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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

My 1-year-old cat has inflamed gums for quite some time, but they are neither bleeding nor are they that red. Also my cat eats perfectly the dry food I give him and he plays all the time, bites, pulls on his toys, etc. Should I be worried about the inflammation when he is acting normal or should I bring him to the vet?

~ Ana

Thomas: Well, Ana, in this case we’d definitely recommend a trip to the vet. It sounds like what you’re seeing is called gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums.

Bella: Did you know that according to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 85 percent of cats show some signs of dental disease by the time they’re 6 years old? Ouch!

Thomas: Gingivitis is a sign of early stage dental disease. It’s caused by plaque and tartar buildup around the base of the teeth, and it causes redness and swelling because of the bacteria that get stuck in there.

Bella: Gingivitis is the only reversible stage of dental disease. Once you get to the point of severe gum inflammation or tartar buildup that leads to resorptive lesions (“kitty cavities”), the only fix is usually extraction of the affected teeth.

Thomas: Gingivitis can be a sign of other conditions like FIV or other viral infections, so make sure your vet runs a blood test for FIV and feline leukemia virus (FeLV) if they haven’t done so already.

Bella: It seems to us — and this is purely anecdotal, of course — that orange cats have a much higher tendency to develop dental disease than cats of other colors.

Thomas: We don’t know why that is, but a lot of people with orange cats will tell Mama that their kitties’ mouths are a mess.

Bella: But a good thing is that you can prevent gingivitis and tartar buildup by brushing your cat’s teeth.

Thomas: Yes, of course that sounds ridiculous, but if you take the time to get your kitty used to it, they take to it pretty well.

Bella: Here’s a video that shows how simple it is to clean your cat’s teeth.

Thomas: One thing we should state is that unlike the guest speaker in this video, we absolutely do not recommend non-anesthetized dental cleanings. There’s no way to clean the teeth as thoroughly as needed in a cat that is not under general anesthesia.

Bella: Besides, I wouldn’t want to be awake with some dumb old vet shoving metal things in my mouth!

Thomas: Bella! Vets are not dumb!

Bella: Okay, then — some smart old vet shoving metal things in my mouth.

Thomas: One more thing: dental disease doesn’t necessarily show up as inflammation of the gums. This summer, I had eight teeth pulled, and only one of those was showing superficial signs of disease. The rest of them apparently had deeper infections that were starting to cause bone loss in my jaw bone! I feel so much better without all those sore teeth.

Bella: Which brings us to another point: We cats are instinctively driven not to show pain, and the only time we’ll really make it obvious that we’re hurting is when the pain is so bad that we just can’t hide it anymore.

Thomas: Long story short, Ana — please take your cat to the vet for a checkup and oral exam to see if he needs to have his teeth cleaned.

Bella: Do you other readers have any tips on keeping your cat’s teeth clean and shiny? Do you brush your cat’s teeth? How do they take it? Please share your stories in the comments.