Ask Einstein the Cat: My Mouth Hurts — Do I Have Dental Issues?


Greetings Great One,

My mouf hurts like a son of a dog. I even bit my human mom today when she touched the side of my face. It was a total accident. I just wanted to be left alone.

I don’t even like to eat anymore. Biting down on my crunchies feels like I’m eating jagged glass. My human mom has resorted to verbal abuse. She says I have Mastiff breath, times ten. Harsh. Really harsh. She gives me fish-shaped breath mints, but then complains my mouth smells like something died in there, but minty.

Help Me,

Lister the LaPerm

Yo, Listerine,

Bummer about your molar mayhem. Humans whine about something being “a pain in the posterior,” but they should say it’s a “pain in the mouth,” cuz dental pain is the worst. Unless they’ve had oral aches personally, humans don’t know how really excruciating it feels.

While potty mouth is just business as usual in the canine world, it’s not normal for we kitties. We may smell like halibut immediately following dinner, but 24/7 sewer breath (and I’m not talking about a proclivity to use five-letter words like pooch, doggy, and that “B” word) probably means you have some kind of mouth infection, says Bonnie Shope, DVM, Diplomate (not to be confused with diplomat) of the American Veterinary Dental College and a doc at Veterinary Dental Services in Acton, MA.

Left untreated, the infection could cause problems for your lungs, heart, liver, or kidneys. If you stop eating, you can develop a potentially fatal disease called hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease).

Unlike humans who often openly whine about pain, we kitties usually act stoic no matter how bad it hurts. After all, in the wild a moaning kitty is as good as dinner to any predator within earshot. But we do send our humans coded messages; humans just need to learn to see them. Instead of offering you a Tic Tac, your mom needs to take you to the vet.

How do you diagnose a toothache?

A kitty whose mouth hurts may hide to avoid interaction with his family, or he may lash out when touched, just like you did. Cuz he sometimes stops grooming, a toothache tabby might look dirty and unkempt.

Dental kitties may suddenly develop a preference for wet food over kibble, or stop eating altogether. You may have difficulty chewing your food, or drop your food while you chew.

If your mom notices hound-like halitosis, bleeding from the mouth, pawing at your mouth or face, drooling, losing weight, grumpiness, red or inflamed gums or drainage from one eye or nostril, it’s time to have a sleepover at your vet’s place. Your vet will scrape away all the icky brown tartar from your teeth that harbors bacteria.

If he finds either advanced dental disease or stomatitis (an overwhelming inflammation of the mouth’s soft tissue sometimes associated with viruses like feline immunodeficiency virus or feline herpes virus), you may wake up from your cleaning a few teeth short of a full mouth. BTW, if the problem is limited to a specific area, he may have to remove just the teeth that are most affected. Full mouth extractions usually aren’t necessary, but if you did lose all your teeth, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Toothless kitties can eat canned food or small kibble just fine. Other cats won’t call you names if you’re missing teeth. Believe me, a toothless cat is happier than one with a painful, diseased mouth.

Even if you’re an old guy you should let the vet give you the gas. Anesthesia is very safe today. That oral bacteria is much more likely to have you biting the big one, and it’s a terrible way to go.

Time to brush

Once you’re back from the clinic and your pearly whites are pearly white, your mom can keep them in fine form with a quick tooth brushing every day. Humans brush their own teeth daily cuz sticky stuff called plaque forms every day. In just a couple of days plaque starts to harden and turn into the mineral tartar or calculus, which can’t be removed by brushing.

Tartar forms above and below the gum lines, providing fissures where bacteria can take up residence. Once bacteria start subleasing the tartar tenement, our bodies mount an immune response. Basically it’s the cavalry riding in to protect your mouth from an invader. The resulting collateral damage: Your gums become inflamed and infected, and painful. Vets call that inflammation gingivitis. So daily brushing demolishes the slime slum.

When your mom brushes your chompers she needs to throw out the rules she learned from her own dentist. Rules like use toothpaste with fluoride, brush for two to three minutes, and brush all tooth surfaces — those are for humans. Forget Colgate. Human dental pastes aren’t formulated to be swallowed, and I don’t know any kitties who have mastered the ability to spit. Your human can get kitty toothpaste at your vet’s or the pet store that’s not only safe for you, but like everything else in the world, tastes like chicken.

If your mom swears you’ll never let her come at you armed with a toothbrush, she may be right. But on the other hand, it could be a matter of approach.

But how do I brush?

Dr. Shope, who has brushed her share of feline fangs, recommends going slowly. Your mom should get an itty-bitty kitty toothbrush from your vet. The head’s about the size of a pencil eraser. Since most kitties like the poultry or shrimp-flavored toothpaste, mom can start by letting you lick it off the toothbrush. She only needs to brush the tooth surfaces next to the cheeks, cuz the tongue does a pretty good job of scrubbing the inside surfaces.

Once both you and your human get into the habit of brushing, oral ablutions should only take 40 seconds (20 seconds per side), a minute tops. Here’s the good part: When they’re done you get a really good treat like a chunk of deli turkey. Woohoo. If you simply won’t cooperate, she can still try a dental diet, dental treats, gels or liquids she can squirt in the mouth, or water additives.

Regular professional dental care and daily toothbrushing will keep you healthy and pain-free. So, next time your human mom jokes about your demon breath, tell her, “Bite me.”

Got a question for he who knows everything feline? Just Ask Einstein in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Letters don’t have to be written from the cat’s point of view.) Remember, any change in your cat’s behavior or activities could be a symptom of disease and should be investigated by your vet, even if it unfortunately involves glass tubes and cat posteriors.

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Einstein’s assistant, Dusty Rainbolt ACCBC, is the vice president of the Cat Writers’ Association, editor-in-chief of and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She’s the award-winning author of eight fiction and non-fiction books including her most recent paranormal mystery, Death Under the Crescent Moon.

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