Feline Dental Emergencies

A Quick Response Offers the Best Prognosis

Cats often fly through the air, but not always with the greatest of ease, as they brave new heights exploring bookshelves or refrigerator peaks. Such spectacular feats can lead to dental emergencies similar to those found in what Eric Davis, DVM, calls high rise syndrome accidents. These include such problems as fractured teeth, lost teeth, and even fractured jaws.

Fractured teeth
Fractured teeth are probably the most common dental emergency, says Davis, of the dental referral service at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals. Just as with people, the affected tooth throbs, and immediate attention is needed.

Unfortunately for the feline, owners do not always recognize such problems, as a cat will continue to purr and eat, though chewing less effectively with just one side. The pain of a fractured tooth is most severe when the injury first occurs … then it aches, explains Davis. The sensitive pulp tissue, exposed within the fractured tooth, quickly becomes infected, often leading to a smoldering infection within the bone around the root.

Treatment depends upon the cat’s age and how soon a veterinarian sees it after injury. If a young cat injures a tooth before the tooth root is mature, it can be treated to allow the tooth to stay alive as it heals and matures.

Once a mature tooth is damaged, there is no benefit in preserving the sensitive tissue found in the cavity of the tooth which carries nerve and blood supplies. In such cases a root canal would be recommended.

There is also the option of tooth extraction. When presented with the option of repair of the tooth or extraction of the tooth, many owners prefer that the tooth be repaired, says Davis, who is a Fellow of the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry. The decision may also depend upon which tooth is damaged because some teeth are considered to be more important than others.

Lost and found
Some cat caregivers are fortunate enough to find a full tooth soon after injury. In such cases the tooth can often be set back in place or reimplanted.

Reimplantation of avulsed teeth can be performed, but the time between injury and implantation is critical, says Davis. The sooner the tooth is replaced, the better the prognosis.

The tooth should be preserved in a container of milk until both cat and tooth arrive at a veterinarian. Once set in place, the tooth should be splinted to maintain position as it heals. Two to three weeks afterwards the splint is removed and a root canal procedure performed. Root canal treatment is necessary, says Davis, because the tooth loses its blood supply once detached from the mouth.

Fractured jaws
A fractured jaw is almost always apparent, says Davis, who explains that the cat may not be able to open and close its mouth, the jaw may be crooked, and other signs of facial trauma may be apparent.

If the injuries were severe enough to cause jaw fractures, other life-threatening damage may have occurred. Prompt veterinary attention should be sought, warns Davis. Other injuries must be dealt with before the patient is anesthetized for fracture repair.

Fractures can occur at various sites of the jaw, and x-rays are helpful to identify what needs stabilization. The most common site of fracture is the midline of the lower jaw where the two halves join. There are various methods for wiring the jaw into position for healing, depending on the location of the fracture. The veterinarian will also look for other associated injuries such as fractures of the teeth or facial bones.

According to Davis, a midline fracture usually will heal in 4 to 6 weeks. Feeding and after care also depend upon the injury and treatment procedure. Some cats with severe injuries require placement of a feeding tube, while others may be able to lap at softened, gruel-like cat food through a space left between the upper and lower jaw. If necessary, pain medication may be administered through a transdermal skin patch rather than orally with pills or liquids.

Prognosis depends on the severity of the injury, though it is usually favorable. Before long the fearless feline will be leaping to great heights again.