What to Know About Dental Problems in Cats

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on December 26, 2021
4 min read

Dental disease in cats includes teeth and gum problems. It is common in young and old cats. Just like in humans, it can be severe in older cats. Up to 85% of cats ages 3 years and older have dental disease. Most dental problems in cats can be prevented or treated.

Dental disease in cats is usually caused by a buildup of bacteria. Bacterial growth that is not stopped can cause periodontal disease in cats. Both teeth and gums can be affected.

Plaque is a layer of bacteria that forms on teeth. If it is not removed, it grows thicker. It is seen as a white layer on the tooth surface. Plaque is the most common cause of dental disease in cats. Brushing your cat’s teeth daily is recommended to keep their gums healthy.

If plaque continues to grow, it hardens over time due to calcium deposits. This is called dental tartar or calculus. It is a hard, yellow or brown-colored deposit on the tooth surface. Because it is hard, it can’t be removed by brushing. You’ll have to take your cat to a vet for dental scaling to remove it.

Feline gum disease or gingivitis is when the gums around your cat’s teeth become inflamed or swollen. Gingivitis can be painful. It is caused by a buildup of plaque or bacteria on the teeth. If the plaque grows, bacteria can infect the gums at the tooth’s base. The cat’s immune system will then start attacking the bacteria, causing inflammation, redness, and pain.

Feline gum disease is caused by poor dental health or other diseases such as feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus, feline calicivirus, kidney disease, or diabetes mellitus

Gum disease symptoms

A cat with gum disease will show the following symptoms:

  • Swelling and redness in gums
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Bleeding where the tooth and gums meet 
  • Drooling
  • Bad breath

Your cat may even stop eating, turn their head to one side while chewing, or show a preference for soft foods.

Feline gum disease prevention and treatment

You can prevent gum disease in cats by regularly brushing their teeth. Use tooth gel or toothpaste specifically made for cats. If your cat has gingivitis, consult a vet before brushing their teeth.

The vet will clean your cat’s teeth and remove the plaque by dental scaling followed by dental polishing. They may give your cat antibiotics. In extreme cases, they may remove the cat’s affected teeth. If your cat has an underlying disease or infection, the vet will treat it to manage gum disease.

If gum disease in cats is left untreated, it can cause periodontal disease or periodontitis. This condition affects the bone and tissues that connect the tooth to the gums. The buildup of bacteria triggers the cat’s immune response, which weakens the bone and destroys surrounding tissues. The cat’s affected teeth may become loose and fall out.

Cats with periodontal disease show signs of gum disease. Their gums might move back or recede, tooth root surfaces may be seen, and teeth may become loose. Cats may even lose one or more teeth.

To diagnose this condition, the vet will check your cat’s gums and examine the head and jaw using X-rays.

Cat periodontal disease treatment 

Periodontal disease in cats is treated by removing plaque and tartar buildup. This is done by dental scaling and polishing. In severe cases, the vet may have to extract your cat’s teeth.

Stomatitis is inflammation inside or at the back of the mouth. It happens when cats have gum disease due to an underlying infection like feline immunodeficiency virus or feline calcivirus. 

Stomatitis symptoms 

This condition can be extremely painful for cats. Your cat may stop eating. They may drool, paw at their mouth, or show signs of mouth pain. They may also lose weight because of not eating.

Stomatitis treatment

The usual treatment course includes scaling and cleaning your cat’s teeth. The cat may be given antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medicines depending on the underlying condition.

Some cats require extensive dental extractions to treat stomatitis.

Tooth resorption, also called feline odontoclastic resorptive lesion, is when the tooth starts breaking from the inside. It is a common cause of tooth loss in cats. More than 70% of cats over five years of age show signs of tooth resorption.

Symptoms of tooth resorption in cats

Tooth resorption is seen as a pinkish defect where the tooth meets the gums. It can be very painful. Your cat may not want to eat anything. They may drool, turn their heads sideways while eating, be irritable, and not feel well. 

This condition is diagnosed by checking teeth for defects or by mouth and jaw X-rays.

Treatment of tooth resorption in cats

The vet will try to save the affected teeth and reduce your cat’s pain. They may have to remove the tooth if it can’t be saved.

If your cat’s teeth don’t develop properly, they become misaligned. This causes an improper bite. When the upper jaw grows faster than the lower one, it’s called an overbite. If the lower jaw grows faster and becomes longer than the upper jaw, that’s an underbite. Some cats may develop tilted or abnormally positioned teeth. 

An improper bite is treated by removing or extracting teeth. Your cat may be given braces to correct their bite.

Tooth problems such as tooth decay and enamel defects can also affect your cat’s teeth. Your cat may get into an accident or fight with other animals, leading to trauma, injury, or fractured teeth or jaw. You'll have to visit the vet to stabilize your cat's fractured jaw or extract broken teeth.