Feline dental problems

Feline dental problems

Jun 01, 2004

Key Points
  • A cat that is not exhibiting clinical signs of pain can still have significant dental disease.
  • A high-speed dental drill and a dental radiograph machine are essential to provide even basic dental treatment in cats.
  • Periodontal disease is one of the few dental problems that we can prevent; prevention depends on early disease recognition and prophylactic treatment.
  • Most feline teeth that are affected by advanced periodontal disease are candidates for extraction.

Introduction Dental disease is common in domestic felines. In fact, dental problems are the most common disease that we see in cats, and many dental problems are painful.

The sensory nerves (branches of trigeminal nerve) that cause humans to experience dental pain are present in the cat as well. The most common sign of pain in cats, however, is no sign at all. By diagnosing and rendering appropriate treatment, we can eliminate pain and afford our feline patients a better quality of life.

Not a diagnosis Dental disease is not a diagnosis. There is no specific treatment for "dental disease." Specific treatment can only be recommended and performed when a specific diagnosis is discovered.

By making a diagnosis, we can offer specific and rational treatment or treatment options for the specific dental problem(s) encountered.

The vast majority of feline dental problems can be grouped into one of five disease categories: periodontal disease, feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORL), fractured teeth, feline gingivitis/stomatitis syndrome and oral neoplasia.

When performing your oral examination, a diagnosis of one of the above-listed problems will direct you to a specific treatment recommendation.

Of course, there could very well exist multiple dental problems in the same mouth. Think of the cat's mouth as 30 individual little patients, each with the potential of having some problem. Recommend treatment on a tooth-by-tooth basis based on the results of your examination.

Basic anatomy Kittens are born adentuous (without teeth). By 1 to 2 weeks of age, the deciduous or temporary teeth begin to erupt. The 6-week-old kitten should have a full complement of 26 deciduous teeth.

Photo 1 Depicts early-stage periodontal disease: gingivitis. Note the plaque and calculus accumulation, especially on the maxillary fourth premolar, where the gingivitis is most pronounced.This mouth could be brought back to a state of health with a dental prophylaxis and institution of a home care program.
Between 4 and 5 months-of-age, the deciduous teeth will be shed, and the permanent teeth will erupt. By 6 months of age, a total of 30 permanent teeth will have erupted that comprise the complete feline adult dentition.

These 30 teeth include 12 incisors, four canines, 10 premolars and four molars. If the primary dentition fails to be shed by the time the permanent tooth erupts, a condition called "retained deciduous teeth" occurs. The rule of thumb is to recommend immediate extraction of the retained deciduous tooth.

The dental formulas of the cat are:

Cat: Deciduous teeth: 2X (3/3 i, 1/1 c, 3/2 pm) = 26.

Permanent teeth: 2X (3/3 I, 1/1 C, 3/2 PM, 1/1 M) = 30.

Feline teeth are "hollow" and the hollow chamber inside the tooth-the pulp cavity (root canal)-contains the blood vessels, nerves and lymphatics that comprise the dental pulp. The pulp tissues communicate with the rest of the body through multiple small foramina located at the root apex (apical delta.)

The pulp chamber is surrounded with a tissue called dentin. Dentin is a hard tissue that is produced by odontoblasts, and forms the bulk of the tooth's structure. As the tooth ages, the odontoblasts continue to produce dentin, causing the dentin to thicken and the pulp chamber to narrow.

On the crown of the tooth, which is the part of the tooth visible above the gum line, a protective layer of enamel covers the dentin. The root dentin is covered by cementum, which is where the periodontal ligament fibers insert.

The periodontium consists of the structures "around the tooth" that function to attach the tooth in the mouth. The periodontium consists of the gingiva, the alveolar bone, the cementum and the periodontal ligament.