6 Common Cat Dental Problems: Symptoms & More [Vet-Approved]

A cat getting their teeth brushed, representing good oral hygiene which helps prevent dental disease in cats

Many cat parents wonder, “How do I know if my cat has dental problems?” or “What do unhealthy cat teeth look like?” 

At Sploot Veterinary Care, our veterinarians encounter and treat cat dental problems regularly. A few of the most common cat dental problems we see include cat tooth resorption, gingivitis in cats, and periodontal disease in cats. 

In a majority of cases, early detection of cat dental disease symptoms, along with prompt treatment, helps in producing a better prognosis. In addition, complete routine cat dental care helps reduce the probability of numerous cat dental problems.

If you’d like to be aware of the symptoms of dental disease in cats, this complete guide covers everything you need to know!

What’s in This Guide?

Cat Dental Problems: Symptoms of Dental Disease in Cats (General)

Before we go into specific symptoms for each cat dental problem, here is a comprehensive list of general cat dental disease symptoms to watch out for. 

When a cat is suffering from a dental problem, symptoms can manifest in two ways: behaviors linked to cat pain or visible changes in the cat’s teeth, mouth, or face

Behavioral Signs of Dental Disease in Cats:

  • Reduced appetite or picky eating in cats (especially dry food or hard treats)
  • Chewing slowly or having difficulty eating
  • Chewing on only 1 side on the mouth
  • Dropping food more often while eating
  • Chattering teeth
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Increased resistance to being touched on the face or near the mouth
  • Decreased grooming

Other Observable or Visible Signs of Feline Dental Problems

  • Bad breath
  • Excessive drooling
  • Visible changes to teeth
  • Visibly broken or missing teeth
  • Bleeding gums
  • Facial swelling near the cheeks and eyes
Note: If you observe any of the cat dental disease symptoms, make sure to contact a trusted veterinary clinic that offers cat dental care.
A cat that is hesitating to eat due to possible cat dental problems or dental disease in cats

1. Plaque on Cat Teeth

Plaque on cat teeth is not visible during the early stages. However, over time, a thin, sticky, yellowish film of bacteria results from the accumulation of food particles and the bacteria naturally found in the mouth. When left untreated, plaque build-up can solidify into tartar, a rough coating that can facilitate further bacterial growth. The accumulation of plaque and tartar is a precursor to more serious dental problems in cats.

To know if your cat is suffering from plaque or tartar buildup, here are the specific symptoms to watch out for: 

  • Visible yellow or brown film on the teeth
  • Bad breath (halitosis)

Typically, the presence of plaque on cat teeth does not directly cause dental pain in cats. However, it may be a sign that a cat needs to undergo teeth cleaning. In addition, to assist in reducing plaque build-up, we encourage pet parents to include toothbrushing as part of their cat’s dental care routine. 

2. Cat Tooth Resorption

Cat tooth resorption is a common condition characterized by the body's gradual breakdown and absorption of the tooth structure, typically starting under the gumline. This process begins when specialized cells called "odontoclasts" start to target and attack teeth with resorptive lesions.

Unfortunately, the exact cause of cat tooth resorption is unknown, meaning that prevention techniques are yet to be developed. However, prompt detection and treatment is crucial.

Telltale signs of tooth resorption in cats include the following:

  • Cat dental pain and tooth sensitivity
  • The presence of a resorptive lesion (a pink, inflamed spot at the base of the tooth)
  • Difficulty eating or dropping food more often
Note: Prompt treatment for cat tooth resorption is advised. If you observe any of the above symptoms of dental problems in cats, reach out to a veterinarian for further evaluation. 

3. Cat Tooth Fracture

Tooth fracture in cats typically results from physical trauma to the tooth, causing the tooth to be broken or to have the tooth’s pulp exposed.

Some of the notable signs of cat tooth fracture to watch out for include the following:

  • Cat dental pain and picky eating
  • Visible gaps in the cat’s teeth
  • Bleeding from the broken tooth
Note: Fractured cat teeth are urgent vet care cases. Reach out to an urgent care veterinarian if you observe the above symptoms.

