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Dental health is very important for your cat.  It is recommended that you brush their teeth a few times a week, if not daily. There are special toothbrushes and toothpaste sold in pet stores - never use human toothpaste.  There are also cat food brands and treats that boast their efforts in keeping your cat's teeth healthy.  Your local pet store may also carry other products to clean your cat's teeth, such as tablets that can be given to your cat as a treat or mixed in with their food.

Their gums should always be nice and pink, and should never bleed.  If you notice redness, swelling, or bleeding, contact your veterinarian.  Your cat's breath also should never smell - of course it will smell of their food, but if they have very foul breath something is wrong.  Even though your cat will eat normally and may not show pain, it doesn't mean he's not hurting.  By nature cats hide their weakness so that they always appear strong.

Four stages of periodontal disease can happen in your cat's mouth without dental care:
      •Red, inflamed gums (gingivitis)
      •Redness, swelling (edema) and bleeding (severe gingivitis).Toxin-releasing
           bacteria accompanied by malodor (halitosis).
      •Bone loss and damage to soft-tissue support of tooth is present
           (periodontitis), grayish pus oozes from under the gumline.
      •Severe bone loss - tooth becomes loose and may be lost or require
                       (This list was taken from Say "Aaaaah," Cat Fancy, February 2003)

A yearly cleaning should also be scheduled with your veterinarian. A lot of owners will laugh at this, thinking that dental care for their pets is just merely for cosmetic purposes.  However, 60% of problems with cats' teeth occur below the gumline and sometimes can not be detected by a regular check-up.  These dental visits are performed under anesthesia, which allows your veterinarian to take care of x-rays, extractions, and surgery (if needed) along with a regular cleaning, which includes a thorough cleaning above and below the gum line along with a polishing (allows inflamed gums to reattach to teeth).  This is followed by an antiseptic rinse to remove debris and bacteria, and a fluoride treatment strengthens tooth enamel. Each tooth is checked with a periodontal probe to look for gingival pockets.  If these pockets are found, either periodontal surgery or application of a perioceutic (a long-acting antibiotic gel injected into the pockets) will be performed.  The vet will also take x-rays, which can detect problems in the jawbone or tooth roots - if these problems are found, extraction may be necessary.  Endodontics (root canal) or "surgical placement of a synthetic bioactive ceramic to stimulate regeneration of bone and periodontal ligament can now help save teeth once considered hopeless."
(Reference: Say "Aaaaah," Cat Fancy, February 2003)

February is dental health month for cats.  Use this as a reminder to schedule a professional cleaning with your vet.

How to Brush
Brushing your cat's teeth should start when he is a kitten to get him used to it.  You really should put aside a few minutes every morning or night (whenever it works into your schedule) to brush your cat's teeth.  It takes only a few minutes and can keep your cat from experiencing any pain.

To brush your cat's teeth, I recommend holding him up on a kitchen counter facing away from you, his body held up against your stomach (he should be sitting on all fours and you should be able to wrap your arm around him to control him).  You can buy a regular toothbrush for your cat, which looks like a toddler's toothbrush, or a finger brush (pictured at left) which will slip on over your forefinger.  I found the finger brush to be easier to use while you're holding a cat that doesn't really want their teeth brushed.

With the hand that you have wrapped around your cat, lift up one side of his upper lip.  In a circular motion, brush he teeth and along his gums.  Repeat on the other side, the front top, and all along the bottom.  You only need to clean the outer surface of the teeth because cats do not form tartar next to their tongue or palate.  Start out slowly - maybe the first time you do it, you can only get one side done.  You want to restrain your cat as little as possible to avoid turning "toothbrush time" into a negative experience.  Follow with treats and lots of praise. 

You can buy toothpaste at the pet store also, but I recommend the meat flavored pastes from C.E.T. Dental.  You can get their products from your veterinarian or you can order them online - Petsnmore has very good prices, as well as a large selection of their products.  C.E.T. Dental also offers dental rinses and gels, along with chews for your cat.  Experiment with all of them and see what works for your cat.