The Tooth About Your Cat’s Dental Health. Should You Be Brushing Their Teeth?


Oral health is extremely important for cats, yet it is often overlooked. According to the American Veterinary Dental College, by age 3 over 70% of cats have some form of dental disease. Left untreated, these issues can lead to tooth loss, infections, and serious health complications. That’s why regular dental care, including brushing, is so critical for cats. This article will cover the signs, causes, and importance of good feline dental health. It will provide tips for effective brushing techniques, discuss diet and other preventative measures, and outline treatment options. With proper oral care, you can help your cat maintain healthy teeth and gums for many years.

Oral Health Issues in Cats

Cats can suffer from several common dental diseases that affect their oral health. Some of the most prevalent include:

These common dental diseases can vary in severity but often lead to tooth loss, infections, and pain if left untreated. Preventative dental care is important for protecting cats’ oral health.

Signs of Dental Disease

Many cats don’t actually show obvious signs of dental disease until it has progressed to more severe stages. Some common signs to look out for include:

Bad breath – One of the first signs of dental disease is bad breath (source). Bad breath, known as halitosis, is often caused by decay and bacterial buildup in the mouth. If your cat’s breath has a foul odor, this indicates dental issues.

Loose teeth – Inflammation in the gums, or periodontitis, can lead to tooth loosening. Cats with advanced dental disease may have visibly loose or lost teeth (source). Gently feeling along the gumline and jaw can help identify loose or missing teeth.

Bleeding gums – Red, inflamed gums that bleed easily are a sign of gingivitis. You may notice your cat’s gums bleed when they eat or get brushed. Bleeding indicates inflammation and infection (source).

Reduced appetite – Dental pain can make it difficult for cats to eat and chew comfortably. A decreased appetite or drooling while eating may indicate problems with their teeth and gums.

Causes of Dental Disease

There are several common causes of dental disease in cats:

Plaque and Tartar Buildup

The biggest cause of dental disease is the accumulation of plaque and tartar on the teeth. Plaque is a film of bacteria that forms on the teeth every day. If this plaque is not removed through brushing, it hardens into tartar which can only be removed by a veterinarian (Cornell Feline Health Center). The bacteria in tartar releases toxins which lead to infection and inflammation of the gums called gingivitis. If left untreated, this can progress to periodontitis where the infection spreads deeper below the gumline, destroying tissue and bone that hold the teeth in place.


Some cats may have weaker enamel or smaller tooth roots which predisposes them to dental disease. Purebred cats like Persians and Himalayans are at higher risk.


Cats can also develop dental disease after an injury that fractures their tooth or jaw. Exposure of the dentin layer under the enamel allows bacteria to invade and infect the tooth.


As cats age, their teeth accumulate more tartar and the roots become weaker. Older cats are more prone to severe dental disease like advanced periodontitis, abscessed teeth, and tooth resorption.

Importance of Brushing

It’s important to regularly brush your cat’s teeth in order to remove plaque and tartar buildup. Plaque is a thin, sticky film of bacteria that develops on the teeth. If plaque is not removed through daily brushing, it will harden into tartar.[1] Tartar promotes gum inflammation, infection, and tooth decay. Eventually it can lead to periodontal disease. Daily brushing helps disrupt plaque formation and prevent this progression.

Brushing removes plaque and tartar before it can harden on the teeth. Ideally cats’ teeth should be brushed every day.[2] Even brushing a few times per week can make a significant difference in your cat’s oral health. Brushing at home helps greatly, but professional dental cleanings are also very important. Veterinarians recommend getting your cat’s teeth professionally cleaned at least once a year to remove tartar below the gum line and check for any problems.[3]

Brushing Techniques and Tips

Brushing your cat’s teeth may seem daunting at first, but with the right technique and tools, you can make it an easy part of your cat’s routine care. Here are some tips for making toothbrushing as stress-free as possible for both you and your cat:

