Below is information about the structure and function of the feline mouth, teeth, and tongue. We will tell you about the general structure of how the mouth, teeth, and tongue work in cats, common diseases that affect the mouth, tongue, and teeth, and common diagnostic tests performed in cats to evaluate the mouth, teeth, and tongue.
What Are the Tongue, Teeth, and Mouth?
The cat's tongue is an elongated, mobile, muscular organ. It is the chief organ responsible for taste and obtaining food. It also aids in the chewing and swallowing of food. The teeth are highly specialized structures that tear, cut and grind food into pieces small enough to swallow. Teeth also serve as weapons of offense and defense. The mouth is the entrance to the gastrointestinal tract. The mouth, teeth and tongue are collectively termed the oral cavity.
Where Are the Tongue, Teeth, and Mouth Located?
What Is the General Structure of the Feline Tongue, Teeth, and Mouth?
Pulp is the innermost tissue of the tooth. It is the only soft tissue of the tooth and resides in the center of tooth, especially towards the root end. It consists of connective tissue, blood vessels and nerves. The blood vessels nourish the tooth, and the nerves transmit sensations of pain, coldness, or heat to the brain.
Dentin is a hard, yellow substance that surrounds the pulp. It makes up most of a tooth and gives the tooth an inner ivory or creamy color. Dentin is harder than bone and consists mainly of mineral salts and water. It is formed by cells called odontoblasts.
Enamel overlies the dentin on the crown of the tooth. It forms the outermost covering of the crown. It is the hardest tissue in the body. It enables a tooth to withstand the pressure placed on it during chewing. Enamel consists of mineral salts and a small amount of water. It is usually a pearly-white color.
Cementum covers the dentin along the root of the tooth. In most cases, the cementum and enamel meet where the root ends and the crown begins. Cementum is as hard as bone, and it consists mainly of mineral salts and water.
The root is the portion of the tooth that lies below the gum and is embedded in the alveolus or socket. Some premolar and molar teeth have more than one root. Once teeth are fully erupted in the animal, they cease growing.
What Are the General Functions of the Tongue, Teeth, and Mouth?
What Are Some Diseases of a Cat's Tongue, Teeth, and Mouth?
Glossitis is inflammation of the tongue. It may occur alone, or be associated with a generalized inflammation of the soft tissues of the mouth (stomatitis), inflammation of the gums (gingivitis), or of the lips (cheilitis). Causes of glossitis and stomatitis in the cat include the ingestion of foreign bodies (e.g. sewing needles, string, rubber bands), exposure to chemicals and caustic agents, and irritating plants. Infectious diseases, particularly the viruses that cause upper respiratory infections, can cause inflammation and ulceration of the tongue. These viruses include feline herpesvirus-1 and feline calicivirus.
Ulcerations can develop on the tongue in association with systemic diseases such as kidney failure and certain cancers of the body. Ulcerations can also occur with a peculiar disease of cats called eosinophilic granuloma or rodent ulcers. Collagen degeneration and the infiltration of white blood cells called eosinophils lead to ulceration of the tongue, lips and gums. The cause of this disease is not entirely understood.
Tumors or neoplasia may also occur on the tongue. The most common tumor of the tongue in cats is a malignant cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Other types of tumors are rare, but include lymphosarcoma, and mast cell tumor.
Trauma may also occur to the tongue. Injuries may include burns, lacerations, puncture wounds, bite wounds, etc.
Abnormal numbers of teeth and retained deciduous may occur. Brachycephalic cats with very short, blunt faces may have fewer teeth and shorter jaws that other cats. Retained deciduous teeth are baby teeth that fail to fall out on their own. Any baby tooth that persists beyond six months of age is considered abnormal.
Periodontal disease is the development of plaque or tartar on the teeth, with secondary inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and other supporting structures (periodontitis). Dental plaque is a yellow/gray/green substance that coats the surface of the tooth. It is composed of bacteria, proteins from saliva, and various other substances. Plaque is a major problem for animals because they do not routinely brush their teeth. Untreated plaque leads to infections around the teeth and potentially the loss of affected teeth.
Resorptive lesions are small holes that develop in the crowns of the teeth of cats. The hole usually starts where enamel meets cementum, right at the gum line. The hole may enlarge until enamel and dentin are lost, and pulp is eventually exposed. These small holes or resorptive lesions may result in loss of the tooth, gingival infections and pain. They occur most often in older cats, and some affected cats are positive for the feline leukemia virus.
Tooth root abscesses can occur in any tooth, but are usually associated with the premolar or molar teeth. They occur more often in upper teeth, than in lower teeth. They are characterized by the accumulation of pus around the root of the tooth. When upper teeth are involved swelling may occur on the face, just beneath the eye. If the abscess ruptures to the outside, a small draining hole may be seen on the face.
Trauma to the teeth is common in some animals. Some teeth become broken or cracked. Other teeth wear down over years of continuous use. Abrasions may also occur from chewing sharp objects. Clinical signs associated with dental trauma vary, depending upon whether the pulp cavity is exposed. Exposure of the pulp cavity is often painful.
Stomatitis is an inflammation of the oral mucosa (lining of the mouth) and other soft tissues of the mouth. It has many potential causes, including all the causes of glossitis outlined above. Bacterial (e.g. spirochetes) and viral (e.g. feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus) infections may cause stomatitis. Some bacteria that are normal residents of the mouth may take advantage of inflammation in the mouth to create significant infections. In addition, cats may develop a peculiar disease called lymphoplasmacytic stomatitis that arises for unknown reasons. It produces a chronic inflammation in the mouth characterized by the infiltration of white blood cells (lymphocytes, plasma cells) into the soft tissues.
Tumors of the mouth are often malignant in cats and usually involve the soft tissues of the mouth. Tumors of the bones of the mouth are also possible, but occur less often.
A ranula is a swelling that develops under the tongue from the formation of a cyst of the sublingual salivary gland. The swelling may become large and inflamed, causing the tongue to be pushed upwards or to the side. The cat may have difficulty eating, may drool or exhibit excessive licking, and may act painful when the mouth is opened or manipulated.
What Types of Diagnostic Tests Are Used to Evaluate the Feline's Tongue, Teeth, and Mouth?
Veterinarians use a number of different tests to evaluate the tongue, teeth and mouth. A thorough oral examination using an external light source is the single most important test in evaluating structures in the oral cavity. Many times tranquilization or even anesthesia is necessary for a thorough evaluation of all of the oral structures. Oral examination is followed by a thorough physical examination in order to detect other signs of illness or organ involvement.
Depending upon the clinical signs, the age and overall health of the cat, and the findings on oral and physical examination, other specific tests may be recommended by your veterinarian. Tests designed to evaluate disorders of the tongue, teeth and mouth include the following: