The Surprising Tool Vets Use to Keep Your Cat’s Teeth Sparkling Clean


Proper dental care is just as important for cats as it is for humans. According to AMCMA, dental disease is the most common clinical condition found in adult cats. Poor dental health can lead to tooth loss, gum disease, and even infections in other parts of the body. That’s why regular dental cleanings and at-home dental care are essential for your cat’s health and wellbeing.

In this article, we will discuss the importance of feline dental health. We’ll cover when you should take your cat to the vet for a professional cleaning, as well as at-home options like brushing and dental treats. You’ll learn the signs of dental disease to look out for, plus tips for preventing plaque buildup and tooth decay in cats. Whether your goal is to keep your cat’s teeth pearly white or avoid costly dental procedures, this guide will equip you with the knowledge to properly care for your cat’s oral health.

Why Cats Need Dental Care

Cats are prone to dental diseases like plaque and tartar buildup, gum disease, and tooth decay or tooth loss, just like humans. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, the most common dental diseases in cats are gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth resorption.

Plaque is a thin film of bacteria that forms on a cat’s teeth. Over time, minerals in saliva combine with plaque to form tartar. Both plaque and tartar irritate the gums, which can lead to inflammation and gum disease (gingivitis).

As gingivitis worsens over time, it develops into periodontitis – a serious gum infection and advanced stage of gum disease. Periodontitis can cause permanent destruction of the tissues and bone that support the teeth. Eventually, this can lead to painful tooth decay and tooth loss.

Tooth resorption, another common feline dental disease, causes the tooth’s mineral structure to break down, leading to holes forming in the teeth. This is an extremely painful condition for cats. Resorption typically occurs in older cats.

Regular dental care prevents plaque and tartar buildup that causes gum inflammation, tooth decay, and tooth loss. Cats are unable to brush their own teeth or properly chew dental treats to remove plaque. That’s why cat owners play a crucial role in maintaining their cat’s dental health.

When to Get Your Cat’s Teeth Cleaned

Regular dental cleanings are an important part of maintaining your cat’s health and preventing diseases. Veterinarians typically recommend professional dental cleanings for cats every 6-12 months starting around age 3. Some signs that your cat may be due for a dental cleaning include:

– Bad breath – This is often one of the first signs of a dental problem. Persistent bad breath indicates a buildup of plaque and tartar.

– Red or inflamed gums – Red, swollen, or bleeding gums point to gingivitis, a gum infection caused by plaque buildup. Left untreated, gingivitis can lead to more serious periodontal disease.

– Loose or lost teeth – Advanced dental disease may cause teeth to become loose or even fall out.

– Discolored teeth – A brown or yellow crust on the teeth signals the presence of tartar that requires professional cleaning.

– Difficulty eating or chewing – A cat with a painful mouth due to dental problems may start avoiding hard foods or dropping food from its mouth while eating.

– Pawing at the mouth – Your cat scratching or rubbing its jaw may indicate dental pain or discomfort.

Routine dental cleanings allow your veterinarian to identify and treat any existing problems before they worsen. If your cat exhibits any of the above symptoms, schedule a veterinary exam to determine if a professional cleaning is needed. Many vets recommend a dental cleaning under anesthesia so the teeth can be thoroughly examined and scaled [1].

Professional Teeth Cleaning

Professional dental cleanings performed by veterinarians are the gold standard for keeping a cat’s teeth clean and healthy. The process typically involves general anesthesia so the vet can thoroughly clean, inspect, and treat all of the teeth.

The cleaning begins with a pre-anesthetic exam to ensure the cat is healthy enough for anesthesia. Once the cat is under, the vet will scale the teeth using both hand scalers and an ultrasonic scaler to remove tartar and plaque above and below the gumline. An ultrasonic scaler uses high frequency sound waves to break up tartar. According to VCA Hospitals, the vet will also use a polishing paste after scaling to smooth over the surface of the teeth and make them resistant to plaque buildup

The teeth are thoroughly examined during the cleaning, and x-rays may be taken to check for issues below the gumline. Any diseased or damaged teeth will be treated or extracted. Fluoride may be applied to protect the teeth.

Once the cleaning is complete, the cat will recover from anesthesia and be discharged once stable. After a professional dental cleaning, the vet will likely recommend periodic at-home cleanings to maintain dental health between annual or biannual professional cleanings.

At-Home Teeth Cleaning

One of the best ways to clean your cat’s teeth at home is through toothbrushing. Cats’ teeth can be brushed using a soft-bristled toothbrush and veterinary-approved pet toothpaste. When introducing toothbrushing, go slowly and gently to get your cat accustomed to having her mouth handled and teeth brushed.

To start, handle your cat’s mouth by gently lifting her lips and massaging her gums with your finger for short intervals. Over time, graduate to rubbing her teeth with your finger or a piece of gauze. Eventually, you can introduce a toothbrush with a small amount of cat-safe toothpaste. Gently brush using circular motions, focusing on the outer surfaces of the teeth. Work up to brushing for 1-2 minutes daily. Make the experience positive by giving your cat praise and treats.

