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My Cat’s Grinding Their Teeth — Should I Worry? (Vet Answer)

Sadly, teeth-grinding is one of the behaviors we don’t want to see in our moggies because it’s not a quirky habit, it’s a sign of pain.

Teeth-grinding, also known as bruxism, is common in cats. It is usually associated with pain in the mouth or head. It can also be a sign of tummy pain or, less commonly, due to stress.

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How do I know if my cat is grinding their teeth?

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 Teeth-grinding can make a variety of sounds, from a gentle “tap-tap” to a coarse scrape and squeak. It can look and sound more like teeth chattering, like a human might do if they were shivering. You might see your cat’s jaw making side-to-side or up-and-down movements.

When cats grind their teeth, they may also dribble and drool. Drooling (salivating) is another sign of mouth pain.

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Why is my cat grinding their teeth?

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Image Credit: DarkmoonArt_de, Pixabay

 The most common reason for cats grinding their teeth is pain, so please don’t ignore it if your cat is grinding her teeth. If your cat is grinding her teeth when eating, mouth pain is especially likely to be the cause.

Painful teeth

Frequently the pain is from the teeth themselves. As many as 90% of adult cats over 4 years of age have dental disease. Most dental disease is painful. If you have ever had dental problems, you’ll understand why tooth grinding in cats is common—dental pain is hard to live with and one of the ways cats learn to cope is by grinding their teeth.

Pain elsewhere in the mouth, head, or body

Pain elsewhere in the mouth or head can also lead to teeth-grinding. Cats with gum disease, mouth ulcers, tumors in the mouth, or arthritis of the jaw joint, can grind their teeth.

Less commonly, pain from organs in your cat’s tummy, like the stomach, intestines, pancreas, or liver, can cause teeth-grinding.

Stress

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Image Credit: zavtrak92, Pixabay

Cats can grind their teeth when they are stressed, but this is rare. Sadly, a lot of pet cats do experience stress, but if you see teeth-grinding in a stressed cat, please don’t assume stress is the cause, they may also be in pain.

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What should I do if my cat is grinding their teeth?

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Dental disease is the most common cause of teeth-grinding in cats. The good news is that most dental disease can be treated successfully by your veterinarian. If you seek appropriate help for your teeth-grinding moggy, there’s a good chance she can be cured.

The earlier your veterinarian can examine your cat, the more likely they are to identify and fix the problem that is leading to teeth-grinding.

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Why is my cat’s mouth causing them pain?

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Tooth problems

As mentioned, the most common cause of mouth pain is problems with teeth.

When cats eat food, just like us, their teeth get dirty. Sticky plaque collects on the teeth and, if not brushed away, it forms tartar. Calculus contributes to the rotting of teeth, which can make holes in the teeth called “cavities”—these can be painful. Tartar can also press on gums, making them swollen and sore (gingivitis). The gums can shrink (gum recession) exposing tooth roots and causing further pain.

Once gums have receded and the normal attachment of the gum to the tooth has been disturbed, infection can track up under the gum and cause abscesses deep in the jaw. This is very painful.

Tooth damage (FORLs)

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Not all tooth problems are due to the build-up of tartar. Cats can also get a particular type of painful damage to their teeth called FORLs (Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions). These are holes in the teeth—they look like dental cavities caused by tartar, but their cause is unknown. Your cat could have FORLs even if her teeth are clean.

Mouth injury

Other causes of pain in your cat’s mouth can include injury to the tongue, cheeks, or the roof of the mouth (palate), fractured teeth, something being stuck in the teeth, or mouth ulcers. In most cases, these conditions can be treated successfully if detected early.

A Tumor

Sometimes conditions such as cancer can cause pain in the mouth—cats can get tumors growing in their mouths. While these are often serious, they stand the best chance of being treated if they are detected early in the course of the disease.

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My cat is grinding their teeth – when do I call the veterinarian?

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If your cat is grinding her teeth, please speak to your veterinarian as soon as possible. It is not an emergency, but it is important because your cat is probably in pain.

The first thing your vet will do is perform an all-over physical examination. From this, they might be able to confirm dental disease or another source of pain. If things are still unclear after an examination, then your vet might recommend other tests, like blood tests or scans.

Once a source of pain is identified it needs to be corrected. Treatment might include medication to take home, or surgical treatment, like removing a painful tooth under anesthetic. Modern anesthetics are low risk for healthy cats. If your cat has health problems that might affect the safety of an anesthetic, then your vet will talk to you about this in advance.

If your cat grinds their teeth while sleeping, they may not know they are doing it and it might not be pain-associated. But it is still best to get them checked by your veterinarian to eliminate pain as a cause.

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How can I stop my cat from grinding their teeth?

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You can prevent some causes of mouth pain that might lead to teeth-grinding by:

Routine health checks with your veterinarian are a great idea. Your vet will be able to pick up early signs of disease that may cause pain. In the case of dental disease, your vet might recommend preventative treatment, so your cat does not reach the stage when she is teeth-grinding.

Having your cat’s teeth cleaned under anesthetic might be appropriate. The process is like when we see the hygienist, but we can’t ask cats to lie still in the chair, so an anesthetic is necessary.

Not all causes of pain can be prevented, so don’t feel bad if your cat starts teeth-grinding, your veterinarian is there to help. Once your cat has started grinding their teeth, there is no useful home remedy—you need to seek the advice of your veterinarian.

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How do I know if my cat’s teeth hurt?

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Signs of mouth pain in a cat include:
  • Grinding teeth/chattering teeth
  • Dribbling/drooling
  • Not wanting to eat, or being picky with food
  • Dropping bits of food during eating
  • Bad breath
  • Weight loss
  • Rubbing at the face with their front paws
  • Not grooming properly
  • Being quieter than normal/sleeping a lot

If your cat is showing any of these signs, contact your veterinarian. A cat may show all or only one of these signs. They can be symptoms of other problems, not just mouth pain, but your cat still needs to be checked.

Remember teeth-grinding can be due to pain elsewhere in their body, other than the mouth. So, if your cat is grinding their teeth but not showing any of the other signs listed above, get them checked by your vet as there could still be something going on that needs treatment.

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So, in conclusion…

If your cat is grinding her teeth, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian. Cats don’t grind their teeth for fun so, in all cases of teeth-grinding, they should be checked by a vet.

The most common reason for cats grinding their teeth is pain in their mouth. This can be from tooth decay, gum disease, or other problems in the mouth. Cats can also grind their teeth when they have head pain, jaw pain, or tummy pain. In rare cases, cats will grind their teeth if they have pain elsewhere—like in their joints from arthritis—or if they are stressed.

In most cases, the source of pain can be treated, so it is worth asking your veterinarian to investigate and hopefully, soon, your cat will be living pain-free.

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