5 Reasons Cat Teeth Cleanings Are Worth the Cost

A cat yowling or making another sound.
A cat yowling or making another sound. Photography ©White_bcgrd | Thinkstock.

Veterinarians have been talking to cat caretakers about the importance of cat dental health and encouraging regular dental care for probably at least a decade, and with good reason. The trouble is, cat teeth cleanings are pretty expensive because cats require general anesthesia for the procedure, and people are reluctant to shell out the bucks for a procedure that may not seem necessary. Yes, cat dental cleanings are on the spendy side, but I think they’re totally worth the cost, and here’s why.

1. Cats don’t naturally have horrible breath

A white cat with her mouth open.
Does your cat have bad breath? She might have a dental disease. Photography by Martin Poole/Thinkstock.

Let me start off by busting one of the ever-so-common feline myths: Even if a cat eats tuna every day, his breath should not smell bad. If your cat’s breath smells like something is rotting in his mouth, the odds are that he has an infection or tooth decay.

2. Cat dental disease is very painful

Have you ever had an abscessed tooth or serious gum disease? If so, you know it hurts! It hurts cats, too, but our cats are masters at hiding their pain. It’s an ingrained and instinctive survival technique. The only indication you may have of your cat’s pain is a change in temperament. Even with sore teeth and gums, a cat will still eat because hunger trumps pain — until the pain gets too severe, that is.

3. Dental disease doesn’t just stay in your cat’s mouth

An infection that begins as gingivitis can progress to the point where your cat develops infections in the bones, lungs and even the bloodstream itself. The cost of treating a life-threatening systemic infection is a lot higher than the cost of those annual cat teeth cleanings.

4. Cat dental disease can complicate other illnesses

Diabetic cats with dental disease, for example, suffer more than others because chronic oral infections make it difficult to keep blood sugar levels under control.

5. Cat dental disease can lead to other illnesses

Research has shown that dental disease increases the risk of diabetes, infections of the heart and lungs, kidney disease, autoimmune diseases, arthritis, heart failur and even cancer.

Some final thoughts on cat teeth cleanings and cat dental diseases

This isn’t hyperbole or hysteria. I personally know several people who have become seriously ill and almost died due to untreated dental disease. As I think back on the cats with whom I’ve shared my life — like the cat who “lost a fang” and probably was in excruciating pain due to root exposure, although I didn’t know it at the time; and my FIV-positive cat, Castor, who developed severe mouth infections as his disease progressed — I’m almost certain dental problems contributed to or exacerbated their other health problems.

While I’m on the subject of cat dental cleanings, I’m going to offer my two cents on anesthesia-free dentistry. Although we humans understand why our mouths are being poked, prodded and scraped with pointy things, this is not true for cats. I can’t even imagine how anesthesia-free dental cleaning can effectively remove plaque and tartar from a writhing, clawing, freaked-out feline’s mouth, and the process of being restrained while all this stuff is going on must be incredibly traumatic.

Yes, anesthesia has risks. Yes, a cat dental cleaning done under general anesthesia is more expensive than an anesthesia-free one. But in the long run, I believe the benefits of effective cat dental cleanings outweigh the risk of anesthesia — and I hope you take this seriously, because I am painfully aware of the reality of that risk: I actually had a cat who died from complications of anesthesia.

Tell us: What about you? Do you have your cat’s teeth cleaned regularly? Do you know anyone who has used anesthesia-free dentistry for their cat? Do you know of cats that suffered complications from untreated dental disease? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Thumbnail: Photography ©White_bcgrd | Thinkstock.

Read more about cats and cat dental diseases on Catster:

Editor’s note: February is National Pet Dental Health Month, an ideal time to republish this post so you can get the information and comment on it.

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

24 thoughts on “5 Reasons Cat Teeth Cleanings Are Worth the Cost”

  1. It’s good to know that cats don’t usually have bad breath and that it can indicate that something is wrong. My cat’s breath has been smelling awful lately and we’re not sure why. Maybe bringing her to a vet would be a good idea to make sure that she isn’t sick.

