The abbreviation “tartar” stands for “Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions”. It is a painful dental disease that is common in cats. The colloquial name “cat caries” is misleading, because the disease has nothing in common with caries bacteria. The name “resorptive lesions” (resorptive means “absorb”, lesions mean damage to the tooth) is more precise, although more complicated. The term “neck lesions” for “tooth neck caries” is considered obsolete.
FORL in cats is common but not contagious: it is estimated that almost every third cat, and in older ones every second cat, is affected. To this day it is cause unclear. It is suspected that a disturbance of the calcium balance is the underlying cause or a viral disease, a mechanism similar to that of a virus also appears to be likely autoimmune disease. Because if a cat has FORL, the odontoclasts in its jaw are wrongly active, i.e. the cells that ensure the loosening and falling out of the milk teeth. They decompose the tooth substance of the permanent teeth on the tooth necks and roots below the gum line and thus dissolve them from below. The disease then gradually progresses to the crown of the tooth. Veterinarians distinguish two to three types of FORL:
- type 1: The disease is associated with gingivitis, plaque and tartar.
- type 2: The lesions (damage to the tooth) progress almost unnoticed as they are not associated with inflammation of the gums.
- type 3: Type 1 and 2 lesions occur simultaneously.
Whatever the type, FORL sometimes progresses quickly and is always with you great pain connected for the cat because sooner or later the lesions reach the nerve. A cat should therefore be examined by a veterinarian if the above signs are present.
tartar in cats: the symptoms
Recognizing FORL in a cat is not that easy. Because although affected animals are in great pain, they often do not show it or only show it late. In addition, the symptoms are unclear and can also have other causes. These are the most common signs of FORL:
Reluctance to eat, especially with cold food
Sneaking around the bowl, then hastily gulping down the food
Dropping chunks of food
Signs of pain when eating (startle, hissing, running away, scratching the mouth)
severe munching or other unusual noises when eating
very heavy salivation
subtle chattering of teeth, often when yawning
frequent lip licking
frequent shaking of the head
Hissing when yawning
tilting of the head
When should you go to the vet if a cat is showing these symptoms and appears to be having a problem with its teeth? The answer is: As soon as possible, because the cat affected by FORL has severe toothache. Although FORL is not an emergency, it is sufficient to show up at the practice during normal office hours instead of calling the vet at the weekend or at night.
tartar in cats: the diagnosis
The vet lets the cat owner describe the symptoms, asks about other abnormalities and examines the cat’s teeth. A clear diagnosis can only be made with the help of an X-ray, which shows whether and which teeth are already affected by FORL. For X-rays, the cat usually needs to be sedated to keep it still. Only when FORL is already well advanced can the dental disease be recognized by a specialist without an X-ray by looking into the mouth. Nevertheless, the cat should be x-rayed to make the full extent of the disease visible.
tartar in cats: treatment
Because the cause is unclear, FORL cannot be cured to this day. To prevent the cat from further pain, it is common to give her painkillers and have the affected teeth pulled. The operation takes place under anesthesia.
Since the disease cannot be stopped and more and more teeth will be affected over time, cats with FORL often need to have their teeth pulled every year or so until the cat is completely edentulous. Some veterinarians also advise pulling all teeth at once during the first procedure, since FORL will affect the entire dentition over time anyway.
Toothlessness is usually no reason to put the cat to sleep, as many owners fear: a house cat can live well without teeth if it is otherwise healthy and not suffering. The veterinarian knows which food they can eat without fangs. In most cases, however, no change is necessary at all, since cats, as predators, do not chew their food as thoroughly as herbivores with their molars anyway.
tartar in cats: The cost
Because of the x-rays and dental surgery required under anesthesia alone, treating FORL in cats is associated with rather high costs for their owners. However, it is not possible to say in general terms how expensive it will actually be in the end. The total cost depends on how many teeth are affected, the frequency of x-rays and extractions under anesthesia, and how complicated the procedures are for the veterinarian depending on the type of FORL. The prices for the individual measures are set out in the Fee Schedule for Veterinarians (GOT). It makes sense to ask the veterinarian about the forthcoming costs on the day of the diagnosis.