Do Your Cats Really Need to Visit the Dentist?


Proper dental care is just as important for cats as it is for humans. According to the ASPCA, by age 3 over 70% of cats have some form of dental disease. Unlike dogs, cats are not as proficient at chewing to help keep their teeth clean. As a result, plaque and tartar can quickly build up on a cat’s teeth if not properly cared for. Left untreated, this plaque and tartar buildup puts cats at risk for more serious health issues affecting the heart, liver and kidneys. Professional dental cleanings, at-home care, and dental diets can all help prevent dental disease in cats. With proper preventative dental care, cats can maintain good oral health and avoid the need for advanced dental treatment.

According to the experts at eCats Veterinary Hospital, “How will dental care benefit my pet? Reduced plaque and tartar. Decreased oral infections. Helps prevent bad breath. Helps prevent heart, liver, and kidney disease.” (

Anatomy of a Cat’s Mouth

The anatomy of a cat’s mouth includes 30 adult teeth, with 16 on the upper jaw and 14 on the lower jaw (1). Cats have small, sharp teeth designed for grabbing prey and tearing meat. Their incisors at the front are small with a sharp biting edge. The canine teeth are large, pointed teeth used for gripping and killing prey. The premolars and molars further back have sharp edges to slice through meat and help mince food (2).

A cat’s gums and the lining of its mouth are pink. The surface of the gums, known as the gingiva, surrounds the base of the teeth. Cats also have a rough, sandpaper-like tongue used for grooming and scraping meat from bones. Salivary glands under the tongue and near the lower jaws constantly produce saliva to help moisten food and aid in swallowing (1).



Common Dental Problems in Cats

The most common dental diseases in cats are periodontal disease, tooth resorption, and feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs) 1. Periodontal disease involves inflammation and infection of the tissues surrounding the teeth and is caused by plaque and tartar buildup. If left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss. Tooth resorption is the destruction of the tooth structure and can be very painful. FORLs are a specific type of tooth resorption that are progressive, aggressive, and often require extraction of affected teeth.

Signs of Dental Disease

Signs of dental disease in cats may include bad breath, difficulty or discomfort eating, decreased appetite, pawing at the mouth or face, excessive drooling, bleeding from the mouth, loose or broken teeth, swelling of the face or cheekbones, sneezing or nasal discharge, and behavioral changes if the cat is in pain.

According to Cornell University, gingivitis is characterized by red, swollen gums that may bleed when touched or when the cat eats. This inflammation is usually caused by plaque buildup. As the condition worsens, periodontitis can develop, which damages the ligaments and tissues supporting the teeth. This can lead to painful tooth loss if left untreated.

Cats are prone to several other dental disorders including resorptive lesions, tooth fractures, and oral tumors. Younger cats may also have congenital abnormalities. Owners should monitor their cat’s eating habits, facial expressions, and mouth for any signs of discomfort or disease.

Professional Dental Cleanings

Professional dental cleanings are an important part of preventative care for cats. During a dental cleaning, the veterinarian will perform a thorough examination of your cat’s teeth, gums, and oral cavity. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, the vet will “identify and treat any conditions that require immediate attention.”

The cleaning procedure involves putting your cat under general anesthesia so the vet can fully examine the mouth and clean above and below the gumline. Tartar and plaque are removed using both hand and ultrasonic scalers. The teeth are then polished to remove any remaining bacteria and provide a smooth surface to discourage rapid plaque buildup. Any diseased or damaged teeth may require extraction.

Professional dental cleanings provide numerous benefits for cats. Removing the plaque and tartar minimizes gum inflammation and reduces the risk of more serious dental disease. It also helps eliminate the bacteria that cause bad breath. With clean and healthy teeth, cats can eat more comfortably. Regular dental cleanings every 6-12 months are recommended to maintain good oral health. According to Forbes, costs range from $300-$800 on average.


At-Home Dental Care

There are a few ways cat owners can help maintain their cat’s dental health from home between professional cleanings. Some of the most effective at-home dental care methods include toothbrushing, dental treats and foods, dental rinses, and plaque prevention powders.

