If you’ve ever had a bad cavity then you know that dental pain can be one of the worst kinds of pain.  You can’t drink, eat, or chew without sharp pains in your teeth.  Cat cavities are often even more severe and more painful than human cavities.  Being the brave souls they are (and not wanting to look weak to predators), cats often hide their pain until it is excruciating.  Often cat owners will not notice any signs of pain, even though the teeth hurt quite a bit.

If a cats mouth is very painful, then you may see chattering of the upper or lower jaw when your cat is eating or drinking.  This looks trembling of the jaw and is a clear sign of severe oral pain.  If the pain is bad enough you may notice your cat will stop eating kibble in preference of softer wet food or they may stop eating all together.

How common are cat cavities?

Studies report that nearly 4 in 10 cats have at least one cat cavity.  We can start seeing these cavities at a very young age but they increase in frequency as cats age.  Veterinarians’ often report seeing cat cavities in more than half of their feline patients.

What are cat cavities?

The term cat cavity is a slight misnomer because cats rarely have cavities in the same way that people do.  Instead of affecting the top of the crown, feline cavities typically start eating away at the tooth around the gum line.  Cat cavities are not technically called cavities but instead are termed odontoclastic resorptive lesions.  This is doctor jargon that means tooth dissolving spots.  Cat cavities can be called several other things like simply resorptive lesions, tooth resorption, and neck lesions.

These cat cavities usually start as a small hole, at the level of the gum line, on the cheek side of the tooth.  Pre molars are the most commonly affected, with molars and canines being the next most common areas for resorptive lesions.  Cavities can be associated with inflammation but can occur without inflammation, though this is less common.

Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesion Diagram - FORL

Diagram illustrating the different stages of feline resorptive lesions.

Tooth resorption begins as a tiny, difficult to detect, hole but will eventually progress to dissolving most of the tooth.  Any resorptive lesion is at least a little painful but these become even worse once the nerves start to get exposed as the enamel of the tooth is dissolved away.  In the end stages the crowns of the teeth can break off, obviously not a comfortable process.  With advanced cat cavities we can also see the gum overgrow around the tooth and sometimes cover the tooth entirely.

What do cat cavities look like?

Often you will see red angry gums around, or covering up, the resorptive lesion.  You can also sometimes visualize the divots, or reabsorbed areas on the tooth.  If you touch these teeth often they will cause the cat to chatter due to pain.

FORL resorptive lesion

feline dental neck lesions

The gums often grow over and hide the cat cavities.

radiograph of forl

Arrows point to areas to tooth resorption.

What causes cat cavities?

The short answer is, no one knows.  There are studies that show a link between excessive Vitamin D and resorptive lesions.  However, there’s still more work to be done to figure out the details of this link.  Inflammation can contribute to resorptive lesions so having a healthier, cleaner mouth can help to prevent cat cavities but this is not fool proof in any way.

How do you fix resorptive lesions?

Resorptive lesions cannot be fixed.  Some veterinarians will fill in the defect but this does not prevent it from becoming worse.  There are no medications or secret remedies that prevent or fix cat cavities.  The only way to ensure the tooth will not cause your kitty anymore pain, is to have it removed.  Often when one resorptive lesion is noticed, there will be others that are discovered under anesthetic, when a more thorough dental examination can be performed.

Can I prevent cat cavities from occurring?

Since inflammation and gum disease contribute to resorptive lesions, the best preventative plan is to keep your cats mouth as clean as possible.  Brushing every day or two is a good starting place.  Other ways to improve oral health include special dental diets, dental treats, water additives, and oral sprays.  All these oral care preventatives will go a long way to giving your cat a happier, healthier mouth that is less likely to develop cat cavities.

Removing these painful teeth is the only way to make your cat have a pain-free mouth.  Once the cat cavities are fixed, we often hear stories about cats being more active and friendlier than ever before.  I hope that I have been able to shed some light on this far too common plight of cats.  Let’s help all our cats chew and eat comfortably.


Dr. Tim Julian