How much does it cost to care for your cat’s teeth?


Dental disease is extremely common in cats, with over 50% of cats over 4 years old suffering from some form of dental issue. However, dental disease often goes unnoticed and untreated in cats as they are adept at hiding signs of oral pain and discomfort. Left unchecked, dental disease like gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth resorption can lead to tooth loss, infections, and serious systemic health problems. That’s why it’s so important for cat owners to be proactive about their cat’s dental health. Regular dental exams, cleanings, and treatment as needed can prevent minor issues from worsening and allow cats to keep their teeth healthy and pain-free for life.

Common Dental Issues in Cats

Cats can suffer from several common dental diseases that affect their oral health. Periodontal disease, tooth resorption, and gingivitis are among the most prevalent in felines.

Periodontal disease is a progressive infection of the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth, including the gums, periodontal ligament, and alveolar bone. It typically begins as gingivitis caused by plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth. As plaque and tartar accumulate, inflammation spreads deeper below the gumline, destroying supporting structures. Eventually, this can lead to tooth loss. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, periodontal disease affects over two-thirds of cats by the time they are 3 years old (source).

Tooth resorption involves the progressive destruction of the mineral and organic structure of the tooth from the surface inward. It appears as crater-like defects in the enamel. The cause is unknown but may be inflammatory in nature. Resorptive lesions are often painful and the tooth eventually requires extraction. Resorption is common in domestic cats, affecting up to 75% by age 6 (source).

Gingivitis refers to inflammation of the gums, an early stage of periodontal disease. It is caused by plaque accumulation along the gumline. Signs include red, swollen gums that bleed easily. Mild gingivitis may resolve with a professional dental cleaning, while severe cases indicate advanced periodontal disease below the gumline.

Symptoms of Dental Disease

Cats with dental disease may exhibit several symptoms that indicate they are experiencing mouth pain or infection. Some of the most common symptoms include:

Bad Breath: One of the first signs of dental disease is a foul, rotten smell coming from the mouth. This is caused by bacteria accumulating on the teeth and gums.[1]

Difficulty Eating: Dental pain can make it uncomfortable for cats to chew their food properly. You may notice your cat drooling, dropping food from their mouth, or being uninterested in eating.[2]

Weight Loss: The inability to chew and eat normally because of dental pain can lead to weight loss in cats. Be alert for sudden decreases in your cat’s body weight.[3]

Drooling: Excessive drooling or dribbling is a sign of oral discomfort in cats. You may notice increased wetness around your cat’s mouth.[2]

Diagnosing Dental Issues

Diagnosing dental disease in cats begins with a thorough oral examination by a veterinarian. This involves visual inspection of the teeth, gums, and oral cavity as well as palpation to check for loose teeth, swelling, and pain. Vets will also evaluate if there is tartar and plaque buildup and assess the health of the gums.

In many cases, a more detailed dental examination is needed to fully assess the health of a cat’s mouth. This will require the cat to be under general anesthesia. The vet will probe under the gumline and evaluate each tooth individually to check for pockets of infection. Dental x-rays are often recommended to evaluate the tooth roots and look for signs of infection below the gumline.

Intraoral dental radiographs allow vets to diagnose issues not visible during a visual exam such as tooth resorption, fractures, and bone loss. They are considered the gold standard for assessing periodontal disease. Without x-rays, serious dental disease affecting the roots and bone may go undetected.

Non-Surgical Treatments

Non-surgical treatments can be effective for managing dental disease in cats, especially in the early stages. These treatments aim to clean the teeth and reduce infection and inflammation.

Teeth cleaning, also known as scaling, is commonly done to remove tartar above and below the gum line. This helps reduce bacteria and improve dental health. Cleanings are performed under general anesthesia and typically cost $300-500 depending on the extent of tartar buildup (Source).

Fluoride treatments may be applied after scaling to help strengthen enamel and prevent future tartar formation. Fluoride helps remineralize tooth surfaces and costs around $25-50 per treatment.

Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat bacterial infections affecting the gums and tooth roots. Common antibiotics used include clindamycin and amoxicillin, given orally for 7-10 days. Antibiotics help resolve inflamed gums and infection progress (Source).

Surgical Treatments

Many cats with severe dental disease or broken/damaged teeth require surgery. Common surgical procedures for cats include:

Tooth extraction: This is one of the most common dental surgeries for cats. If the tooth is severely damaged, decayed, or infected, the veterinarian may recommend full extraction to remove the tooth and roots. According to VCA Hospitals, extraction can relieve pain and prevent the spread of infection. General anesthesia is required for safe and effective extraction (1).

