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Understanding cat dentistry and how to brush your cat’s teeth


Why is brushing helpful for cats
Good quality food may provide a cat with all the required nutrients, but it doesn't fight the accumulation of plaque and tartar on teeth as well as a natural diet would. In the wild, tearing through skin and bone, removes these deposits much better than any dry food kibbles.

Without this natural cleaning process, the cat's teeth may get covered in residue and bacteria which are likely to cause tooth decay and gingivitis. Brushing the cat's teeth everyday helps fight off plaque and bacteria, this significantly decreases the need for professional teeth cleaning by the vet and keeps your cat's teeth and gums clean and healthy.

Brushing your cat's teeth should be an important part of the grooming routine. Brushing the teeth of an adult cat that is not used to the process can be difficult so it always advisable to familiarise your kitten with the process early on and make the experience brief and fun.  

Many oral problems can be prevented or managed with good dental hygiene, such as:

  • Gingivitis - inflammation of the gums

  • Endodontic disease - inflammation of the pulp, known as pulpitis

  • Periodontal disease - gum disease

  • Tooth abscess

  • Feline Ondoclastic Resorptive Lesions (FORL)- cavities and lesions

  • Stomatitis - inflammation & ulceration of the soft tissues in the mouth

Toothpaste and rinses - There are many types of cat specific toothpaste on the market today, mostly meat flavoured varieties make the tooth brushing process more acceptable to the cat. Toothpastes designed for humans can upset your cat's stomach. Cat toothpastes may contain several different active ingredients.  Toothpastes, gels, and rinses that contain chlorhexidine, hexametaphosphate, or zinc gluconate are normally recommended by veterinarians but you should consult your vet for the most suitable product for your cat. For cats with periodontal disease, fluoride treatments or toothpastes may be prescribed by your veterinarian.

The real benefit of brushing your cat’s teeth comes from the mechanical action of the brush on the teeth. Various brushes, sponges and pads are available. The choice of what to use depends on the health of your cat's gums, the cooperation of your cat, and your ability to clean the teeth.

Toothbrushes - Use toothbrushes designed specifically for cats which are small and very soft . Finger toothbrushes are sometimes easier to use. For some cats, starting out with dental sponges or pads may be helpful since they are more pliable. Dental sponges have a small sponge at the end of a handle, and are disposable. They are softer than brushes. Dental pads can help remove debris from the teeth and gums but do not provide the mechanical action that brushes do.

Treats - There are some dental chews on the market that are specifically designed to help control plaque and tartar build-up which could help reduce the frequency of brushing, especially for cats that dislike the process.

Food - Hard kibbles are slightly better at keeping plaque from accumulating on the teeth. There are also veterinary dentist diets which help to reduce plaque and calculus build-up.

How to brush your cats teeth
For the first few sessions don't even use a toothbrush.  Hold your cat the same way as you do when you are grooming or stroking her.  Gently stroke the outside of her cheeks with your finger.  The next step is to have your cat become comfortable with having something placed against her teeth and gums. Apply a small amount of flavoured toothpaste to your finger and gently rub it on one of the large canine teeth and her gums.

Once the cat is comfortable with having something in her mouth, the next step is to introduce the toothbrush or dental sponge. Allow your cat to lick the toothpaste off the brush to allow her to get used to the consistency of the bristles. At first, you may just want to brush one or both upper canine teeth. The bristles should be held at a 45 degree angle and be moved in an oval, circular motion, brushing the gum line and a few teeth at a time. Try to get to the rear teeth where large amounts of plaque and tartar tend to build up.

Over the next several days, gradually increase the number of teeth brushed.  It is important to eventually brush the rear teeth where plaque and tartar have a greater tendency to accumulate.  Go slowly and gently.  Stop brushing when you decide to stop, rather than waiting until your cat begins get agitated. Build up to about 30 seconds per side.  Cats don't get much tartar on the inside surfaces of their teeth, so you only need to worry about the outside surfaces.