4. Gingivitis in Cats & FCGS (Cat Gum Diseases)

Gingivitis in cats is the inflammation of the gums typically caused by plaque buildup along the gum line. Gingivitis in cats is the precursor to periodontal disease in cats, a more severe (and potentially life-threatening) cat dental problem or gum infection.

Another type of gingivitis in cats is immune-mediated (i.e., caused by an abnormal immune system response); this is known as feline chronic gingivostomatitis (FCGS). Unlike standard gingivitis in cats, there is currently no confirmed cause for FCGS. However, similar to cat gingivitis, FCGS can also lead to periodontal disease in cats. Cats with FCGS are more likely to develop more severe and extensive periodontal disease.

A few of the most notable signs of gingivitis in cats and FCGS include:

  • Difficulty eating or picky eating
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Swelling or inflammation of the gums, resulting in red gum tissue
  • Bleeding gums, especially during brushing
Note: In case of suspected cat gum disease, we recommend promptly booking an appointment with a veterinary clinic that offers cat dental care. Prompt treatment of gingivitis in cats and feline chronic gingivostomatitis can prevent it from progressing into periodontal disease in cats.

5. Periodontal Disease in Cats (Cat Gum Disease)

Periodontal disease in cats is a life-threatening cat dental problem that starts as gingivitis in cats. Periodontal disease in felines is characterized by the inflammation and infection of the structures that hold the cat’s teeth in place — including the gums, periodontal ligament, and alveolar bone. 

Periodontal disease in cats can result in tooth loss, as well as systemic problems such as liver disease and heart disease. Periodontal disease in cats can greatly lower their quality of life, while also potentially shortening the cat’s lifespan — if not addressed promptly.

A few of the notable signs of periodontal disease in cats include:

  • Cat dental pain and difficulty eating or picky eating
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Red or inflamed gums
  • Loose or shifting teeth
  • Dark, discolored teeth
Note: If periodontal disease in cats is detected and addressed early, it can still be treated and the progression of this cat gum disease may be halted — especially if still in its initial stages. For additional inquiries regarding suspected periodontal disease in cats, it's advisable to consult with a veterinarian.
A cat brought in for a check-up at Sploot Veterinary Care in Denver and Chicago for suspected dental disease in cats or periodontal disease in cats

6. Cat Tooth Abscess

A cat tooth abscess occurs when a tooth becomes infected, usually due to trauma, tooth decay, or periodontal disease in cats. The infection can result in the accumulation of pus and swelling around the affected tooth, leading to pain and discomfort for the cat. 

The following are notable signs that a cat is suffering from tooth abscess:

  • Cat dental pain and difficulty eating or picky eating
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Red or inflamed gums which may or may not have a visible abscess
  • Swelling on the face, often near the affected tooth
Note: If you observe any of the above symptoms, reach out to a veterinarian as soon as possible for prompt treatment and pain management.

Final Thoughts on Cat Dental Problems & Cat Dental Pain

Cat dental pain is a common cat dental disease symptom. However, many cats instinctively hide any signs of pain. Therefore, cat parents need to be vigilant; awareness of other observable symptoms of cat dental problems is a great start. 

In addition, we also recommend adhering to a complete cat dental care routine — which includes regular toothbrushing, dental treats (optional), dental water additives (optional), and yearly or bi-yearly dental exams, performed by a licensed veterinarian.

Note: It is not uncommon for cats to dislike toothbrushing. In some cases, this can be addressed with training (best done while a cat is still a kitten). For cases wherein training is not effective, veterinarians may give recommendations like using dental chews, dental water additives, and a personalized schedule for dental cleaning. 

Complete Cat Dental Care at Sploot Veterinary Care

Sploot Veterinary Care is a trusted primary and urgent care veterinary clinic, offering various dental services for cats — including dental exams, cat teeth cleaning, and other dental procedures. 

Our veterinary clinics are open 365 days a year until 10 pm.  We accommodate same-day appointments and urgent intakes

Get your fur baby started on great dental care today! Easily book an appointment online or through the Sploot Vets app

As always, we’re with you every pounce of the way!