Everything You Need to Know About Your Cat’s Teeth (Seriously)

A few weeks after adopting two kittens from a local shelter, I noticed a tiny mountain range of teeth on my pillow case. Apparently, one of the kittens had lost some of its baby teeth. It was as though a clump of teeth—not just one tooth—had jumped ship.  

As a new cat owner, I had no idea that cats even had baby teeth. But with a little research, I learned that kittens develop tiny, near-translucent (ghost) teeth at about two weeks old, which signals to mom that she’s done nursing her babes. By about six months old, cats have all 30 adult teeth. 

Now, these adult teeth are meant for killing prey and subsequently ripping the kill to shreds in a vicious display of carnivorism. Think: saber-toothed tiger. You won’t find any flat, plant-chomping molars in a cat’s mouth. This means cats don’t get cavities like we do. But, it also means that a majority of cats develop other types of issues—Manhattan Cat Specialists estimate 80 percent of cats three years or older have gum inflammation. 

So, I decided to dig up everything I could on the matter to help keep my cats happy and healthy. Here, everything teeth-related you should know when it comes to your cat.

Feline periodontal disease: Similar to humans, this means plaque buildup and gum inflammation, which can lead to painful tooth decay and, often, mandatory teeth pulling. The early stages (gingivitis and halitosis) are reversible with a hardcore cleaning from the vet and regular brushing. However, the later stages, when plaque hardens into tartar and calculus, can cause teeth to loosen and fall out.

Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORL): This is a more severe condition. (Google Image Search at your own risk.) According to the Northwood Animal Hospital, it means lesions around the base of their teeth are causing their gums to reabsorb tooth roots. Essentially, a cat’s mouth eats itself alive—which is as painful as it sounds. The only way to cure FORL is full-mouth extraction, a drastic procedure. Many older cats have surgery to remove most or all of their teeth due to FORL. And, until someone (lookin’ at you, Jackson Galaxy) invents kitty dentures, they’re stuck with zero teeth.

Chronic ulcerative paradental stomatitis: This is another unphotogenic disease involving lesions on the gums, except this time the feline’s faulty immune system’s response to stimuli is to blame. The exact cause varies from cat to cat, but the result is usually the same: full-mouth extraction.  

Full-mouth extractions: Yes, taking out every tooth in your cat’s mouth sounds horrifying, but it actually frees your kitty of pain. And don’t worry, they can still eat wet food, so they’ll be fine. A friend of mine has an ancient cat who had most of her teeth removed and let me tell you, that girl is happy as a clam lapping up her canned protein.

And now you’re probably wondering…

How do I prevent all this? Well, the best way is to brush your cat’s teeth regularly. We all know brushing a cat’s teeth is like pulling teeth, except it actually prevents pulling teeth in the future, so it’s worth it. Also, if you notice your cat isn’t eating his dry food anymore, don’t just blame it on him being “picky.” The truth is, his teeth might hurt. In fact, more often than not, a change in eating habits means something’s amiss inside their mouths. Instead, take him to a vet for a dental checkup. 

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go pry my cat’s mouth open in the name of dental health. 

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Freelance Writer

Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...