Cat Dental Care: Common Problems

Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORL) affect more than sixty percent of cats older than the age of six, though many cat owners have never heard of it, and it remains as mysterious as it is difficult to pronounce.

As explained by Brook Niemiec, DVM, an internationally recognized authority in veterinary dentistry, FORL occurs when normal cells called odontoclasts become abnormally activated and, instead of performing their usual role of continually remodeling the teeth, begin to devour them from the inside. The cause is unknown, but the result of untreated disease is all too well known: pain and loss of teeth. It can be definitively diagnosed only by a thorough dental exam, including dental X-rays.

As Niemiec notes on his Web site, there is some disagreement in the veterinary community over how the condition is best treated, with some favouring extraction of affected teeth and others preferring to try restoration followed by a diligent home care program. But veterinarians are unanimous on one point: Early diagnosis is essential to minimize tooth loss and pain to the cat.

Persistent baby teeth

Kittens develop 26 deciduous (baby) teeth beginning at two to four weeks of age. At about three to four months of age, a cat’s 30 permanent teeth start to come in. Occasionally, a cat’s baby tooth will remain in place even though the permanent tooth has erupted. When this happens, it is important that the baby tooth be removed promptly; otherwise, the permanent tooth will not form a proper attachment and irreversible orthodontic disease will result.

While less common in cats than in dogs, an extra permanent tooth may occasionally show up. When this happens, the tooth will often cause gingivitis because it crowds the other teeth and impedes their natural cleansing. It may also lead to orthodontic problems and periodontal disease. If it appears that the extra tooth is going to be a problem, it should be extracted sooner, rather than later.

Niemiec points out that the oral cavity is the fourth most common site of cancer in cats. If diagnosed early, feline cancers of the oral cavity can often be cured surgically. The important word, though, is “early.”

You won’t know if you don’t look

Because your cat can suffer from quite advanced dental disease without it being obvious that there is a problem, Niemiec emphasizes the importance of periodic veterinary dental examinations. As he advises veterinarians: “Every chance you get to look in an animal’s mouth, do so.”

So, the watchword is “look”; what you don’t see can hurt your cat.



  Reprinted with permission from WebVet, LLC. This article and other great information for pet owners can be found at


© WebVet, LLC, 2009. Reprinted with permission



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