Why is your cat losing teeth?

posted: 05/15/12
cat-losing-teeth0
Read more Read less
In some cases it's perfectly normal for cats to lose teeth.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock |

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.

cat-losing-teeth0
Read more Read less
In some cases it's perfectly normal for cats to lose teeth.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock |

Signs of Feline Oral Distress

A cat suffering from gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), a painful tooth or other oral problems will have foul, sour breath. He may lick himself excessively, drool heavily, or appear unable to close his mouth. He may eat less, or not at all, because he finds it painful to chew. If your cat has red or bleeding gums, discolored teeth or mouth lesions, your vet should examine him right away. She may suggest a thorough cleaning, and possibly a descaling (a tooth scraping) to remove tartar. If the cat has a broken or abscessed tooth, it may need to be extracted; unlike their owners, cats cannot get fillings or similar repairs.

Preventative Dental Care

To avoid feline mouth problems, follow a strict routine of proper dental hygiene. Your vet may suggest a special dental-formula dry food designed to boost plaque removal. Yearly professional cleanings and herbal mouth sprays can also help. If you have a kitten, introduce him to tooth brushing at the time he's losing his milk teeth, massaging the gums that may be sore during that process.

If your cat is an adult, you still can teach him to allow a tooth brushing, but it will take time and the right supplies: a soft rubber toothbrush or sterile gauze pads and some feline formula toothpaste in cat-pleasing flavors (available from your vet or pet supply store). Never use human toothpaste -- it contains ingredients harmful to cats, especially sodium lauryl sulfate, which is a foaming agent cats cannot spit out.   Before attempting to brush the cat's teeth, get him accustomed to your putting things into his mouth. A finger dipped in tuna or chicken broth is a yummy way to start, followed by broth-soaked gauze strips. When he's accepted this habit, and you've let him sniff and lick a taste of food or broth off a feline toothbrush, you can begin brushing. Pet or play with him first so he's feeling mellow. To open his mouth, place your thumb and middle finger at the hinge of his jaws, gently prying open his mouth. Without pulling or holding too tightly, tilt his head back slightly. Rub a single tooth at a time in a circular motion, concentrating on the area next to the gum. Do this twice a week to keep your cat's smile healthy, even if it's hidden.

More on