred to as:
- Cervical line lesions
- Resorptive lesions
- Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs)
- Cavities (which is inaccurate and misleading)
An exact cause for tooth resorption has not yet been identified. There may be a link between high levels of vitamin D in a cat's system and tooth resorption.
According to integrative veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker:
At least one study has shown cats with tooth resorption have a significantly higher serum concentration of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25OHD) than cats without lesions.
Cats can't produce vitamin D in the skin, so diet is their only source of it. Since there are no upper limits on the amount of vitamins pet food manufacturers can include in their formulas, there are excessive amounts of vitamin D and vitamin D metabolites in some commercial cat food formulas.
Cats are notorious for hiding their pain. That is why it is so important for guardians to recognize signs of oral discomfort:
- Difficulty eating
- Chewing only on one side of the mouth
- Bleeding from the mouth
- Drooling / excessive salivation
- Bad breath
- Behavioral changes (no longer wanting to play or cuddle, crabbiness)
The only way to accurately diagnose tooth resorption under the gumline is by radiographs (x-rays). However, early detection of visible lesions by an observant cat guardian or through a veterinary exam can address the issue before it progresses.
According to MyPetDentist.com, classification of Tooth Resorption is as follows:
- Stage 1 (TR 1): Mild dental hard tissue loss (cementum or cementum and enamel).
- Stage 2 (TR 2): Moderate dental hard tissue loss (cementum or cementum and enamel with loss of dentin that does not extend to the pulp cavity).
- Stage 3 (TR 3): Deep dental hard tissue loss (cementum or cementum and enamel with loss of dentin that extends to the pulp cavity); most of the tooth retains its integrity.
- Stage 4 (TR 4): Extensive dental hard tissue loss (cementum or cementum and enamel with loss of dentin that extends to the pulp cavity); most of the tooth has lost its integrity.
- (TR4a) Crown and root are equally affected;
- (TR4b) Crown is more severely affected than the root;
- (TR4c) Root is more severely affected than the crown.
- Stage 5 (TR 5): Remnants of dental hard tissue are visible only as irregular radiopacities, and gingival covering is complete.
- Prepare homemade food (cooked or raw, although raw meat does scrub cat teeth clean)
- Be aware that dry food does not clean teeth. In fact, dry food causes plaque and tartar to build up on teeth
- Brush your cat's teeth at least three times per week (you don't even need toothepaste)
- Use an enzyme-based dental cleaner that can be added to food or water (see this article on National Pet Dental Health Month)
- Get to know the inside of your cat's mouth so you can more easily identify when something is wrong
- Regular dental exams by a veterinarian (at least once per year)
- If your vet recommends a thorough cleaning, do it! Be sure to ask for x-rays
- Consider anesthesia-free teeth cleaning for your cat. This is not in place of a thorough cleaning; rather it is a preventative measure, helping to clear plaque and tartar from the teeth
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