Resorptive lesions, which until recently have been known as a common feline dental condition, are now appearing more frequently in dogs. This uptick in canine resorptive lesions could be due to veterinarians completing more thorough periodontal exams and taking regular dental X-rays. Although they most commonly affect the teeth of the upper jaw, these painful, sensitive lesions can erode any tooth.

Signs of resorptive lesions

Similar to cats, dogs suffering from resorptive disease will often exhibit a pink spot of tissue on an affected tooth. They will also typically experience significant pain during the oral exam. These dogs must be sedated so every tooth can be examined for lesions, and dental X-rays should be performed to check below the gum line or within the tooth for other signs of resorption.

In addition, your dog may exhibit these signs if she has resorptive disease:

  • Jaw spasms or “chattering” when painful lesions are touched
  • Increased salivation
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Difficulty eating
  • Decreased appetite
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Halitosis
  • Depression

Stages of resorptive disease

Tooth resorption in pets can be classified using several different scales. Used most commonly, the American Veterinary Dental College scale is based on the extent of the resorptive lesion and the X-ray images.

  • Stage 1 — Mild dental hard-tissue loss
  • Stage 2 — Moderate dental hard-tissue loss that does not extend to the pulp cavity
  • Stage 3 — Deep dental hard-tissue loss that extends to the pulp cavity, with most of the tooth retained
  • Stage 4 — Extensive dental hard-tissue loss that extends to the pulp cavity, with most of the tooth damaged
  • Stage 5 — Dental hard-tissue remnants and complete gingival coverage visible only on X-rays

The types of resorption include:

  • Type 1 — The periodontal ligament space looks normal, and X-rays show the roots look similar to those of the adjacent teeth; extraction is required
  • Type 2 — Much of the root has been replaced by alveolar bone, and X-rays show the roots look faded compared with the adjacent teeth; treatment is a crown amputation with the roots left behind
  • Type 3 — Types 1 and 2 are both present on the same tooth

Causes of resorptive lesions

Although many studies have been conducted, tooth resorption has no known cause. No correlation with diet, vaccination status, breed, or concurrent disease processes has been shown. One dental specialty clinic study found that 53.6 percent of dogs showed resorption on X-rays. Neutered males were more likely to present with this condition than females or intact males, and prevalence increased with age and weight.

Treatment of resorptive lesions

Resorptive disease commonly spreads to other teeth, causing the dog severe pain. If the sensitive dentin is exposed or significant root resorption is present, extraction or crown amputation of the diseased tooth or teeth is the best treatment.

Sedation is required because tartar must often be removed to allow us to fully examine the teeth for lesions, and this dental scaling can only be performed safely while the dog is anesthetized.

Prevention of resorptive lesions

While resorptive disease in cats has been studied often, there are fewer studies on resorptive disease in dogs. We have learned from the feline studies that fluoride does not help prevent resorptive lesions but may improve resistance to caries. Restoring teeth with glass ionomer also is not beneficial, because the resorptive disease process eventually affects most teeth. Ensuring your pet has routine oral examinations, dental X-rays, and professional dental cleanings will prevent her from suffering the pain caused by tooth resorption.

Is your canine companion suffering from oral pain? Schedule an appointment so we can determine the cause of the pain and get her to feeling happy and healthy once more.