Cats tend to be close-mouthed about their dental details. Unlike dogs, whose signature grins display those pearly almost-whites, cats offer only quick glimpses into their mouths during occasional yawns. If you see that your cat has lost a tooth, or teeth, you need to speed into feline detective mode, getting Kitty to open wide so you can see what ails him, and how to ease his distress.
Milk Teeth and More
Cats' earliest teeth are the set of 26, known as deciduous or milk teeth, that erupt from their gums when kittens are 3 to 4 weeks old. These tiny, translucent teeth are sharp as pins, making mama cats uncomfortable by the time their nipping offspring turn about 6 weeks old and the weaning process a relief. By their third or fourth months, kittens begin losing these first teeth, which are replaced by time they're 8 or 9 months old with the permanent adult set of 30: four canines (the pointy front ones that look like fangs), 12 incisors, 10 premolars and four molars. Barring illness or oral problems, these should keep Kitty chewing into old age.
Causes of Adult Cat Tooth Loss
While it's possible your cat may have broken a tooth, like a person does after an unfortunate bite of peanut brittle, more likely his tooth loss is due to oral disease. The most common feline dental problem is periodontal or gum disease. The Cornell Feline Health Center estimates that 85 percent of cats over age 6 have periodontal disease. When plaque, a sticky bacterial film, mixes with saliva and bits of food, and isn't removed from the cat's teeth, it can harden into tartar, a brownish-yellowish crust. Untreated tartar, clustering around and under the gumline, can irritate the gums with toxins from bacteria. The cat's teeth may separate and loosen when infection and inflammation invade the gums, ligaments and bones supporting his teeth.