Most cats develop dental disease at some point in their lives; in fact, by age four, more than half of cats will already have some degree of dental disease. Without intervention, dental disease is slowly progressive, and sooner or later will result in chronic pain, infection, and irreversible damage to the jaw bone and associated oral tissues.

Additionally, in the presence of periodontal disease, bacteria in the mouth are able to gain access to the bloodstream, and can establish potentially serious infections in other organs, such as the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. Due to these detrimental effects, as dental disease progresses, it may begin to have a significant impact not only on a cat’s quality of life, but also on their lifespan.

Dental disease in cats can be difficult for an owner to detect, as cats are usually reluctant to allow a good look in their mouths, and are adept at hiding discomfort. This is one reason an annual visit to the vet for a physical exam is so important.


There are many ways to help your cat maintain good oral health. The key is to be proactive and consistent, as it is far better to prevent dental disease from developing than it is to treat it after it is already causing problems.


Proper nutrition is the foundation for good dental health. Diets specifically designed to support oral health are available, and may be a good option for your pet.

Tooth Brushing

If possible, establish a cat tooth cleaning routine when your cat is young (talk to your vet about tips for brushing and about acclimating your cat to this procedure). Not all cats will allow you to brush their teeth, but with patience and consistency, many will become accustomed to the procedure. While daily tooth brushing is ideal, even doing it once or twice a week will have a benefit. Several different styles of specially-designed tooth brushes are available, and pet-safe toothpaste comes in multiple meaty flavors. Oral care wipes are also available as an alternative to a toothbrush and toothpaste. At The Animal Clinic of Billings, our technicians are trained to teach you how to clean your cat’s teeth at home. We will work with you to ensure the best possible home dental health routine for your cat.

Schedule wellness exams for cats at least once per year to detect dental problems in their earliest stages. Watch for signs of potential dental issues such as bad breath, difficulty chewing, or decreased interest in hard/dry foods. During a checkup with your veterinarian, be sure to mention any behaviors you’ve noticed and any concerns you have.


When your vet discovers signs of oral and/or dental disease on an exam, such as tarter accumulation, inflammation of the gums (gingivitis), a Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesion (FORL; a focal area of enamel loss, somewhat like a cavity in a human, but usually found along the gum line), broken or loose teeth, or an oral mass, they will recommend a complete oral evaluation, cleaning, and treatment under general anesthesia.

Prior to an anesthetic dental procedure, lab work is performed to ensure that the patient does not have any detectable problems that would increase their risk of going under anesthesia. Once this is completed, the cat is given an injection of sedation (and pain medication, if a tooth extraction or other pain-inducing procedure is anticipated) to help them remain relaxed and comfortable. They are then anesthetized, and monitoring equipment is applied to continuously track the patient’s vital signs.

Patient safety is our top priority, and every patient is closely monitored throughout their procedure. Should a problem arise, it will be rapidly detected and addressed.

Once a cat is under anesthesia for their dental procedure, a technician will first scale and polish each tooth, including removal of any tarter that has built up below the gum line. The veterinarian will then closely examine each tooth and probe all the way around the gum line to detect any pockets or defects.

The vet will also examine the palate, tongue, cheeks, and throat for abnormalities. In most cases, dental x-rays will be taken to evaluate the tooth roots and surrounding bone; this is a very important step, as most dental disease actually occurs below the gum line. Once the exam and x-rays are complete, the veterinarian will treat any problems that have been found.

HD cat teeth fangsOne dental condition unique to cats is the Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesion (FORL). A FORL is somewhat like a cavity in a human tooth, in that enamel loss occurs, resulting in pain and sensitivity. These lesions tend to develop adjacent to the gum line on a cat’s premolar teeth. Treatment requires the extraction of the affected tooth.

Not all cats suffer from FORL’s, and the cause of these lesions is still under investigation. Removal of the affected tooth is curative, but cats who have one FORL are at an elevated risk of developing another in the future.

Cats should have a dental checkup annually. While you should check your cat’s teeth periodically yourself, a trained and experienced veterinarian can recognize dental problems in their earliest stages, when they are easiest to address. It is much easier to address and resolve dental issues when they are spotted early, compared to those that have advanced to cause more severe damage. We recommend a proactive approach to cat dental health.


Gum disease, also known as gingivitis, is the earliest form of periodontal disease (disease of the tissues around the tooth). This affect a cat’s gums, the tissues that anchor the tooth roots into the jaw bone, as well as the bone itself. Periodontal disease is caused by infection of these tissues by bacteria that invade the space where the tooth meets the gum and gradually spread deeper into the jaw.

Periodontal disease is considered the most prevalent illness in cats over three years of age, but is also one of the most under-recognized. Although early signs of feline periodontal disease are subtle, periodic veterinary checkups every 6-12 months can be useful in helping diagnose cat gum disease before it becomes severe. Gum disease in cats is completely reversible if caught early.


There are several reasons why a cat may need to have one or more teeth extracted. Some of the most common conditions necessitating extractions include:

  • Advanced periodontal disease
  • Broken, infected, or devitalized teeth
  • Retained baby teeth or maloccluded (misaligned) teeth
  • FORL’s
  • A growth or mass involving the tissues surrounding a tooth

The complexity of a tooth extraction depends on the size and number of the tooth’s roots, as well as the health of the surrounding tissues, and may require small incisions in the gum, as well as drilling away of some of the bone surrounding the roots. General anesthesia, local anesthetic nerve blocks, and post-operative pain medications ensure that a patient stays comfortable throughout the process of extraction and healing.

dental x-ray of dog and cat teethCOMMON CAT DENTAL PROBLEMS

  • Plaque and tarter build-up
  • Gingivitis and periodontal disease
  • Loose teeth and tooth loss
  • Mouth sores and ulcers
  • Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions (FORL)
  • Oral masses
  • Spread of bacteria from infected periodontal tissues to other parts of the body, such as the kidneys, liver, and heart


close up of cat teeth

Cats are masters at masking symptoms of pain and illness. Bad breath is one of the few indicators of cat dental problems you are likely to observe. If your cat has noticeably lousy breath, make an appointment for a dental exam with your veterinarian.

In severe cases, you may also see the following symptoms:

  • Pawing at the mouth, drooling
  • Decreased appetite
  • Difficulty eating or signs of discomfort while eating
  • Red, swollen, and/or bleeding gums
  • Loose, broken, or missing teeth
  • Blood in saliva or nasal discharge
  • Mouth lesions

If you notice any of these signs, your cat may have dental issues that require attention. Please schedule a veterinary appointment immediately.


Scheduling an appointment for your cat is easy; call or email us. At The Animal Clinic of Billings, our staff will make your trip to the dentist easy for you and as painless and comfortable as possible for your feline friend.


Let our highly trained and experienced team of veterinarians and veterinary technicians help you keep your cat as happy and healthy as they can be.

Call the Animal Clinic of Billings and Animal Surgery Clinic to schedule your cats next dental examination with us today!




providing our region’s companion animals and their families what they need and deserve since 1981

1414 10th St. West, Billings MT 59102