  • Use a soft-bristled brush made specifically for pets. Human toothbrushes are too big and abrasive for your cat’s mouth.
  • Pet-safe toothpaste is a must. Human toothpaste contains ingredients that can upset your cat’s stomach.
  • Go slowly and keep sessions brief, especially when first starting out. Just 30-60 seconds per side is enough to remove plaque.
  • Gently lift your cat’s lips to expose the outer surfaces of the teeth. Brush with gentle circular motions.
  • Make sure to reward your cat with treats during and after each session so they associate toothbrushing with something positive.
  • Gradually increase brushing time and frequency. Aim for daily brushing, but 2-3 times a week is beneficial.
  • Stay calm, patient and positive. Cats can sense if you feel stressed.

With the right approach, regular toothbrushing can become an easy routine for both you and your cat. Protect your cat’s oral health by making it a habit.

Diet and Dental Health

A cat’s diet plays an important role in maintaining good dental health. Dry food is generally better for dental health than wet food. The crunchy kibble helps scrape away plaque and tartar as the cat chews. According to veterinarians, the best dry foods for dental health include dental or oral care formulations that are designed to clean teeth and freshen breath.

Wet food is usually not as effective as dry kibble for cleaning teeth. However, wet food is often easier for cats with dental issues to eat. There are some wet foods formulated to help with dental health, containing enzymes that help prevent plaque buildup. These can be a good compromise option.

Dental treats and chews are another way to help clean cats’ teeth. Treats like Greenies Feline Dental Treats are formulated to scrape away tartar. It’s ideal to give cats dental treats or chews daily if possible.

Other Preventative Care

In addition to brushing and a dental diet, there are other preventative options to help maintain your cat’s oral health. Some key strategies include:

  • Regular vet dental exams – Your vet can inspect your cat’s mouth, teeth and gums at their wellness visits to look for any signs of disease. Professional exams allow early detection and treatment.
  • Professional cleanings – Veterinarians can perform professional dental cleanings under anesthesia to thoroughly clean the teeth above and below the gumline. Cleanings help remove built-up tartar and plaque.
  • Oral health products – There are specialized products such as dental gels and powders that can be applied to your cat’s teeth and gums to help reduce bacteria, plaque, and tartar.

Talk to your vet to determine the right preventative dental care plan for your feline friend. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to your cat’s oral health and maintaining their quality of life.

Treatment for Dental Disease

If dental disease is caught early, professional dental cleanings and minor procedures may be effective at managing it. However, once advanced dental disease sets in, more intensive treatment is often needed. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, the most common treatments for advanced dental disease in cats are:

  • Professional dental cleaning under anesthesia to thoroughly remove plaque and tartar above and below the gumline
  • Extraction of severely damaged or infected teeth
  • Antibiotics to treat or prevent infection
  • Pain medication to keep the cat comfortable before, during, and after invasive dental procedures

Full mouth extractions are sometimes necessary if periodontal disease is extensive. Cats can adapt well to not having any teeth as long as their food is softened. Prompt treatment and ongoing preventative dental care can help catch issues early and avoid invasive extractions.


Proper dental care is essential for your cat’s overall health and wellbeing. Periodontal disease is extremely common in cats, with over 70% of cats aged 3 and above affected. Left untreated, dental disease can lead to significant pain, tooth loss, infections and even damage major organs.

Brushing your cat’s teeth daily is the most effective way to prevent plaque buildup and dental disease. It removes debris, massages the gums, and disrupts bacterial growth. Brushing also allows you to closely inspect your cat’s teeth and mouth for any issues. Along with brushing, providing dental diets and treats, regular veterinary cleanings, and other care can optimize your cat’s oral health.

While introducing and maintaining a brushing routine takes time and patience, it is well worth the investment for your cat’s health and quality of life. Do not wait until you see signs of dental disease, as prevention is key. Commit to a dental care regimen today to ensure your feline friend enjoys healthy teeth and gums for years to come.

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