Dental Hygiene: Don’t Ignore Your Cat’s Teeth

Cats use their teeth for many things: eating, biting and grooming.  Have you stopped to consider that cats have teeth problems like we do?  I didn’t.  One day I was watching tv and saw my cat, Laila, yawn.  I happened to be in the right place at the right time to notice one back tooth had a large pink/red mark on it. It was on the inside closest to her tongue.  It’s not easy to get a look at a cat’s mouth if they don’t want you to so I spent a while watching and waiting for her to yawn again to confirm what I originally saw.  Once confirmed, we headed to the vet.

The vet confirmed that our cat had a “cavity”.  Well, not really a cavity but something called tooth resorption.  Cats don’t get cavities as we know them but I use the term cavity because it is easier and is something people understand.  You could tell it was extremely painful for our cat.  When the vet lightly touched the tooth, our usually calm and stoic cat jumped and recoiled.  The issue with tooth resorption is that it’s not like cavities in humans, you can’t fill the cavity and save the tooth.  The options are to wait for the tooth to fall out on its own (painful) or have it extracted surgically.

Not wanting Laila to be in any more unnecessary pain, I opted for the cat tooth extraction route.  Let’s just say it is really expensive and the cat has to go under anesthesia which can be dangerous.  The bottom line is that I wish I knew more about cat dental hygiene before it was too late.

Here’s some info and tips that I wish I had before Laila was in pain and it ended up costing a fortune.

Tooth Resorption

As mentioned, the proper term for a cat cavity is tooth resorption.  It is pretty much as it sounds: the destruction of the tooth root surface which causes the enamel to be resorbed. It is common in domestic cats and unfortunately the cause is not clear.  Tooth resorption prevention is difficult since the cause is unknown but keeping your cat’s teeth clean and healthy is still a good idea.

The main thing you can do to help your cat when it comes to tooth resorption is monitoring.  If you are already brushing your cat’s teeth regularly, you are more likely to notice if things are off.  The sooner you notice any abnormality, the sooner you can get it addressed.  This will mean less pain for your feline friend.  I am glad that I happened to be watching the cute yawn my cat was doing in order to notice the problem.  If not, who knows how long she would have been in pain before it fell out?

Cat Tartar and Plaque

Just like humans, cats get tartar and plaque buildup that can result in gum disease, pain, inflammation, tooth loss and bad breath.  Since our cat is now prone to cat teeth issues, we have been recommended a few things to keep her teeth clean.


The first is quite simple – gauze.  You simply wrap your index finger in gauze and rub it lightly over the teeth and gums.  You should see the tartar on the gauze once done.  This will only address the outside teeth but based on what I hear from my vet, this is good enough.  The cat’s tongue does a good enough job cleaning the inside.  It’s certainly better than not brushing your cat’s teeth at all.

The second option is a children’s toothbrush.  They are small enough, soft enough and cheaper than cat-specific toothbrushes.  I don’t use toothpaste.  It just adds another dimension of difficulty and is not needed according to my vet.  If you do use toothpaste, make sure you get a cat toothpaste as our toothpaste can be harmful to cats.

Since tartar only forms after 3-5 days, the good news is you don’t have to brush your cat’s teeth everyday.  Ever other day should be plenty and is what I do.  The bad news is that once the tartar or plaque hardens, you can’t remove it by brushing.

Cat Dental Hygiene

My Cat Has Bad Breath

I will go ahead and say it – she can’t hear me.  Laila has bad breath.  The only way to improve it is to keep up with the cat dental hygiene program and brush her teeth regularly.  For Laila, this only makes her breath better but it’s still stinky.  Sometimes when she yawns in my face my eyes water.  I exaggerate but it’s not a pleasant smell.

You can get treats and toys that supposedly help with cat breath and oral care.  Laila won’t eat or play with these.  It’s like she knows it’s good for her so she’d rather avoid them.  We switched her to mostly dry food to help with the tartar and plaque buildup.  The hard food helps to remove the buildup, especially compared to wet food.

There you have it.  Keep your cat happy and healthy and start your own feline oral care routine today.  It’s never too late to start!


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