  2. Some people drink and smoke 2 packs daily and live to 90 so clearly that is the correct lifestyle choice? If you pay for anesthesia free dental cleanings you are wasting your money. This ” research” you do, is this in all your free time from not getting a formal education? Do you study under the prestigious institute that is taught by Jenny Mccarthy at the Dr Google academy? I’m sorry I’m using logic which is clearly wasted on you and I’m sure is absent in your “research”

  3. Anyone who says they can clean a cats teeth without anesthesia is the true scam. Just like with humans, the real problem with dental disease is what’s underneath the gumline, not what you can see. If you want to bury your head in the sand and not treat a potentially painful condition that is your perogative, fine to be cheap and spend your money on bs but don’t blame the veterinarians who are clearly looking out for you cat while you try to lie to yourself to ease your guilt about your cheap ways.

  4. I’ve used Anesthesia free Dentals for 4 of my cats since they were 3 years old and fed them all raw diets. 10 years later at a Vet Health check, it was noted how good my cats teeth & gums were. No tartar, Gingivitis or signs of gum disease.
    My cats are 14 – 21 years of age. Never had Anesthesia and never will for a Dental clean. I believe it’s totally unnecessary and often scare tactics used by Vets to earn huge money for these procedures.
    I do my research very well and think Anesthesia Dentals are a sham!
    Don’t waste your hard earned money.
    Feed raw and brush their teeth + yearly Anesthesia Free Dental :)

    1. It’s not a scare tactic or a money grab. If an animal can go anesthesia free, that’s great. But a lot of cats don’t like being restrained or handled by strangers, and too much movement can be dangerous while the vet is holding sharp objects in the animal’s mouth. Often anesthesia for the cleaning is safer, especially for high stress animals. Vets aren’t trying to scam you, most are just trying to do the best for the animal. If you disagree with someone’s approach, that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean it’s a scam, it’s just a difference of opinion (but I’m gonna trust the doctors know more than laymen)

      1. I’ve got to go with Addy on this one although my cats will let me look at their teeth I don’t believe for a second they will let a stranger near their mouths with sharp instruments, in fact, the anesthesia-free concept sounds a little squirrely to me. Somebody’s going to get hurt the vet a tech or my cats and I have no intention of following the advice of a stranger on the net when it comes to my cats health

    2. Some people drink and smoke 2 packs daily and live to 90 so clearly that is the correct lifestyle choice? If you pay for anesthesia free dental cleanings you are wasting your money. This ” research” you do, is this in all your free time from not getting a formal education? Do you study under the prestigious institute that is taught by Jenny Mccarthy at the Dr Google academy? I’m sorry I’m using logic which is clearly wasted on you and I’m sure is absent in your “research”

    3. I think getting teeth cleaned without anesthesia is borders on cat abuse. Why don’t you get your dental work done without anesthesia. Save money Haidee. I think you are just cheap and I don’t know if I believe what your saying. I agree on dental brushing their teeth and also feeding raw food so I am on board with that but the no anesthesia part, No way. God Bless.

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  7. Jo Ellen Eros

    Our kitty is about seven years old and has never had her teeth cleaned. At her yearly exam today, the vet showed me how the tartar is building up on kitty’s teeth and one spot on her gum that looks irritated. The cost of blood work, anesthesia and cleaning runs $950 to over $1300 if extractions are required. I knew it would be expensive, but ???
    We’re in Delaware. Would like to hear from others.

    1. One of our cat sisters required dental cleaning a couple years ago and an extraction. We took her to a pet dentist in our state (they have about six extra years of post graduate training)–they did an outstanding job–especially in their advanced knowledge of anesthesia, and ensuring our cats physical and emotional comfort. Two years later she needs another cleaning. We considered taking her to our local vet which would be perhaps 100.00 to 250.00 cheaper; but for us, if we are going to spend this kind of money (it will be 500.00 to 800.00 at the pet dentist vs. 420.00 to 550.00 at the primary veterinarian office) we want to make sure that our furry child has the smallest possible risk. On a related matter, if your cat has gum disease please ask the vet if Bartonella disease needs to be ruled out. Our last vet diagnosed this (when others had missed it) and after treatment with antibiotics there was a big improvement.

