What Is It?
Feline tooth resorption, also known as Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions (FORLs), cervical line lesions (CLLs), neck lesions, cervical line erosions, and feline caries/”cavities”, are a common dental concern for cats. These lesions begin just below the gum line and progressively invade and destroy the affected tooth. As the tooth structure is damaged, the pulp (nerve and blood supply of the tooth) is exposed. This can result in chronic dental pain – think of it as a major toothache!
It is estimated that well over 50% of all cats will experience this disease at some point in their lives. Tooth resorptive lesions can be found in cats as early as 18-24 months, but most affected cats are middle-aged. Asiatic breeds (Abyssinians, Siamese, and Himalayans) may be predisposed, though all breeds may be affected. The cause of these lesions is yet unknown.
Symptoms of resorptive lesions, if present, are typically related to the pain they induce. This may include resistance to oral manipulation (i.e. brushing teeth or giving oral medication), increased salivation, dropping food, showing a preference for canned/moist diets, or appetite loss. It is important to note that cats are careful to not show pain and many cats will not exhibit symptoms, even with significant disease.
Your veterinarian may notice tooth resorptive lesions during your pet’s routine physical examination. Advanced lesions are often easily visualized as defects in the enamel surface, and portions of affected teeth may actually be missing. Earlier lesions are sometimes identified upon probing or palpation of the inflamed gums – any areas that cause your cat to “chatter” (a pain response) should be closely examined. Dental radiographs are ideal to rule-out other early lesions, but may not be necessary in all cases.
Currently, the recommended treatment for tooth resorption involves extraction of any affected teeth. No successful tooth-sparing therapies have been identified. Your veterinarian can discuss the details of anesthesia and dental extractions on a case-by-case basis. This is typically an outpatient procedure, meaning your pet will mostly likely go home the same day as the procedure. Pain medications and potentially a short course of antibiotics are prescribed during the recovery period. Many cats appreciate a few days of softened or canned food following dental extractions, but the majority of patients resume a normal diet shortly thereafter.
Discuss a plan for regular dental care with your veterinarian. This should involve both at-home components (brushing, dental chews, or dental rinses) and routine professional dental cleaning. Cats with one lesion noted are at greater risk for the development of additional lesions in the future. As such, it is recommended that these cats should have dental examinations performed every 6 months.
Written by Kevin Roeser, DVM