In addition to brushing, veterinarians may recommend other at-home dental care products. Special veterinary diets and treats are formulated to help reduce tartar buildup. Water additives can also help control plaque. Rubbing your cat’s teeth and gums with gauze can supplement brushing between dental cleanings. Speak to your vet to determine the best at-home dental regimen for your cat.


Toothbrushing Tips

Proper brushing technique is important for effectively cleaning your cat’s teeth at home. Hold your cat gently, keeping her head still. Gently pull up her lips to expose her teeth. Angle the toothbrush at a 45 degree angle to the gumline. Using gentle circular motions, brush the outer surfaces of the upper and lower teeth [1]. Work your way along all surfaces, taking care not to go too far back to avoid triggering the gag reflex.

Use a soft-bristled toothbrush designed for pets. Human toothbrushes are too big and the bristles are too hard. Special pet toothbrushes have softer bristles and smaller brush heads to comfortably fit in your cat’s mouth [2]. Finger toothbrushes that slip over your finger are another option for cats.

Only use toothpaste formulated for pets, not human toothpaste. Pet toothpaste comes in appetizing flavors and is safe if swallowed. Never use human toothpaste which contains ingredients that can upset your cat’s stomach.

Other At-Home Dental Care Products

Aside from brushing your cat’s teeth, there are a few other at-home dental products that can help maintain your cat’s oral health:

Dental treats – Treats like the Greenies Feline Dental Treats help clean your cat’s teeth as they chew. The crunchy texture and shape help scrub away tartar and plaque.

Dental chews – Chews such as Purina DentaLife Cat Chews promote oral health by reducing plaque and tartar with a unique kibble shape and texture.

Water additives – Additives like TropiClean Fresh Breath freshen breath and reduce plaque and tartar when added to your cat’s drinking water.

Dental wipes – Wipes like C.E.T. Enzymatic Oral Hygiene Wipes are infused with an enzymatic formula to help breakdown plaque before it hardens into tartar when wiped on teeth.

Rinses – Products like TropiClean Fresh Breath Cat Rinse can be applied with a finger brush to coat the teeth and gums, helping reduce plaque and tartar while freshening breath.

Signs of Dental Disease

Cats with dental disease may show several signs indicating oral discomfort. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, two of the most common signs are bad breath and reduced or finicky appetite [1]. Dental disease often causes pain and inflammation in the mouth, making eating uncomfortable. A cat may chew slowly, drop pieces of food, or refuse hard kibble due to this discomfort.

Other signs of dental disease in cats include [2]:

  • Loose or broken teeth
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Swollen or reddened gums
  • Head shaking or jaw chattering

Cats often mask signs of dental pain. Subtle changes like reduced grooming habits, hiding more, or interacting less may indicate dental problems. Owners should watch for any signs of oral discomfort and schedule a veterinary dental exam if concerned. Treating dental disease early provides the best outcomes.

Preventing Dental Disease

The best way to prevent dental disease in cats is through regular cleaning and a dental care routine at home. This helps reduce tartar and plaque buildup on the teeth and gums.

Getting your cat accustomed to having their teeth brushed is ideal. Brushing daily or several times a week can greatly reduce plaque and tartar. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and cat-safe toothpaste. Gently brush in a circular motion at a 45 degree angle to the gumline [1].

There are also dental diets formulated for cats that help clean teeth and reduce plaque buildup. Kibble with larger, crunchier pieces provides more abrasive action. Chew toys and treats can also help scrape away tartar [2].

Regular veterinary dental cleanings under anesthesia are also important to fully remove tartar and plaque from below the gumline. Cleanings every 6-12 months may be recommended depending on your cat’s oral health.

Monitoring for signs of dental disease and addressing any issues promptly is key to preventing progression of disease. With proper prevention and care, your cat can maintain healthy teeth and gums.


Dental health is extremely important for cats, yet it’s an area of care that is often overlooked by owners. By establishing a dental care routine for your cat and watching for signs of dental disease, you can help prevent painful conditions that could impact your cat’s health and quality of life.

Regular teeth cleanings, whether performed at home or by a veterinarian, remove plaque and tartar that cause gum inflammation and tooth decay. Brushing is the most effective home dental care, and there are also dental treats, wipes, gels, and water additives that help control bacteria. Any products should be specifically formulated for cats to be safe and effective.

Pay attention to your cat’s eating habits, bad breath, and mouth pain as potential indicators of dental problems. By taking proactive steps to care for your cat’s teeth, you can help avoid conditions like gingivitis, abscesses, and tooth loss. Your cat’s dental health impacts their ability to eat, chronic pain levels, and even diseases in other parts of the body.

Caring for your cat’s teeth will ensure your feline friend stays happy and healthy for many years to come.

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