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North County Cat Hospital

Finding Dental Disease

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The Four Steps to Finding Dental Disease in Cats.
This page describes what we do to find dental disease in cats. It talks about various diseases. For more details on these diseases, please see our page on dental disease.

Step One Can be Performed in Most Awake Cats.

Step One: Look


A lot of times we find dental disease in an awake cat just by lifting their lips, opening their mouth, and looking.


By lifting this cat's lip and looking, one can easily identify the buildup of tartar and the development of periodontitis.


This tooth is broken. The brown spot indicates infection, which can be very painful even though the cat may not show any sign of pain.

Tooth Resorption

As soon as we lifted this cat's lip, we saw that this tooth is undergoing resorption.

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A cat with stomatitis (to be honest, this mouth was so painful that we didn't take this photograph until the cat was heavily sedated).


By just looking in this cat's mouth, we found expansion of the bone surrounding the upper left canine tooth

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This is an example of tooth resorption on a cat's canine tooth.

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This cat had severe periodontal disease with severe infection.

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Severe Dental Disease in a Cat

When we opened this cats mouth and looked at the gums and teeth, we were able to see a number of different disease processes.

Yellow Arrow: Tartar

Green Arrow: Gingivitis

White Arrows: Tooth Resorption

Blue Arrow: Missing Tooth (area of previous tooth resorption)

Red Arrow: Broken Tooth

Orange Arrow: Alveolar Bone Expansion

Black Arrow: Gum Recession

This is a video we made explaining what we see when we see tooth resorption in cats.

Steps Two, Three, and Four Should Only be Performed in Cats Who Are Under Anesthesia.

Step Two: Clean the Teeth and Examine Them More Closely.


Even a little bit of tartar can hide significant and painful dental disease in a cat's tooth.

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Cleaning this tooth revealed obvious tooth resorption.

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The resorption in this tooth also became apparent after removing its tartar.

Step Three: Probe the Teeth.


While a dental probe can be helpful in identifying dental disease above the gum-line in an awake cat, a true "dental probing" can only be done safely once a cat is under anesthesia.

Probing Tooth.jpg

Here, we are checking the pocket depth of the upper right canine tooth.

Step Four: Radiograph (x-ray) the Teeth.

Radiographs can reveal a lot about the health of a cat's teeth. Obviously taking these radiographs can't be done in a cat who isn't under anesthesia.

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Placing the sensor before taking the radiograph.

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Taking a radiograph of a cat's canine tooth.

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These are fairly normal appearing teeth radiographically. The red line outlines the dark periodontal ligament surrounding the teeth. If there was resorption, that dark line would start to disappear.

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This radiograph shows significant disease.

Bone loss: The yellow line represents the approximate location of where the bone would end in a healthy mouth. The blue line outlines the location of the bone in this mouth.

Tooth Resorption: The red line outlines tooth roots that are undergoing resorption.

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Looking at and probing this tooth, it appeared to have only gingivitis.

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This is a radiograph of that same tooth. It is undergoing significant resorption.

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This radiograph shows lower canine teeth (the large teeth) that are fairly normal. (The small incisors are not healthy.)

Lower Canine Teeth Bad.jpg

This radiograph shows advanced resorption of a cat's large lower canine teeth.

This is a video we made explaining the radiographic appearance of tooth resorption in cats.

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