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Vail Pets: Cats face two major dental problems

Stephen Sheldon
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – To end our series of articles celebrating National Pet Dental Health Month in the Vail Valley, let’s talk about some problems our feline friends face. Before we start we need to make one thing clear: cats are not small dogs.

Besides plaque, tartar and bad breath, our kitties face two major dental problems: chronic gingivostomatitis (GSV) and odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORL). A free cat toothbrush awaits the first person who calls me and pronounces those names correctly.

Shadow, a cute friendly black cat, has GSV. Basically, his gums are overreacting to bacteria and plaque on his teeth and they are very inflamed and raw.



We think there are three different types of GSV and they can overlap. In one type there is an underlying cause like retained root tips from a prior extraction or gum disease. The second type is caused by an underlying disease like kidney disease, diabetes or feline leukemia or feline AIDS. The third type, my favorite, is called idiopathic. We just don’t know. I think we should call it idiot-pathic.

If your cat has GSV it is important to try to find a reason or a cause; that allows us to treat it much easier. Otherwise we could be barking up the wrong tree. Sorry about that one.

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If no underlying disease is causing GSV, the aim of therapy is to keep tartar and plaque to a minimum. This means extensive home care, which is not easy with cats. Unfortunately, most cats with this disease end up getting most or all of their molars and pre-molars extracted. It sounds radical and it is, but it is very effective and will cure the problem.

FORLs, or resorptive lesions, are what Idgie has and she had a tooth pulled today. They are the closest thing we have to cavities in pets but they really are not cavities. Again, we have no idea what causes them; they are idiopathic. They actually start in the roots and work their way up into the crown. By the time we are seeing them as ‘cavities’ we are really seeing the end of the disease process.

FORL-affected teeth need to be extracted. We tried to use a filling type glass ionomer years ago but have stopped. It flat out didn’t work. If your cat has an FORL there is an 80 percent chance it will get another one. Therefore, full mouth x-rays should be taken to see which roots are affected. Any teeth with affected roots should also be extracted.



There is some controversy in the academic world about whether to just remove the crown, or visible part of the tooth, or take out the whole tooth and root. I cannot imagine leaving tooth roots in; it must be very painful. However, these roots are rotten and often have fused with the bone so getting them out can be some work.

Cats should have an oral examination every year. Heading these problems off before they become a problem is important. Cats are even more stoic than dogs and can hide their problems. I cannot tell you how many cats have become much happier, interactive pets after having their dental issues taken care of.

Veterinarian Stephen Sheldon practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital. He can be reached at http://www.gypsumah.com or drsteve@gypsum.com. Images of FORLs can be seen on the Web site.


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