A pet insurance company reported in 2017 that about a quarter of a million dollar claims for gingivitis and periodontal disease in pets have been made. These are just two of the common dental health problems that cats face.
Just like the other parts of your cat’s anatomy, their dental condition is also critical to their overall health.
Even if cats use a strip of raw meat to brush and maintain their teeth and gums, it is also important that they do yearly dental check-ups or bring them to regular cleaning.
So even if you’re an experienced pet parent or a newbie, here are some interesting facts about a cat’s teeth:
Cats And Humans Have Similar Dental Beginnings
You might not have realized it but there are similarities between a cat tooth and human’s tooth. Since both are diphyodont animals, both would be born without teeth. In fact, most mammals are diphyodont which is characterized by having two sets of teeth when they grow up – also called dentitions.
Kitty teeth are all deciduous(milk or baby) teeth; they will fall out as soon as the permanent teeth emerge much like in humans. The difference is that, the time that the baby teeth would start to erupt is much earlier in cats. They usually start with the baby incisors popping up at around 2 – 4 weeks old.
There are a total of 12 incisors in cats – 6 at the top and 6 at the bottom. The inside incisors come in late as both the top and bottom incisors come out at the same time. If you’re confused, incisors are the teeth that are at the front of a kitten’s mouth.
Another interesting thing is that cats also have canine’s teeth, which gives them more of a frightening tiger’s appeal! These are what most people call as cat fangs. They start to come out around 3- 4 weeks old.
Lastly, the baby premolars come out in between 5 and 6 weeks old. There are a total of 10 baby premolars, 3 sets of top premolars, while there are 2 sets on the bottom. This is for both the left and right side of their jaws.
That’s all about the 26 baby cat teeth!
How Many Teeth Do Cats Have?
Cats have a total of 30 permanent teeth and 26 baby teeth.
The permanent teeth or adult teeth start to emerge around 11 to 16 weeks of age starting with the incisors. The canines move in next at 12 – 20 weeks old. Premolars follow immediately by 16 – 20 weeks of age. They also have hard-to-reach molars at the back which come out around 20 – 24 weeks old.
It is possible that you may find a lost tooth during the change but most of the time, the kittens swallow their baby teeth without causing any problems. Tooth fairies don’t exist in cats.
Cat’s Teeth are Specific for Carnivores
Felines are hardcore carnivores given their dental make-up. A cat’s dental formation is specially designed for grinding and tearing. The incisors are mainly for tearing flesh while the premolars and molars are for grinding.
One of cat’s main weapons is the long, pointy, sharp, canine teeth. These were designed similar to hypodermic needles as they can pierce intensely on a flesh. It may be able to damage nerves like arteries and veins. It was said that in the wild, these are used to make the prey bleed to death.
Imagine those teeth on a flesh as the tooth is taken out the narrow wound closes on itself. This closure may cause abscess due to the trapping of bacteria underneath the skin.
Age of a Cat by Its Teeth
You can determine the age of a cat through its teeth. If you notice from above, all the permanent teeth should be present at around 4 – 7 months old. It could be a bit more challenging when an adult cat has all its teeth in. But veterinarians have a way to estimate by looking at its teeth’s wear and tear.
Veterinarians will try to look at the amount of tear and tartar buildup on your cat’s teeth. For example, if the cat has little tartar, it may be about 1 -2 years old. The more tartar there is, the probability of it being older is greater.
There is also the sharpness of a cat’s teeth as an indicator. It is typical for a cat of 5 – 6 years old to have less pointed teeth. But the wear and tear may also depend on your cat’s lifestyle. If your cat has spent many times outside hunting, the dullness may come earlier.
Cavities In Cats
Cats don’t develop the same cavities that people get. It is not necessarily called cavities in cats but rather commonly referred to as dental caries. It is a condition in which a tooth starts to dissolve a spot starting from the gum line. It is also referred to as feline odontoclastic resorption lesions (FORL), or just simply tooth resorption.
This is rare in cats due to their low sugar diet and dental formation. Studies have reported that 4 in 10 cats have this dental caries the least. No specific cause has been identified but there may be factors such as tartar buildup and mineral imbalance that might initiate this disease.
Several symptoms of tooth resorption may include bad breath over time, drooling, bleeding from the mouth, pawing at the mouth, nasal discharge, and weight loss due to diminished appetite. The symptoms are quite difficult to detect and older cats have a higher probability of getting affected by this.
It is categorized into two types. First is the incipient and the second one is the defect on the surface of the tooth’s crown or root. The incipient is where there is an appearance of a white spot on the smooth surface. The structural defect meanwhile is more distinct and can appear as a soft or decayed dentin which is under the white surface of the teeth.
This, unfortunately, cannot be fixed easily. There are basically 5 primary stages of decay and each stage needs different solutions. An x-ray under general anesthesia is usually prescribed to check how deep the inflammation already is. The most common way to ensure that the diseases won’t spread to other teeth is to extract the affected tooth.
