Should I be brushing my cat’s teeth?

You might be surprised to find out that it is possible to train some cats to allow you to brush their teeth. I can hear you scoffing even as I am writing this. OK, so even I wouldn’t be game to stick my finger in the mouths of some of my feline patients but the point is that dental disease is incredibly common, often neglected and the cause of not only oral pain and periodontal disease but a whole host of other health issues such as kidney and heart disease. 

It is thought that 85% of cats over the age of 3 years will have some form of dental disease. Plaque initially forms where bacteria are allowed to form a film on the surface of the teeth. That plaque will eventually harden to form calculus and tarter which is a mineralised deposit stuck to the surface of the tooth. By that stage gingivitis will have already started and the gum will start to recede exposing the periodontal ligament which anchors the tooth into its socket. As the periodontal ligament weakens the integrity of the tooth starts to suffer and once the tooth root is exposed to bacteria there is little that can be done other than extracting the diseased tooth under a general anaesthetic.  

Cats have a relatively thin layer of enamel on the surface of their teeth and are particularly prone to tooth decay. We often see flakes of enamel breaking away exposing the sensitive tooth pulp. Sadly once the enamel is damaged like this the tooth inevitably continues to deteriorate, slowly breaking apart until only broken roots are left behind, all the time causing pain and acting as a source of bacterial infection. We know that this bacterial exposure in the mouth results in bacteria entering the blood stream and over time causing damage to kidney and heart tissue.

Moderate plaque and tarter on cat’s teeth

There are things that you can do to look after your cat’s teeth. Start by simply getting into the habit of examining their gums and teeth, particularly at the back of the mouth. Are the teeth white and clean or discoloured and covered in tarter? Are the gums pink and healthy or sore, inflamed and bleeding?

What sort of food are you feeding your cat? Some dry food diets are now designed to clean the surface of the teeth as your cat is biting into them, tinned or pouches of wet cat food are unlikely to provide much cleaning benefit! You can get cat dental chews and chew toys to mechanically scrape and clean plaque of the teeth. 

Believe it or not it is possibly to train many cats to tolerate teeth cleaning, oral mouth wash gels or actual tooth brushing. Start slowly with gentle teeth wiping and rubbing and build up slowly to more vigorous brushing over many weeks. Speak to your vet about cat toothpaste and brushes or dental chews and biscuits but most importantly look after your cat’s mouth and they’ll thank you for it in the longterm!