What is Tooth Enamel Malformation?
Enamel that is malformed will expose the yellow-colored dentin beneath. Dentin protects the tooth’s nerve fibers; when exposed, your cat’s teeth will become sensitive to heat and cold, in addition to developing an increased risk of fracture, bacterial infection, and abscess. Cats that are diagnosed with enamel dysplasia may also have a lifetime risk of developing periodontal disease, particularly if left untreated.
Enamel dysplasia is a condition in which the tooth enamel does not form normally. This condition can sometimes be isolated to one tooth, but usually affects several teeth. While cats’ enamel is thin compared to humans’, enamel protects the teeth and prevents bacteria from infiltrating the dentin and pulp.
Symptoms of Tooth Enamel Malformation in Cats
While enamel dysplasia is not a serious condition on its own, it can cause serious dental problems if left untreated. Thorough daily oral care is imperative for early detection of the condition. Consult your vet if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Exposed yellow or yellow-brown dentin
- Tooth fracture
- Pain during eating due to tooth sensitivity
- Pain while drinking water
- Inflammation of the pulp (pulpitis) if left untreated
Causes of Tooth Enamel Malformation in Cats
Enamel dysplasia will usually become evident when your cat is a kitten, while the adult teeth are forming. If your cat has suffered from a serious illness during this time, including a high fever, the enamel will not form normally. This is known as enamel hypoplasia.
There are a few other causes of enamel dysplasia and hypoplasia:
- Genetic defect
- Exposure to certain drugs or toxins
- Nutritional deficiency
- Trauma to the mouth
Diagnosis of Tooth Enamel Malformation in Cats
Diagnosing enamel dysplasia or hypoplasia will require an X-ray and a thorough examination of the cat’s mouth. During this time, your cat will be anesthetized. However, this procedure can only go so far in aiding the diagnosis, as the vet will be unable to determine whether or not the tooth’s pulp is still alive until treatment begins.
The vet will ask about your cat’s dental and nutritional history, particularly during kittenhood, as well as their symptoms. Always try to be as informative as you can even if you didn’t own your cat when it was a kitten.
Treatment of Tooth Enamel Malformation in Cats
The course of treatment will depend on the severity of the enamel dysplasia and whether or not it has affected the pulp. In the event that the pulp is still alive, treatment will be less invasive.
This treatment option will require anesthesia, and will be performed if the pulp has remained unaffected. Much like a human crown restoration, a feline crown restoration will involve two appointments. During the first, your vet will make an impression of the tooth, which will then be sent to a laboratory in order to make a crown to cover the tooth. This crown may be metal or ceramic, but will usually be metal as ceramic crowns have a higher chance of breaking.
During the following appointment, which will take place around two weeks following the first, your vet will anesthetize your cat again and fit the crown onto the tooth, making adjustments as needed.
In the event that your cat cannot undergo three rounds of anesthesia, a composite restoration may be the recommended course of treatment. This simply involves applying composite resin to the tooth in order to seal the dentin. This will restore a natural look to the tooth. However, if there is a bacterial infection present, composite restoration will not cure the underlying problem. Composite restoration also carries the risk of breaking off or wearing down, particularly if your cat likes to chew on hard objects.
Root Canal Treatment or Extraction
One of these procedures will be performed if the pulp has died or if the tooth is susceptible to fracture or disease. Root canals or extractions can often be painful for cats, and will require anesthesia followed by a more lengthy recovery.
Recovery of Tooth Enamel Malformation in Cats
Crown or composite restoration is generally curative as long as there are no signs of bacterial disease present. Following the procedure, you should ensure that your cat does not chew on hard objects for at least a few days. Your vet will recommend that your cat undergo frequent dental cleanings and checkups. Follow-up X-rays will also be performed to ensure that the restoration has endured.
If the tooth pulp has died and the tooth was extracted as a result, your vet may prescribe pain management medication following surgery. They may also suggest that you feed your cat soft or wet food during the recovery period to minimize pain.
Your vet will also recommend a daily dental care regimen tailored to your cat’s needs.