Brushing your cat’s teeth daily is the gold standard for preventing plaque buildup and gum disease. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and cat-safe toothpaste to gently clean the outer surfaces of the teeth in a circular motion. Go slowly and keep sessions positive and reward-based, as this may take time for cats to get used to.

There are also many dental treats and foods formulated to help fight tartar and plaque. Look for products with the VOHC seal that actively reduce plaque and tartar as your cat chews. Water additives containing chlorhexidine may also help reduce bacteria.

While daily at-home care is ideal, any additional dental care can make a difference in your cat’s oral health between professional cleanings.

When to Seek Veterinary Care

It’s important to monitor your cat’s oral health and be aware of signs that may indicate a need for professional dental treatment. Some common symptoms that your cat should see a veterinarian include:

  • Bad breath
  • Red, swollen, or bleeding gums
  • Excessive drooling
  • Loose or lost teeth
  • Difficulty eating or loss of appetite, especially with dry or hard food
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Facial swelling or pain

According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, “Signs that a cat is suffering dental problems, says Dr. Carmichael, include bad breath, red and swollen gums, pawing at the mouth and refusal to eat hard food.” (source)

If your cat is exhibiting any of these symptoms, it’s important to schedule a veterinary dental exam. The veterinarian will perform a thorough inspection of your cat’s teeth, gums, and oral cavity. From there, they can determine if professional dental treatment, like a cleaning or extraction, is required.

Cost of Feline Dental Care

The cost of professional dental cleanings and treatment for cats can vary depending on your location, the veterinarian, and the extent of your cat’s dental disease. Here are some general estimates:

A basic dental cleaning with a preliminary exam, pre-anesthetic bloodwork, and anesthesia will typically range from $300-$800. According to, expect to pay around $300 for this service at most vet clinics. However, the cost can increase based on your location and clinic.[1]

If dental X-rays are needed to check for problems below the gumline, this can add $150-$250 to the total bill.[2]

Extractions of damaged teeth often range from $50-$300 per tooth depending on the difficulty. These additional costs can make the total dental treatment $500-$1,500 or more.

More complex treatments like root canals or orthodontics can cost over $2,000 but are rare in feline dentistry.

Location also impacts costs. Urban clinics will often charge more for dental cleanings vs rural areas.

To save money, look for discounted dental packages at clinics or veterinary dental specialists who offer competitive pricing.

Preventing Future Dental Problems

The best way to promote good long-term dental health for cats is through preventative care at home. Here are some tips for maintaining your cat’s oral health:

Daily tooth brushing – Brushing your cat’s teeth daily with a soft brush and veterinary-approved toothpaste is ideal for reducing plaque and tartar buildup. Work up slowly to daily brushing.

Dental diets – Feeding dry food formulated for oral health can help clean teeth and reduce plaque. Crunchy treats also help scrape away tartar.

Regular veterinary cleanings – Even with diligent home care, most cats need professional dental cleanings under anesthesia every 6-12 months to fully remove tartar and examine tooth roots.

Oral exams – Have your veterinarian periodically examine your cat’s mouth to catch problems early. Alert them to any signs of dental disease.

Discourage chewing electrical cords or houseplants – These objects can damage teeth and gums.

Provide chew toys – Offering acceptable chew items helps satisfy chewing urges while protecting teeth.

Water additives – Some veterinary-approved water additives help reduce plaque buildup between teeth.

With diligent preventative care, you can help your cat maintain good dental health and avoid serious disease issues down the road. Be proactive about feline oral hygiene.


Dental care is an important aspect of overall health for cats. Left untreated, dental disease can lead to tooth loss, infections, and health issues with the heart, liver and kidneys. Regular dental cleanings and exams by your veterinarian can catch problems early. Daily brushing, along with dental treats or foods, can also help reduce plaque and tartar buildup at home. With proper preventative care, cats can maintain good dental health well into their senior years. The costs associated with professional dental cleanings and treatments are worthwhile investments in your cat’s comfort and wellbeing. By being diligent about dental care, cat owners can promote better quality of life for their feline companions.

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