How Often Should You Brush Your Cat’s Teeth? The Answer May Surprise You


Dental health is extremely important for cats. According to, poor dental health can lead to periodontal disease, which is the most common clinical condition affecting adult cats. Periodontal disease starts as gingivitis and can progress to damage the tissue and bone supporting the teeth. This can be incredibly painful and negatively impact a cat’s quality of life. Proper dental care, including regular cleanings, can prevent periodontal disease and keep cats healthy and happy.

Anatomy of a Cat’s Mouth

A cat’s mouth contains many parts that work together to allow them to eat, drink, groom, vocalize, and sense their environment. Their mouth contains teeth, gums, a tongue, salivary glands, and a vomeronasal organ. Cats have a total of 30 teeth – 12 incisors, 4 canines, 10 premolars, and 4 molars (1). Their incisors and canines are used for grasping food, while their premolars and molars grind and chew it. A cat’s teeth are suited for catching, killing, and tearing meat. The incisors have sharp edges ideal for this purpose.

Cats have short roots on their teeth that make them more prone to periodontal disease. Their teeth are secured in tooth sockets by a fibrous attachment termed the periodontal ligament. The gums, or gingiva, surround the base of the teeth and help secure them. The gums are mucosal tissue that can become inflamed or infected during periodontal disease (2).

Cats also have a rough, sandpaper-like tongue used for grooming and cleaning. It has backward-facing spines called papillae that help it detangle knots and remove dirt. The tongue is a crucial sensory organ for taste, touch, and temperature. Cats also have an organ called the vomeronasal organ located on the roof of their mouth that detects pheromones (1).

Understanding the anatomy of a cat’s mouth helps inform proper oral hygiene practices and care. Their specialized teeth make them prone to plaque buildup and gum disease if not properly cleaned and maintained.

Signs of Dental Disease

Cats often show subtle signs of dental disease that owners may miss. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, common symptoms include red and inflamed gums, bad breath (halitosis), and loose or infected teeth.

Red and inflamed gums, known as gingivitis, occur when plaque builds up on the teeth and irritates the gums. As dental disease advances, the gums can become very swollen and painful. Bad breath is another telltale sign, caused by bacteria accumulating in the mouth.

Advanced dental disease can lead to loose or infected teeth as the roots and surrounding bone are damaged. A cat with painful dental issues may show signs like reduced appetite, dropping food, and hesitance to chew. Catching dental problems early via professional cleanings can prevent worsening infection and tooth loss.

Benefits of Regular Dental Cleanings

Regular dental cleanings provide numerous health benefits for cats by preventing plaque and tartar buildup. As food particles and bacteria accumulate on a cat’s teeth, a sticky film known as plaque forms. Over time, this plaque hardens into tartar, which adheres firmly to the teeth. According to veterinarians, tartar accumulation can lead to inflammation and infection of the gums, a condition called gingivitis. Left untreated, gingivitis may progress to irreversible periodontal disease.

Professional dental cleanings remove built-up plaque and tartar that cannot be eliminated by tooth brushing alone. By scraping away this material from above and below the gumline, dental cleanings reduce harmful oral bacteria. With the teeth and gums thoroughly cleaned, examined, and polished, dental procedures help prevent plaque buildup and associated dental diseases. Regular dental care for cats has been proven to reduce gum inflammation by up to 47% ( ).

In addition to gum health, professional cleanings help avoid other health issues linked to poor dental care. Bacteria from dental infections can spread to organs like the heart, kidneys and liver. Research shows a correlation between periodontal disease and renal, cardiovascular and hepatic issues in cats. By controlling oral bacteria through regular dental cleanings, cat owners can reduce the risk of systemic complications.

Vet Recommendations

Most veterinarians recommend getting your cat’s teeth professionally cleaned by a vet at least once a year, or every 6-12 months. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), an annual dental exam and cleaning allows early detection and treatment of dental disease in cats before it progresses 1. While some cats may need cleanings more or less often depending on their health and dental care, the general consensus is annual or biannual cleanings.

Vets emphasize the importance of preventative dental care for cats to avoid the pain, expense and risks associated with advanced dental disease. Tartar buildup that is not removed through regular cleanings allows bacteria to multiply in the mouth, potentially leading to infection, tooth decay and tooth loss if left untreated. Professional cleanings remove tartar above and below the gumline that daily brushing may not reach.

