Caring For Cat's Teeth
There are lots of ways in which you can help to keep your cat's mouth healthy. Check out our guide to good home dental care (it’s not all about brushing!)
Cats are designed to be lone hunters, and their natural diet – prey items, such as small mammals and birds – contain different textures and tissue that scrape the teeth during feeding. When we domesticated cats and changed the way they fed, we took away the means to keep teeth clean naturally, so we need to find ways to redress the balance.
Cats get dental disease, just like we do, and this can affect their wellbeing and require treatment. Dental treatment normally has to be carried out under general anaesthesia. If you’ve ever had your teeth cleaned using an ultrasonic descaler at the dentist, you’ll know that it would be a lot to ask a pet to tolerate this procedure while they’re awake! There’s plenty you can do to minimise the chances of your kitten needing a dental procedure in future.
Let’s take a look at how you can help to keep their teeth in tip-top condition.
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Ways to care for your cat's teeth
With little jobs like tooth brushing, it’s much more likely that you’ll carry on with them as your kitten grows up if you can make them a regular habit. To do that, you need to make it convenient for yourself and easy to remember.
Keep your kitten’s toothbrush and toothpaste somewhere within easy reach, perhaps with something else you often use for them, for example an interactive toy, so you’re reminded to brush.
Try to incorporate tooth brushing with something else you do regularly so that it becomes a part of the daily routine. For instance, you could make a set playtime in the evening, first brushing your kitten’s teeth and then having a play.
Your vet team will check your kitten’s teeth each time you take them for an annual health check and vaccination.
Some of the things they’ll be looking for are:
- Retained deciduous teeth – The deciduous canine teeth in particular sometimes stay in place even after the adult teeth have erupted. If they’re left, they can trap food and can cause damage to the adult teeth.
- Broken teeth – Deciduous teeth, especially the canines, can break quite easily, for instance, if your kitten happens to have a heavy landing onto a firm surface. If you notice broken deciduous or adult teeth, always ask your vet to check them. Broken teeth can allow bacteria to track up inside them and cause abscesses and infections. They may also cause pain (cats’ teeth are similar to our own in this respect). Depending on the level of damage, a broken tooth may need to be extracted, but sometimes, they can be saved.
- Discoloured teeth – Teeth may become discoloured if they suffer an injury, such as a knock. Also, some medications can cause teeth to discolour.
- Signs of gum disease – Some cats are more prone to certain kinds of oral inflammation than others are, so it’s important to spot these early. Early gum disease is reversible, with the right care.
- Supernumerary (extra) or missing teeth.
- FORLs – The lesions aren’t always easy to see on the parts of the teeth that are above the gum line, but if they are visible, they look like small, red cavities. In extreme cases, they look as though parts of the tooth have been literally nibbled away.
Some pet insurance policies include cover for certain types of dental treatment. This is often contingent upon the pet’s mouth having been examined by a vet and also upon the owner following the vet’s recommendations regarding dental care, so it’s worth checking your policy documents.
Making a habit of good home dental care, however much or little you can manage, should help your kitten to enjoy better general health and fewer dental treatments as they go through life.
To see what goes on when your cat comes into the clinic for dental treatment, follow our behind the scenes link.
Oral hygiene gels are another option. They also contain ingredients that fight plaque buildup in the mouth. You can rub them onto your cat’s teeth and gums or squirt them onto the back of their paw so that it can be licked off.
Special mouth rinses or food and water additives that slow down plaque development are available. There are also diets aimed at maintaining good dental health.
Some diets are made to scrape the teeth as your cat crunches on them. Others contain ingredients that help to prevent plaque from sticking to the teeth and starting the cycle of dental and gum disease.
Your step by step guide to brushing cats and dogs teeth
Introduction to the taste of toothpaste
Wash your hands and smear a small amount of toothpaste onto your index finger. Allow your pet to lick the toothpaste from your finger. Repeat a number of times.
Get your pet used to contact with their mouth
Smear your index finger with toothpaste and then gently slide it into your pet’s mouth, letting it glide over the outer surface of the teeth and gums. Only go as far into the mouth as your pet is comfortable. Repeat a number of times.
Introduce the toothbrush - canine teeth first!
Prepare the toothbrush with water and toothpaste. Let your dog or cat lick some of the toothpaste off the bristles. Gently hold the mouth around the muzzle to stop them chewing if necessary. Start to gently brush the canine teeth (the ‘fangs’) only, using an up and down motion, with the brush angled towards the gumline. There are two on the top jaw and two on the bottom. At this stage avoid the front teeth (incisors) as this is the most sensitive area in the mouth.
The back teeth
As before - start by brushing the canine teeth, then slowly move along to the teeth behind them using a circular motion. Only go as far as your pet is happy with. Brush both sides of the mouth.
As before, start by brushing the canines and then the back teeth. Hold the mouth closed around the muzzle and gently lift the upper lip with the thumb and forefinger bridging the muzzle to reveal the incisor teeth. Many pets are sensitive in this area so proceed very gently. Gently brush the front teeth using an up and down motion. Gradually build up the amount of time spent brushing. For maximum protection tooth brushing should be performed daily.
NOTE: inflamed gums can bleed a little on brushing. It is not painful itself, so persist with the daily brushing to calm the gums. They should no longer bleed after 2-3 weeks of good brushing. There is no substitute for daily tooth brushing, which is the only way to effectively remove plaque from below the gum line. However, in some cases brushing teeth may not be possible and we may recommend other measures such as plaque-reducing oral rinses, chews or dental diets. Beware of unsafe treats and toys such as sticks, hard toys, bones and antlers, which can all cause serious damage to the teeth and mouth.
For further help or advice, please refer to your clinical team at your local Companion Care practice.