Keeping Your Cat Free From Dental Disease

Posted on: 16 April 2015

Your cat's teeth are subject to the same dental problems as your own. They will never admit to having dental problems, because they hate going to the dentist as much as you. That's why you must be diligent about looking for signs of tooth and gum problems in your cat. Here are some ways you can help your cat take care of their teeth.

Looking for Signs of Dental Problems

Cats don't like to admit to having any health problems, so you have to be aware of any changes in their behavior that might be a sign of tooth or gum problems. Some of these include:

  • excess vocalizing while eating
  • eating on only one side of the mouth
  • loss of appetite
  • excess salivation
  • foul breath

With minor problems, such as a tartar build-up on the teeth, your cat's breath will have a musty smell. If they have a serious tooth or gum infection, their breath will have a strong odor of decay.

When you suspect a problem, it's time to do a more direct inspection of your cat's mouth. It's hard to do this yourself and keep your fingers away from the pointy parts in their mouth, so have someone help you by scruffing your cat while you look in their mouth.

With your cat restrained, gently push their lips up and look at the gums from the front to as far back as you can see. Healthy gums are pink, not white or red. You should see no signs of inflammation. Check the teeth for small patches of brown which indicate tartar build-up, the precursor to cavities.

Also look for the following signs of more serious dental problems:

  • ulcers on the gums or tongue
  • loose teeth
  • pus at the base of a tooth at the gum line
  • dark red blotches on the gums
  • open sores on the cheeks

These all indicate that a trip to the animal hospital is required for a thorough exam of your cat's dental health. Your cat is likely in pain with any of these symptoms and eating may be difficult for them.

Prevention of Dental Problems in Your Cat

In the wild, your cat's larger feline cousins rely on their diet to keep their teeth healthy. The tough tissues in their prey exercise the teeth and gums to keep them strong. Chewing on bone and cartilage removes plaque and tartar from teeth. At home, where your cat gets to eat gourmet kibble and wet food out of a china dish, diet does little for their dental health.

It's long been held that chewing dry food keeps your cat's teeth clean, but a Catster vet notes that cats tend to swallow kibble whole and not chew it. Some manufacturers do make dental chews for cats that are made specifically for massaging the teeth and gums. There are also cat chew toys available that do the same. The most effective prevention is getting your cat to brush regularly.

Teaching your cat to let you brush their teeth sounds like a bad joke, but it can be done. Your veterinarian can give you a cat-safe toothbrush and toothpaste and show you the technique. Start slowly and work your way up over several days until your cat is OK with you fussing in their mouth. Here are the basic steps for getting your cat accustomed to brushing:

  • Begin by massaging your cat's teeth with a little water on your finger.
  • When they are comfortable with this, replace your finger with a cotton swab.
  • After a few sessions of this, put a little toothpaste on the swab.
  • Finally, replace the swab with the toothbrush.

With these preventative measures, and a regular dental exam by your vet, you'll keep your cat from going through some painful dental problems.