There are some exceptions where cats may need more frequent dental cleanings, such as if they have certain medical conditions, are prone to heavy tartar buildup, or have had previous dental issues. For these cats, vets may recommend cleanings every 6-9 months. Kittens may also benefit from an initial cleaning earlier than 12 months to ensure their new teeth come in cleanly.

While professional veterinary dental cleanings are considered the gold standard, some pet owners may opt for alternative options if cost is a barrier. However, no over-the-counter products fully substitute for a proper cleaning and exam by a vet 2. Discuss your cat’s dental health and options with your vet to determine the ideal frequency of cleanings.

At-Home Maintenance

Taking care of your cat’s teeth at home is an important part of oral health. Regular brushing helps remove plaque and tartar buildup on teeth before it leads to more serious dental disease.

The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends daily brushing as the most effective way to keep your cat’s teeth clean and healthy (1). Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and pet-safe toothpaste to gently brush along the outer surfaces of your cat’s teeth.

In addition to brushing, dental treats and foods can help control tartar. Look for products formulated to support dental health, containing ingredients like chlorhexidine, zinc sulfate, and enzymes to reduce plaque (2). Offer dental treats daily as part of a complete and balanced diet.

While daily brushing provides the best oral care, even occasional brushing combined with dental treats can make a difference in your cat’s dental health.

Professional Dental Cleaning Process

During a professional dental cleaning at the vet, the cat is first given a general anesthetic to fully sedate them throughout the cleaning procedure. This ensures the cat remains still and comfortable during the potentially painful process of removing tartar from their teeth and under the gums.

Once the cat is under anesthesia, the vet will perform a thorough oral exam looking for signs of infection, loose or damaged teeth, masses, and other problems. Using dental instruments like scalers and probes, the vet scales off tartar above and below the gumline and polish each tooth (1).

If any teeth are found to be severely diseased, they may need to be extracted. X-rays are sometimes taken to evaluate the tooth roots and look for abscesses or other issues. Fluoride may be applied after cleaning to help strengthen enamel.

The cat will need to recover under observation until the anesthesia has fully worn off. Soreness, swelling, and minor bleeding may occur for a couple days after the cleaning.

Costs of Dental Cleanings

Professional dental cleanings for cats typically range from $100 to $400 on average, but can cost over $1000 or more depending on the condition of your cat’s teeth and gums.

According to pet insurance provider Nationwide, the average claim for a routine dental cleaning was $190. However, when extractions or more intensive dental work was needed, the average claim increased to $404.

Factors that influence the cost of a cat dental cleaning include:

  • Your location – Prices are usually higher in major metro areas
  • Your veterinarian – Costs can vary between vet clinics
  • Condition of your cat’s teeth – More intensive cleanings or extractions will increase the price
  • Type of anesthesia – General anesthesia is more expensive than local or sedation
  • Additional treatments – Such as fluoride treatments or antibiotics

Make sure to get an estimate from your vet before approving any dental work. And know that professional dental cleanings are important for your cat’s long-term health and can prevent more costly problems down the road.

Signs It’s Time for a Cleaning

There are several signs that indicate it’s time for your cat to have their teeth professionally cleaned:

Bad breath – One of the most obvious signs is persistent bad breath. This is caused by bacteria buildup on the teeth and gums.

Inflamed gums – Red, swollen, or inflamed gums indicate gingivitis, which is early stage gum disease. Without treatment, this can progress to advanced periodontal disease.

Loose teeth – Loose or shifting teeth are a sign of advanced periodontal disease, where infection has damaged the structures holding teeth in place. This requires urgent veterinary dental care.

Other signs include reluctance to eat hard food, drooling, discolored teeth, noticeable tartar buildup, and facial swelling. If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, it’s important to schedule a veterinary dental examination. The longer dental disease goes untreated, the higher the risk of permanent damage. Regular cleanings can prevent many dental issues in cats.



Regular dental cleanings are an essential part of caring for your cat’s health and wellbeing. Neglecting your cat’s oral hygiene can lead to plaque buildup, gum disease, tooth decay and even more serious medical conditions. While daily toothbrushing provides basic upkeep, a professional dental cleaning allows a vet to fully assess your cat’s oral health, clean below the gumline, take dental x-rays if needed, and address any issues early on before they become severe. Most vets recommend annual dental cleanings starting around age 3 to keep your cat’s mouth healthy and pain-free. Keeping up with regular cleanings, along with at-home toothbrushing and dental treats or food, is the best way to protect your cat from dental disease. With some time and patience, you can get your cat accustomed to a dental care routine that will keep their teeth clean and breath fresh for years to come.

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