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C2004-02

Dear Christopher Cat

My cat was diagnosed with a dental problem called neck lesions, for which my veterinarian has recommended extraction of the affected teeth. Can you tell me more about neck lesions?

Christopher Responds

The timing of your letter is excellent, because February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and neck lesions are the most common oral problem diagnosed in us cats.

Twenty to 67 percent of adult cats have one or more neck lesions, also called feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions.
The term neck describes the location of the lesion: the neck is the junction between the crown, the visible part of the tooth, and the root.

Neck lesions look like small cavities at the gum line, although sometimes they are not visible because the gum covers them. Therefore, it’s often necessary to anesthetize the cat and fully examine the mouth to make the diagnosis.
Dental x-rays show that the lesions occur on the roots of the teeth as well.

Neck lesions are often painful. We cats exhibit mouth pain by rubbing our faces, chattering our teeth and losing interest in dry food.

The problem occurs when cells called odontoclasts (odonto = tooth; clast = break) destroy the tooth’s enamel – and then the sensitive dentin and pulp layers.

Odontoclasts’ usual function is to absorb the roots of deciduous (baby) teeth as the permanent teeth erupt. Once the roots are gone, the deciduous teeth fall out.
In cats with neck lesions, the odontoclasts become reactivated by some as yet unknown mechanism.

Because the disease progresses, simply filling the neck lesion cavity is not very effective over the long run. Therefore, most veterinarians extract teeth with neck lesions.

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