People more often think of dogs having dental issues, since “doggy breath” is named after them, and even powerful canine chewers can break their teeth chomping on too-hard chew toys. However, cats are almost as likely to develop dental disease, with roughly 85% of cats suffering from periodontal problems by age 3, compared with 90% of dogs. Some of the most common oral health issues affecting cats include dental disease, feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs), and stomatitis.

Dental disease and your cat

Dental disease is an overarching term that encompasses numerous conditions that affect your cat’s mouth. Disease is caused when plaque and tartar accumulate, and develops when oral bacteria attack the teeth and the supportive structures. While tartar is largely nonpathogenic, plaque is the main culprit behind dental disease, as the bacteria found in plaque invade the body and lead to infection and destruction.

Dental disease can develop in cats of any age, although older cats are mostly affected. Factors that influence dental disease development include:

  • Oral anatomy that affects tooth alignment and crowding
  • Genetics
  • Diet
  • Infectious and inflammatory diseases
  • At-home dental care
  • Frequency of professional dental care

Monitoring your cat’s oral health at home is the best way to spot early problems and seek treatment before they become severe. Check your cat’s mouth regularly for the following dental disease signs:

  • Bad breath
  • Excessive salivation 
  • White or grey plaque buildup
  • Yellow or brown tartar accumulation
  • Red, swollen, or bleeding gums
  • Broken, loose, or missing teeth

Cats with dental disease often stop eating dry food, swallow their food whole, or only lick at wet canned food. Grooming usually declines, and their hair coat becomes rough and matted. They may also hide or shun normal interactions, and be irritable and agitated if petted around the head.

Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions and your cat

Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs) can develop in young or old cats, and more than 70% of cats 5 years or older have been estimated to have at least one FORL. These lesions typically form around the gum line in the tooth, but can occasionally form below the gums. While the exact cause is unknown, FORLs are speculated to be caused by the immune system recognizing the teeth as foreign objects and attacking.

Oftentimes, FORLs have no outward signs. Cats are incredibly stoic so, although the lesions are sensitive, they give no indication of something amiss. You may not realize your cat has a problem until your cat’s annual physical exam, when our veterinarian discovers a spot that looks like gum tissue growing out of the affected tooth. When probed, cats typically display a chattering response because of the pain. Dental X-rays are also taken to confirm the diagnosis and to evaluate the disease severity. Undiagnosed, untreated FORLs erode affected teeth to the point where the crown fractures and leaves the root behind. Because broken tooth roots are a source of pain and infection, full-mouth dental X-rays must be performed to check for root fragments.

The only effective FORL treatment is extraction of the diseased teeth. Once a single FORL develops, more typically appear. Cats may eventually need all their teeth pulled, but they are much happier and more comfortable when the pain is gone. Cats with resorptive disease should have oral exams, dental X-rays, and dental cleanings every six months to prevent unnecessary pain.

Stomatitis and your cat

Stomatitis refers to inflammation inside the oral cavity, which encompasses all the soft tissues, including the gingiva and mucous membranes. While the exact cause of this disease is unknown, a link between plaque and an exaggerated immune response that leads to severe oral inflammation seems possible. Some cases also appear to be associated with feline calicivirus and feline immunodeficiency virus infections. 

Stomatitis is incredibly painful, and affected cats often lose weight because they have difficulty eating. And, despite rigorous at-home dental care and frequent dental cleanings to minimize plaque, stomatitis often returns with a vengeance. In most cases, extracting all the teeth to remove the source of oral inflammation is the best treatment. 

Dental issues are common in cats and can cause a great deal of pain that your feline friend likely will try to hide. Keep your cat from suffering by scheduling regular oral exams with our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Wallisville team.