    2. My 10 1/2 year-old cat saw the vet today. He also saw tartar and recommended dental cleaning. With land and anesthesia it will be about $750.00. I’m thinking of calling other vets to do price checking. The range people are mentioning here is hard to comprehend; how can it differ by $500??

  8. My 5 1/2 year old cat had her teeth cleaned for the first time today. Our vet is extremely reasonable. It “only” cost $185; she didn’t need any extractions and the tartar is all gone. I too lost a cat to complications from anesthesia, so I was very worried. I weighed the pros and cons, and decided it was worth it. I don’t want her to suffer from painful teeth, and I figured prevention was the best course of action.

  9. I am sorry, I just cannot support this teeth cleaning racket which vets now a days subject the cats to. I even found a fairly reasonable vet to clean my four cats teeth. The racket isn’t the cleaning, it is the removing of the teeth sometimes at $100.-$150. a tooth! I got caught up in this to the tune of nearly $4000+. Poors little ones all have trouble eating now. I did a real disservice to my babies listening to these vets whom I suspect had very little training in dentistry. One woman even said that when she went to vet school noone even looked into cats mouths. Vet fees today are out of control. I can get human services cheaper that what these charletons charge.

    1. Take your cat to your Doctor if you don’t like the Vet’s prices. Sure alot of people griping about spending their money on their pets but I bet they go to the Doctor when they need to. You don’t like the money spent to keep your pets health up. Don’t get pets!

  10. catherine mcallister

    my cat molly is 16yr old and has ckd i want to get her teeth checked but i have to pluck up the courage as one of my daughters cats had to be put to sleep 2weeks ago with aggresive mouth cancer my molly had a bad experience last year with anathsetic the kanula had came out and they didnt notice as a result it only went under the skin we nearly lost her she is not the most friendly of cats what am i supposed to do i am worried sick regards

    1. I tend to take a conservative approach to cat health in partnership with my vet. When they are 15+, we do what is necessary only to make them comfortable, so unless it is affecting their ability to eat or there is some sign of infection, we would not put the cat through any procedure. I also had a cat that got sudden onset of aggressive throat cancer and had to be euthanized but I don’t think it had anything to do with her teeth. I still believe in annual exams, senior screens and close observation of behavioral changes (and smells).

  11. Since I started feeding raw food, my cat’s no longer have teeth problems. It took about 6 months to go from 1 cat having a lot of tartar and vet saying he needed cleaning to having tartar free teeth and no longer needing dental. Also he was blind and deaf, and when I discovered how much he LOVED raw, I felt bad that I had deprived him of not fully engaging his sense of taste. Never going back to dry food unless emergency and from now on I will no longer take cats that won’t eat raw meat or whole prey. If you do feed dry, you should make a special savings acct. & put away about $10 a month & in about 8 yrs..you’ll have the $ Because you WILL need it. Also, if they want to give you pain meds, get Buprenex, not Metacam unless you want to risk damaging kidneys. I’d only use as last resort and I think injection was the safer method. Do your research. Find out if they do surgical extraction or the kind where they break the tooth & pull out the pieces? Would you like to keep the teeth or pieces of, tell them. It might sound gross but later in life when they are ready to cross over, you might have wished you kept it to put in a memorial necklace…or hold it in your hand as your giving birth to your 1st born? lol Oh no, I guess I won’t be able to collect teeth anymore. That’s ok, they look better in my cat’s mouth.

    1. Also, article said regular cleanings but doesn’t explain what that means. Is that yearly, every few yrs or 5? Is it whenever the vet notices something wrong or you do? Also it might be worth noting that until they get your cat to sleep & take x-rays, they really don’t know what they’ll find. At least that’s how it worked for every feline dental we’ve had. Do they still do x-rays if your getting dental even though teeth appear fine?

    2. Very interesting! What do you feed your cats for their raw diet? I would like to switch over to raw, but find it confusing as I was told I needed to get some kind of supplements, etc., to add to the food. If I could find simple instructions that don’t leave me wondering if I have all the bases covered, I would like to try a raw diet.

      1. Hi Linda,

        Here is some info on feeding your cats a raw diet:

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