Bruxism, or the grinding and gnashing of teeth, is often thought of as a human ailment. However, tooth grinding is fairly common in cats too. The condition is most often related to dental problems but can also be a symptom of more serious health issues.
If your cat is grinding her teeth and seems to be drooling or salivating excessively, she is probably suffering from a dental problem, such as a lesion, an abscess or stomatitis, a painful inflammatory condition. Her bruxism may also be caused by jaw pain stemming from a fracture or temporomandibular joint problems (TMJ). An oral burn, a fractured tooth or a foreign body in her mouth could also be the problem. Pain could even be caused by something she has ingested, such as a houseplant or acidic chemical.
Your cat's tooth grinding could be related to gastrointestinal conditions such as gastritis, inflammatory bowel disease or pancreatitis. Cholangiohepatitis, a fancy name for low potassium levels, might also be causing bruxism. Neuropathy, rabies and even brain tumors are other possibilities, but these illnesses are rare in cats, and other, more serious symptoms, like seizures, are usually noticed first. Additionally, a grinding sound in the jaw is one of the numerous symptoms of chronic renal failure, a serious condition in which the kidneys no longer process electrolytes and waste properly. But again, the condition is relatively rare, and symptoms such as vomiting, constipation and weight loss are likely to pop up first.
Diagnosis and Treatment Options
Consult your veterinarian if your cat grinds or gnashes her teeth. The veterinarian most likely will take dental X-rays to locate the source of your cat's oral pain or eliminate it as a cause. Tests such as MRIs, CT scans or endoscopy, a procedure in which the veterinarian uses a camera to look inside your cat's body, may be necessary to get to the root of the issue. Treatment depends on the results of these procedures and could encompass medicines or surgery, such as to extract a fractured tooth.
You can take several preventive steps to avoid the most common causes of bruxism. Doing home checkups is a good way to head off dental problems before they begin. One quick way to check your cat's dental health is to sniff her breath. Strongly offensive breath could be an indication of gum disease. Healthy gums should be pink, with no swelling or ulcers visible, and teeth should be tartar-free. Ask your vet to recommend a food that helps reduce plaque. Providing chew toys and brushing your cat's teeth regularly with a vet-approved toothpaste can also keep tartar and gum disease at bay and help maintain healthy teeth and gums.
Based outside Pittsburgh, Jamie Rankin began her career as a professional writer as a news and sports journalist with the "Daily Courier," a subsidiary of the "Pittsburgh Tribune-Review." Her work has appeared in both publications. Rankin, who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and communications from Point Park University, has been writing sports and pet-related articles online since 2004.