Cats have a lot to smile about. The endless naps, the graceful leaps onto countertops, and the ability to summon their human servants with a simple meow—it's a cat's world, and we're all just living in it. Yet, have you ever paused to contemplate what might be happening behind that mysterious feline smile? That's right, we're talking about those pearly whites!
Now, we know you're probably not counting your cat's teeth during playtime (unless you have a very patient cat), but curiosity sometimes gets the best of us. How many teeth do cats have, anyway? And do they use them for more than just nibbling on kibble?
From incisors to molars, canines, and beyond, we will explore the intriguing world of cat teeth. Understanding the number and types of teeth your cat possesses can help keep your cat's teeth healthy. According to Cornell University, "between 50 and 90% of cats older than four years of age suffer from some form of dental disease." Therefore, getting to know your cat's teeth and helping them maintain healthy teeth is essential.
In this post, we'll address that persistent question: how many teeth do cats have, and what purposes do these teeth serve?
How Many Teeth Do Adult Cats Have?
Adult cats typically have 30 permanent teeth in their mouths, which can be divided into four different types. These include 12 incisors at the front for grooming, 4 sharp canines for gripping prey, and a combination of 10 premolars and 4 molars for chewing and grinding food. Each of the specific types of cat teeth serves a purpose.
Adult cats possess a total of twelve incisor teeth, with six located in the upper jaw and another six in the lower jaw. These teeth are relatively small and sharp, resembling tiny chisels. While they are not primarily used for chewing food, incisors are crucial in grooming. Cats use their incisor teeth to eliminate dirt, debris, and loose fur from their coats. So, when you see your cat meticulously licking herself, she's employing these front teeth to maintain her pristine appearance!
Four teeth, two in the upper jaw and two in the lower jaw make up your cat's set of canine teeth, often called "fangs." These long, pointed teeth are designed for gripping and puncturing prey. Canine teeth are essential for catching and immobilizing small animals like birds and rodents in the wild. Without these two sets of teeth in the front of the cat's mouth, they would be much less effective predators!
Cats have ten premolar teeth, with three in the upper jaw and two in the lower jaw on each side. These premolars have a flatter surface and are adept at slicing through flesh. With these premolar teeth, cats tear apart food, especially meat. When your cat enjoys her meal, the premolars help her process and manage her food effectively.
Unlike humans, who have multiple molars for grinding, cats have just one molar tooth on each side of the upper and lower jaws in the back of the cat's mouth, totaling four molars. These molars feature broader, flatter surfaces and are primarily employed to crush and grind food. Although they are fewer in number, these are the teeth cats use for breaking down tougher portions of prey or larger food items.
How Many Teeth Do Kittens Have?
Kittens, like adult cats, have several types of teeth that emerge at different stages of their growth. The number and types of teeth a kitten has can vary slightly as they change from baby teeth (also called "deciduous teeth" to permanent teeth. Therefore, it's harder to answer the question of how many teeth kittens have! Nonetheless, here's a general overview:
Stage 1: Milk Teeth (0-2 Weeks)
Kittens are born without teeth, relying solely on their mother's milk for nourishment during their first few weeks of life. At two weeks old, the teething process begins, and your cat's baby teeth (also known as deciduous teeth) will start to emerge from the gum line. By the time they reach about two to four weeks, most kittens have a full set of 26 deciduous teeth. These baby teeth are tiny, needle-sharp and are essential for the early stages of exploration and interaction with their littermates and mother.
Incisors (12 in total): Kittens have six upper and six lower incisors. These front teeth help them grasp onto their mother's nipple during nursing and later play a role in manipulating objects and grooming themselves.
Canines (4 in total): There are two upper and two lower canines, often called "fangs." These cat teeth become crucial when kittens start to explore solid foods.
Premolars (10 in total): Kittens have five premolars in both the upper and lower jaws. These premolars have serrated edges, aiding in chewing and tearing as kittens begin to transition to a more solid, dry diet.