Root canal: For less severe cases, a root canal may be performed to save the tooth rather than extracting it. During this procedure, the pulp and nerves are removed from the tooth canal and replaced with a filling material. Root canals in cats have a high success rate (2).

Crowns/caps: These can be placed on teeth after major damage or surgery to protect the tooth. The crown restores structure and function. While more common in dogs, crowns can sometimes be a treatment option for cats’ canine teeth.

These surgical procedures require general anesthesia, specialized equipment, and expertise. Costs vary significantly based on the specific procedure(s), number of teeth involved, location, and veterinary fees. Expect surgery under anesthesia to range from $300-1200 depending on the complexity and extent of treatment needed (3).

Cost of Cleaning

The cost of a dental cleaning for a cat can vary widely depending on several factors. According to Petplan, the average cost for dental cleaning for cats ranges from $100 to $300.[1] However, the final price depends on a variety of considerations:

  • Severity of dental disease – More severe dental issues often require more intensive cleaning and treatment, increasing costs.
  • Bloodwork and anesthesia – Bloodwork beforehand and anesthesia during the procedure can add $80-$150 or more.
  • Extractions – Extracting severely damaged teeth rather than just cleaning adds significantly to the total cost.
  • X-rays – Full mouth dental x-rays prior to the cleaning, to evaluate tooth roots, increase the price $100-$300.
  • Medications – Antibiotics or pain medications afterward may be prescribed for an additional fee.
  • Location – Prices tend to be higher in major metro areas compared to rural areas.
  • Veterinarian – Specialists or certain clinics may charge more than a standard vet office.

While basic cleanings average $100-$300, extensive dental work with extractions or advanced treatment can cost $1,000 and beyond. Every cat and condition is different, so get an exam first to determine the scope of treatment needed.


Cost of Extractions

The cost of extracting a cat’s tooth can vary greatly depending on the number of teeth being extracted, location, and other factors. According to MetLife Pet Insurance, the average cost per tooth for a cat tooth extraction is $50-$130. This cost is often in addition to the base cost of a full dental cleaning. Extractions are more complex than a basic cleaning and require anesthesia and surgical removal of the tooth, which increases costs.

According to BetterPet, the total cost for cat tooth extractions can range from $500 up to $3,000 or more depending on the number of extractions needed. Pre-operative bloodwork, anesthesia, dental x-rays, hospitalization, and medications can all add to the final bill. More severe cases involving multiple extractions or complications will be on the higher end of this range. The specific tooth being extracted also impacts cost, with canine teeth often being more expensive.

In summary, cat owners can expect to pay an average of $50-$130 per tooth extracted, with total costs ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the case specifics and veterinary fees in their area.

Cost of Other Procedures

Root canals, crowns, and orthodontics are more complex dental procedures that some cats may require. According to Pawlicy, the cost of root canals in cats is similar to the cost in humans, averaging between $1,500 and $3,000. Crowns can range from $800 to $1,200 per tooth. Orthodontics with braces or other appliances average between $3,500 to $5,000.

According to Spot Pet Insurance, these types of advanced procedures often require a veterinary dentist. The cost can vary greatly depending on the specific procedure, anesthetic care, and aftercare required. Pet insurance can help offset some of these expensive dental treatments. Without coverage, owners should budget carefully for the potential high cost of complex dental work for their cat.

Preventing Dental Disease

There are several steps cat owners can take to help prevent dental disease in their feline companions:

Brushing your cat’s teeth regularly is the most effective way to prevent plaque buildup and tartar formation. Ideally, a cat’s teeth should be brushed daily using a soft-bristled brush and pet-safe toothpaste. But even brushing just a few times per week can still help reduce plaque and keep your cat’s mouth healthy. Be sure to use gentle motions and make it a positive experience with praise and treats. [1]

Feeding a veterinary dental diet designed for cats is another way to combat dental disease. These diets have a special crunchy texture and are formulated to mechanically scrub the teeth clean as your cat chews. Some also contain additives to prevent plaque adhesion and tartar formation. Always transition your cat slowly from their regular food to a dental diet.

Regular dental cleanings by your veterinarian help prevent buildup below the gumline that you can’t remove at home. Most cats need annual dental cleanings. Your vet will scale off tartar and plaque, polish the teeth, and treat any underlying disease found on x-rays.

Combining at-home brushing with dental diets and professional dental cleanings is an effective way to keep your cat’s teeth healthy and minimize their risk of developing feline dental disease.

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