Cats Don’t Usually Show Signs of Dental Pain
We have to understand first the survival instincts of cats. Long before they were domesticated, cats hide their pain so as not to appear vulnerable against predators. Cats don’t live in packs so no one will be there to help them even if they are in pain. It’s their way to survive and this behavior has been passed down even to domesticated cats.
This is why cats are quite a challenge to veterinarians and even to their owners in terms of medical management. Cats won’t let anyone see them in pain unless they can’t bear it anymore or they are already in the brink of dying.
Fortunately, pet owners also have their own instinct. You may be able to tune in to your cats when in pain. If you’ll be able to observe the following symptoms, bring your cat to the veterinary clinic immediately:
- Halitosis or bad breath
- Loss of appetite
- Quivering of the jaw during eating or grooming
- Pawing at the mouth or rubbing its face against a surface
- Excessive yawning or teeth grinding
- Head shaking
- A decrease in grooming activities
- Pulling away when petted near the mouth
- Changes in their normal behavior such as hiding more than normal or being aggressive
- Sudden howling or crying
Cat Tooth Diseases
It is good to have a basic knowledge of several cat tooth diseases that may affect our cats. This could help you assess the level of dental help they need. Here are some of them:
- Gingivitis – is the inflammation of the gums. It is the beginning of a gum disease and is reversible when given the proper care and early detection. Typical causes of this are the accumulation of food in tooth pockets, crowded teeth, eating soft food or bad chewing habits.
- Endodontic disease – usually occurs when there is a tooth fracture that makes the endodontic system susceptible to infections. The injury may be caused by chewing on hard items or being hit by a hard object. It can either be reversible or irreversible depending on the injury. Treatments may include root canal or tooth extraction.
- Periodontal disease – is the inflammation of the supporting structures of the teeth. As mentioned above, when the gums get infected, it may spread to the bone and the tooth structure – a condition called periodontitis.
This is the common cause of tooth loss in cats. It is usually observed in older cats and is widespread to about 85% of the cat population.
- Feline odontic resorptive lesions (FORL) – as discussed earlier, this is the scientific term for cat dental caries. Most cats which are usually affected by this are 5 years and older.
- Tooth abscess – is also referred to as the pus found under your cat’s tooth. There are three types: gingival abscess, periodontal abscess, and the periapical abscess. The last type affects the pulp of the tooth. The canine teeth are the most prone to this disease since they are the easiest to break.
- Stomatitis – the common term for this is the inflammation of the cat’s mouth. It is a painful and life-threatening problem for many cats. It is often observed in purebred cats and those who live with other cats in a household. Unfortunately, the cause of this problem is still unknown.
Cat Incisors are Also Used for Grooming
You’ve already known that cats have a total of 12 incisors at the front of their mouths that are usually used for grasping their food. But interestingly, they are also used as part of their grooming habit. They can catch fleas or bugs walking around their fur using their front teeth. They can also untangle fur mats in their body.
Do Cats Re-grow Their Teeth?
Unfortunately, they don’t. Once they lose one, it cannot be replaced anymore and they’ll have 29 teeth left. They are different from rodents whose teeth keep on growing! Imagine if your cat keeps on growing those canine teeth, you’d be even more reluctant to have their mouths checked regularly.
Caring for Your Cat’s Dental Health
To reduce the rate of tartar and plaque buildup, regular brushing of your cat’s teeth should be done. Just as dogs have their own toothbrushes, cats also have specific toothbrushes and toothpastes that are formulated to be safe for them. Do not attempt to use any human toothpaste on cats as this can be toxic to them.
You can start by using a cotton bud dipped in water then rubbing the back teeth. From here, you can move on to using a cotton bud with the kitty toothpaste until they are comfortable enough for you to use the cat toothbrushes. In order for them to get accustomed, you have to do this every single day.
Choose cat toothpaste that is non-foaming and is safe to be swallowed. You may also be able to choose from different flavors to make it more tempting to cats. It is always good to start early with your cats to develop this habit. The Veterinary Oral Health Council has a list of accepted products for your cat’s oral care.
Various tartar control treats are available that you can give to your cats as well. But this should not take away the brushing. The treats should only supplement the actual cleaning that is needed. You can give the treats as a reward if they have been good cats after their brushing routine.
You can also give them bones to chew on. Since they are predators, bones are a natural part of their diet. Bones can help clean their teeth but be wary of giving them chicken or fish bones as these can easily break. It is also recommended to use raw bones instead of cooked ones. You may consult this further with your veterinarian.
You may also give your cat’s gums a massage if you can to help strengthen it. Always take note that cats’ gums should be pink in color and not red with lesions.
Give your kitties a yearly check-up for dental issues. Older cats specifically require periodic scaling to prevent further plaque formation. The key to the management of your cat’s dental health is prevention. Regular visits to your veterinarian will keep the overall oral health of your cat in good condition.