Is there any pain more excruciating than a toothache? We don’t think so, which is why we are such strong advocates for twice-yearly thorough oral exams and dental cleanings for your furry pal. Although your pet is likely reluctant to let you know she’s suffering from oral pain, scheduling a visit twice per year will allow us to diagnose and treat periodontal problems before they become a source of pain and infection. Read Felicia’s story, a feline patient* whom we treated for feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions that went unnoticed until they caused severe pain, because she did not receive regular dental care.

Felicia’s story

A gorgeous long-haired calico, Felicia was rather fussy about her grooming. Heaven forbid she appear with an unkempt, matted coat in front of her adoring fans—er, family. Felicia’s daily schedule consisted of leaping on her mom, yowling for her breakfast, devouring a few handfuls of tasty kitty kibble, and then settling in for a long bath to keep her flowing coat in good condition. 

As Felicia neared middle age, she began turning up her nose at her crunchy food, voicing her disgust about her diet options. She also let her fastidious grooming fall to the wayside, and her once luxurious fur grew dull and clumped. Worried about the changes they were seeing in their beloved cat, Felicia’s owners scheduled an appointment with their family veterinarian. 

During Felicia’s examination, her veterinarian noticed painful, inflamed gums and a broken tooth, but his clinic did not have dental X-ray capabilities to check for tooth-root issues below the gumline. So, we welcomed Felicia to Animal Dental Clinic as a referred patient.

Felicia’s family veterinarian warned Dr. Weldon that he suspected she was suffering from feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs), based on her age of 7 and her history of gingivitis, a broken tooth, and difficulty eating and grooming. Without taking dental X-rays, however, he was unable to accurately diagnose her problem.

Once we met Felicia and evaluated her dental issues, we knew we needed more information than only a thorough oral exam and dental X-rays under anesthesia could provide. After performing her pre-anesthetic exam and blood work, we prepped Felicia for her comprehensive dental procedure to get to the root of her problem. 

With the aid of additional diagnostics, we discovered that the root of our feline patient’s problem was exactly that—roots. Felicia had several “missing” or fractured teeth, with tooth-root fragments lurking below the gumline that created the gingivitis and pain that her regular veterinarian had noticed. As he suspected, Felicia was suffering from FORLs, a relatively common periodontal condition in cats. The lesions eat away at the tooth’s enamel, leading to a gum-tissue overgrowth that fills in the holes in the teeth. While the exact cause is unknown, some theories suggest that periodontal disease and inflammation break down the tooth enamel, which can be prevented with proper home care and routine dental cleanings.

To help Felicia become comfortable again while eating and grooming, we removed the hidden tooth-root fragments and extracted the diseased teeth. Unlike cavities in people, FORLs are not caused by decay, so restorative treatments are ineffective, and will not halt the pain or progressive destruction of the tooth structure. In addition to removing the problematic fragments and teeth, we scaled and polished Felicia’s remaining teeth to remove plaque and tartar, which are also thought to contribute to FORL development. We also applied a fluoride treatment to help strengthen the enamel. 

During Felicia’s discharge appointment, we discussed the importance of an at-home dental care regimen, combined with periodic professional oral evaluations and cleanings. Cats who have had FORLs often develop more, which makes anesthetized oral exams, dental X-rays, and regular cleanings to remove plaque and tartar crucial to prevent pain and disease progression. We recommend oral exams, full-mouth dental X-rays, and cleanings every six months for cats affected by FORLs. 

At Felicia’s appointment six months later, she was already beginning to show early gingivitis and inflammation signs, despite a rigorous home-care regimen. We repeated the previous procedure, and discovered one tooth with a lesion below the gumline that needed extraction. We eventually removed all Felicia’s teeth, because they developed lesions, but she never again experienced the pain that caused her to ignore her daily grooming session and her tasty kitty kibble. 

How to prevent periodontal disease in your pet

Felicia did not receive regular dental care until she developed a painful problem, but don’t let that be the case with your furry pal. Preventing disease is much simpler, less costly, and considerably less painful for your pet than treating diseased teeth, whether through extraction or restorative treatment. Since most pets have some form of dental disease by age 3, we strongly recommend implementing an oral health regimen the first day you welcome a new pet into your home. While a Labrador puppy may not need a dental cleaning at 6 months of age, a tiny Chihuahua of the same age will likely need professional help to remove her retained baby teeth, and to scale away tartar that has already accumulated. For more information, check out our past blog posts for in-depth guides on caring for your pet’s teeth at home, and the importance of regular dental cleanings.

Help ensure your furry pal does not suffer like Felicia, and say goodbye to any oral pain by scheduling regular dental cleanings for your pet. Contact us to set up your pet’s next appointment to battle plaque and bacteria.

*While Felicia was not our real patient, we regularly encounter felines with FORLs, and other patients, who benefit from twice-yearly oral exams, dental X-rays, and cleanings.