Feline Dental Problems

Screen Shot 2013-06-14 at 11.04.09 AM

Many veterinary dentists believe that most dental problems in domestic cats are caused by their modern diets. In the wild, cats hunt and catch smaller prey animals. Their teeth are designed to let them eat the prey whole, devouring bones, hair, and feathers that help to keep their teeth clean. Current commercial cat foods, both dry and wet, may predispose your cat to plaque and tartar on her teeth, as well as the development of other dental problems that will need veterinary care.

The best prevention of dental disease in your cat revolves around regular, at-home teeth brushings and consistently checking the mouth for any of the signs of the following dental problems.

Gingivitis/Periodontal Disease

According to veterinary dentists, almost 85% of adult cats have some degree of periodontal disease. Ranging from mild cases of gingivitis, where you’ll see some reddening and inflammation of your cat’s gums at the tooth line, to full-blown periodontal disease, where your pets teeth and gums are compromised due to severe plaque and tartar, accompanied by severe gingivitis and recession. Periodontal disease requires veterinary intervention to correct it.

Symptoms of feline periodontal disease include bad breath, inflamed gums, excessive salivation, missing teeth, dropping food from the mouth, pain when pressing on the gums, and, in extreme cases, an unwillingness to eat, unexplained weight loss, lethargy, and dehydration.

Veterinary treatment typically revolves around an anesthetized cleaning with oral x-rays to check for possible abscesses or bone degeneration, as well as extractions of compromised teeth when necessary.

Broken Teeth

Your cat’s broken teeth can leave the root and/or tooth pulp exposed to oral bacteria, leading to infection. This infection can cause abscesses and destruction of the jawbone at the root tip, and, if left untreated, bacteria can travel through your cat’s bloodstream to major organs, including the heart, kidneys, and liver. The fang teeth, or canines, are one of the most commonly affected teeth in cats, along with the molars and premolars. Fractured teeth with signs of trauma caused by chewing on hard objects, these broken teeth need either veterinary extraction or root canal treatment depending on the location of the tooth and how much of the broken tooth is left in the mouth.

Retained Baby Teeth

By 2 to 3 months of age, your kitten should be losing her baby, or deciduous teeth, and the adult teeth should be coming in. This occurs as the body reabsorbs the roots of the baby teeth and the adult teeth take their place. If this progression doesn’t happen, you’ll see what appears to be a double set of teeth. The adult teeth can be pushed out of their natural line leading to a bad bite, or malocclusion. To avoid further problems, the baby teeth should be extracted if they fail to fall out on their own.

Malocclusion (Incorrect Bite)

Your cat’s bite is determined by how the lower and upper incisors, or front teeth, meet when the mouth is closed. In the even or level bite, the incisor teeth meet edge to edge. In the scissors bite, the upper incisors just overlap but still touch the lower incisors. An overshot bite is one in which the upper jaw is longer than the lower jaw, so the teeth overlap without touching. The undershot bite is the reverse, with the lower jaw projecting beyond the upper jaw. A wry bite can be one of the worst of the malocclusion problems. One side of the jaw grows faster than the other, twisting the mouth.

An incorrect bite, or malocclusion, interferes with the cat’s ability to grasp, chew, and eat food. The misplaced teeth will, in some cases, injure the soft tissues of the mouth.

In young cats, malocclusions are typically hereditary, caused by genetic factors controlling the growth of the upper and lower jaw. In older cats, trauma, infection, or oral cancers may be the causative factor.

An overshot bite may rectify itself if the gap between the upper and lower teeth is small. Most other malocclusion problems will need surgery to correct them.


Veterinarians estimate that Feline Oral Resorptive Lesions (FORLs) can be found in anywhere from 28% to 67% of adult cats. These lesions are tiny holes on the teeth themselves that penetrate the enamel at the neck of the tooth right along the gum line. If left untreated, the lesions will obliterate the entire crown of the tooth and gum tissue will grow over the remaining root tips. Your cat’s back teeth, the molars and premolars, are more commonly affected, but FORL’ can appear on any surface of any tooth.

This condition can be quite painful once the outer layer of enamel is destroyed. Many cats will not eat because of the discomfort and begin to show marked weight loss. You may notice “jaw chattering” if the painful area is touched.

While Siamese and Abyssinian cats seem predisposed to this dental problem, all cats are susceptible. There are no known, definitive causes of FORL’, but veterinary dentists suggest that periodontitis, exposure to certain viruses, kidney problems, and eating highly acidic, dry cat food may be related factors.

Treatment typically involves removing the affected teeth and treating the cat with antibiotics and pain medications.


Stomatitis is the chronic inflammation and ulceration of the soft tissues of the mouth. Causes of this disease may include differing types of immunodeficiency disorders, a hypersensitivity to specific oral bacteria, drug reactions, and other systemic organ diseases – including kidney failure, cancers, and diabetes mellitus. Cats with stomatitis suffer with bad breath, bleeding gums, and excessive salivation. Because the oral lesions are painful, a cat may be reluctant to eat and show marked weight loss.

Stomatitis tends to affect the pre-molars and molars – your cat’s back teeth – more than the incisors or canine teeth. Veterinary treatment can be quite difficult, and typically includes professional teeth cleaning under anesthesia to alleviate any periodontal disease and oral x-rays to check the conditions of your cat’s tooth roots and jawbones. Specific therapy aims to treat the origin of the disorder when it is identified. However, with an unknown cause, systemic antibiotics may be of benefit. Cats unresponsive to treatment may require extraction of all affected teeth behind the canines to achieve maximum relief from the disease and its symptoms.