Stage 2: Transition to Permanent Teeth (3-6 Months)
Around three months of age, kittens enter the transition phase. During this stage, kittens begin to shed their milk teeth. These tiny teeth start to loosen and fall out to make room for permanent, or adult, teeth that will last them a lifetime. The process of shedding baby teeth and growing adult cat teeth continues until they are around six months old.
Stage 3: Adult Teeth (6 Months And Onward)
When a kitten reaches six months of age, they should have a complete set of 30 adult teeth. These adult teeth start to be larger, stronger, and better suited for their adult diet, which typically includes more solid foods. The adult teeth mirror the types and functions of the baby teeth.
Common Feline Dental Problems
Similar to humans, cats can encounter various dental issues stemming from inadequate dental hygiene. Domestic cats may have increased dental problems due to eating a diet of dry food. Proper dental care is crucial to prevent these issues, as dental problems can lead to pain, discomfort, and other health complications in your feline friend. Here are some common dental problems in cats:
Periodontal disease in cats is akin to gum disease in humans. It initiates with the accumulation of plaque, a sticky film composed of bacteria and food particles, on your cat's teeth. If not adequately removed through proper dental care, this plaque eventually hardens into tartar. The presence of tartar can irritate the gums, leading to inflammation (gingivitis), and, if left untreated, result in periodontal disease. Symptoms encompass bad breath, red and swollen gums, bleeding during eating or brushing, and pain. Without intervention, it can result in tooth loss and systemic health issues. Treatment often involves dental cleanings by a vet, and may necessitate tooth extractions in severe cases.
Gingivitis represents an early stage of periodontal disease, marked by inflammation of the gums along the gumline. This condition can manifest as redness, swelling, bleeding gums, and occasionally, bad breath. Gingivitis is reversible with diligent dental care practices. This includes regular brushing of your cat's teeth, professional cleanings by a veterinarian, and feeding dental-specific diets or treats designed to reduce plaque and tartar buildup to help maintain the cat's dental health.
Tooth resorption in cats is a painful condition in which the structure of a tooth breaks down, often starting beneath the gum line. It can lead to significant discomfort, painful teeth, difficulty eating, drooling, and even bleeding from the mouth. The primary treatment for most cats is the extraction of affected teeth by a vet under general anesthesia and pain management measures.
Cats ' chronic bad breath (halitosis) can indicate an underlying dental issue, such as periodontal disease, gingivitis, or an infected tooth. Addressing the root dental problem causing the bad breath is essential. This typically involves dental cleanings by a veterinarian and implementing a proper at-home brushing routine to improve dental health.
Although less common, oral tumors can develop in a cat's mouth. These growths may be benign or malignant and often present with symptoms such as swelling, bleeding, drooling, difficulty eating, and weight loss. Treatment varies depending on the tumor type, including surgical removal by a vet for benign tumors or more extensive treatments like radiation and chemotherapy for malignant growths.
Broken or Fractured Teeth
Cats can break or fracture their teeth due to accidents, trauma, or chewing on hard objects. Signs of a broken or fractured tooth may include pain, difficulty eating, drooling, and bleeding from the mouth. Treatment for a fractured tooth depends on the severity of the fracture but may involve procedures such as tooth extraction or dental repair.
Feline stomatitis is a severe and painful inflammation of the oral tissues, encompassing the gums and mouth lining. Cats with stomatitis may exhibit signs of distress, such as difficulty eating, excessive drooling, and reluctance to groom themselves. Treatment often involves dental care, such as extraction of one or more teeth and medication to manage pain and inflammation.
Missing or Extra Teeth
Some cats may have congenital dental anomalies, such as missing or extra teeth. These conditions can result in bite irregularities and potential dental issues. Treatment typically focuses on managing bite problems and monitoring for any associated dental complications that may arise.
The enamel of a cat's teeth is thinner and weaker than human teeth. As a result, they are more vulnerable to tooth breakage, tooth decay, or injury. Indications of endodontic disease in cats may include decreased appetite, teeth discomfort, or discolorations ranging from reddish-brown to purple or gray. The treatment for feline endodontic disease often entails either tooth extraction or a root canal procedure. If left untreated, this condition can potentially lead to other health issues, such as the development of glaucoma or the formation of a cyst.