How to Properly Examine Your Cat's Teeth and Gums

A critical part of a dental care program for cats is an at-home examination of their teeth and gums. It is recommended that owners perform this routine on their cats for one to two minutes at least two to three times a month. It can help you identify potential problems early so you can schedule an appointment with your vet and keep your kitty as healthy as possible. You will be glad to know that it’s relatively easy and most cats get used to it after the first few times.

Preparing to Examine Your Cat's Teeth

Many cat owners will laugh when you ask them about examining their cat's teeth. People believe their cats won't sit still for it or that their cat will just fight and scratch the entire time. It may not be the most straightforward task, but it is important, and being prepared will make a world of difference.

Gather all your supplies beforehand so you can direct all of your attention to your cat. Choose a time when your cat is naturally calm. Ensure that you are calm as well because your cat will pick up on any negativity or nervousness you have about the exam.

You will want to find a comfortable spot with good lighting. It may also be easier to have a partner or friend hold the cat's mouth open while you examine the oral cavity.

What You Need

  • Small penlight
  • Dental chew reward

Breath Check

To begin, smell your cat's breath. Cats don't naturally have either extremely pleasant or foul breath, so try to pay attention if it smells particularly off or not normal. An unpleasant odor may indicate an infection of the gums and/or bone. If dental problems can be eliminated the cause, your vet can check for other possible causes of abnormal breath such as kidney disease or diabetes.

Tip the Head Back

Start to talk quietly and softly to your cat to project calmness and soothe your cat. Continue this sweet talk as you go through the rest of the process. Then, gently tip the cat's head back slightly toward their backside.

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Open the Mouth

Next, using your thumb and index finger, spread the side of the cat's mouth open. Make sure you have a good flashlight or generally good lighting for the next few steps.

Examine the Teeth

Beginning with one side of the mouth, examine your cat's back teeth. You'll want to look for yellowing (plaque) or darker material (tartar), as well as any cracked or broken teeth. Then, observe the color of the gums. They should be a healthy pink color, and not an angry red or a pale pink hue. If the gum is growing over the tooth, this could also be an indication of a problem.

Do the same tooth and gum exam on the front teeth and again on the other side of the mouth. As you work your way around, take mental note of any issues you notice. Write them down when you're done, so you remember what to tell the vet about your observations.

Examine the Throat

Before you let kitty go, look into the back of their throat for redness, especially a “cobblestone” appearance. This is a sign of stomatitis, a serious and painful condition usually found in older cats.

Offer a Reward

When you're all done, be sure to reward your cat with a healthy treat. A dental chew would be an excellent and appropriate choice. After a few of these exams, your cat may even begin to look forward to this unique treat!

Preventing Problems During the Dental Exam

If at any time the catfights for attention, give it up and try another day. Trying to restrain a cat that is clearly annoyed with your poking and prodding will only make your next attempt that much more difficult and could result in you getting bitten. You want the dental exams to become a positive experience.

Proper dental care will help your cat stay healthy and becomes more important as they age. Try introducing this procedure at as young an age as possible, but know that it's never too late to start. Once you and your cat are comfortable with the procedure, it's important to make it a regular practice. If you cannot do it a few times a month, aim for once a month.

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Finally, follow up with a veterinary exam once a year. If the cat has had previous dental problems, it is suggested to go for a check-up at least twice a year or more as needed.

— Update: 15-03-2023 — found an additional article Home Dental Care Methods for Your Cat from the website for the keyword healthy cat teeth and gums.

Brushing your cat’s teeth regularly is an essential component to maintaining a healthy lifestyle for her. Nearly 90 percent of cats develop dental problems over their lifetime. Just like us, they can develop gum disease, tartar and plaque build-up, foul breath, and abscesses, all of which can develop into infection and tooth loss. With proper feline dental care and the right type of food, you can help take action against these problems.

As a carnivore, your cat needs to have clean, strong, sharp teeth. Unfortunately, many cats aren’t provided an adequate food for conditioning their teeth. Hill’s® Science Diet® Adult Oral Care cat food contains fiber to reduce plaque and tartar build-up, unique kibble technology for clean teeth and fresh breath, and other essential nutrients to your cat’s overall health.

If your cat has a tooth problem, it may take a while for you to find out. One reason is that cats instinctively hide their pain as a response to not appear vulnerable to predators, so it may take you awhile to figure out that she’s hurting. If she hides more than usual, refuses to sleep, or becomes more aggressive, this could indicate that she’s experiencing tooth pain.

The Problem With Plaque on Your Cat’s Teeth

Plaque is the film you feel on your teeth when you wake up each morning, formed by saliva, bacteria and food particles. Plaque can quickly turn into tartar, a hard yellowish deposit on the teeth. It can also cause gum infection (gingivitis), which is the first stage of periodontal disease. Some 70 percent of cats have periodontal disease by the time they turn two, but other types of gum disease can occur earlier. Bacteria from plaque accumulation can cause infection in the lungs, liver, kidney and heart.

Check for Tell-Tale Signs of Feline Dental Concerns

Between vet visits, be sure to check your cat for these important warning signs:

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  • Bad breath: an unusually strong odor may suggest digestive problems or a dental condition
  • Bleeding or a dark red line along the gums
  • Gum inflammation: swollen gums can lead to gum disease, tooth loss, inability to eat, and can be a sign of kidney disease or feline immunodeficiency virus
  • Ulcers on the gums
  • Excessive drooling or pawing at the mouth area
  • Difficulty chewing food or refusal to eat

Take your cat to the vet immediately if you notice any of these warning signs. Your vet may recommend a professional dental cleaning, which begins with blood work to determine if she’s healthy enough to undergo anesthesia. If she is, your vet will administer anesthesia and begin a comprehensive cleaning. This includes:

  • A complete oral exam and x-rays to identify problems under the gum line
  • A full cleaning under the gum line to prevent periodontal disease
  • Professional scaling to remove plaque and tartar build-up on the crown
  • Polishing the teeth to prevent plaque and bacteria

How to Brush a Cat’s Teeth at Home

The gold standard for cat oral care at home is brushing. Here are some tips for getting started:

  • Get your cat used to the idea of having her teeth brushed. Keep the sessions short and positive. Gently massage her gums with your finger or a cotton swab.
  • Use a toothbrush designed especially for cats; it’s smaller than a human toothbrush and has softer bristles. Toothbrushes that you can wear over your finger are also available.
  • Use toothpaste designed for cats; using your own toothpaste can cause distress and upset your cat’s stomach.
  • If your cat has inflamed gums, brushing her teeth too hard might be painful. Visit the vet for a quick check-up before you begin brushing.

Also, be sure to reward your cat for being so patient while you brush her teeth with either a treat or play. This will let her know that she did a good job, as well as help make future brushings easier on you both.

Alternatives to Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth

In addition to brushing your cat’s teeth, you can take other actions to ensure that she keeps her pearly whites clean. Chew toys and oral gels, along with specifically formulated dental treats and food can slow the formation of tartar and avoid the onset of dental disease.


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About the Author: Tung Chi