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Tooth Resorption in Cats

Resorption… what is that exactly?

Resorb, means to break down and assimilate the components of, which is exactly what happens when we have a resorptive tooth. Cells go about their business every day breaking down and rebuilding, but resorption is about breaking down.

Though resorption is a normal process, the disease is not, and it is unique in that an unknown mishap, causes odontoclast cells to attack the tooth (sometimes several) and break it down. In time, a tooth can be completely resorbed. It is one of the most common dental diseases in cats, as tooth resorption may affect 50% or more of the cat population, especially those over 5 years of age. Unfortunately, once the pulp is affected it becomes quite painful, as this is where the blood vessels and nerves are housed.

When we finally see a resorptive lesion, it may look like an inflamed gum or possibly a cavity, and it is usually quite advanced at this point, as it starts well under the gumline, out of view. Resorptive lesions can occur when no inflammation or periodontal disease is evident. In fact, scientific studies have come up empty handed in determining the physiological impetus causing odontoclasts to go rogue.

Through most of this disease process the pulp is protected from bacterial invasion by the dentin, cementum, and gingiva (gum). Loss of the integrity of the enamel crown can allow bacteria to enter the pulp chamber. It is when the enamel crown begins to be fractured and damaged by lack of structural support or by being attacked by the odontoclasts, that we can finally visualize the resorption lesion. Some cats will show noticeable pain at this point, having jaw spasms when the lesion is touched. The affected tooth must be removed to prevent further pain.

Dogs, cats and even humans can have resorptive lesions. Our expectations for the level of care for our pets continually rise as new techniques and information is acquired. We hope you have learned something new. We want our clients to be knowledgeable and thereby able to make better, informed choices for healthcare.

Sources of information: Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Journal of Veterinary Dentistry Mar 1, 1996, Texas A&M University, Veterinary Partner, and Tooth resorption in dogs and cats by Bonnie Shope VMD DAVDC and Diane Carle DVM DAVDC

Photo credit: FORL Joel Mills, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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