The Cute and Fragile Teeth of Cats: Why Proper Care is Essential

1. Cats have a total of 56 teeth throughout their lives

Cats are born without teeth, but their milk teeth start to grow (26 in total) when they are about 2 weeks old. After that, they shed their milk teeth at around 3 months to make way for their permanent teeth. With proper care, a cat’s permanent teeth can last a lifetime.

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Caption: Baby cat teeth

2. Cat teeth can reveal their age

Counting the number of teeth is one of the best ways to estimate the age of a young cat. Generally, it is easier to determine the exact age of a younger cat (under 6 months old). However, it becomes significantly more difficult to determine the age once the cat’s permanent teeth have grown in.

Here are some milestones to consider:

  • When a kitten is 2-4 weeks old, their incisors begin to emerge.
  • Canine teeth usually appear around 3-4 weeks.
  • Premolars start to come in at weeks 4-6.
  • By 8 weeks old, a kitten will have all of their baby teeth.
  • Permanent teeth begin to emerge around 11-16 weeks: incisors first, followed by canines at around 12-20 weeks. Premolars come in after 16-20 weeks. The molars will appear around 20 to 24 weeks.

Determining the age of a cat older than 6 months based on their teeth can be challenging. Generally, if a cat’s back teeth have yellow stains, also known as tartar, the cat may be around 1-2 years old. If all of the cat’s teeth have tartar buildup, they may be around 3-5 years old. If there are multiple tartar accumulations and signs of wear, the cat could be between 5-10 years old. Missing teeth can indicate a cat’s age of around 10-15 years.

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3. Some cats retain their baby teeth

Sometimes, cats do not lose their milk teeth, a condition known as retained deciduous teeth. This can cause permanent teeth to grow in at abnormal positions. In such cases, the retained milk teeth need to be surgically removed as soon as the permanent teeth begin to push through the gums.

4. Cat teeth are designed for eating meat

The shape of a cat’s teeth reflects their function as true carnivorous animals. Unlike the teeth of humans and herbivorous animals like cows and horses, cat teeth do not have flat surfaces designed for grinding grains and other plant materials.

Cats use their sharp incisors to cut through muscle and connective tissue, and they slice their food into pieces that they can easily swallow. Cats can only move their jaws up and down, while humans can move their jaws from side to side.

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Caption: Sharp cat teeth

5. Each tooth serves a specific purpose

Each cat tooth plays a specific role:

  • 4 canines (2 upper, 2 lower) are designed to grip food and quickly kill prey. They are located in a nerve bundle that allows cats to sense what they are biting and where to deliver the most lethal bite.
  • 12 incisors: While not used extensively when hunting, they are useful for grooming and picking up objects. Some cats use their incisors to chew on their claws and remove fleas, debris, and shed fur.
  • 10 premolars (4 lower, 6 upper): These teeth are located behind the canines and help with cutting and chewing food.
  • 4 molars (2 upper, 2 lower): Cats do not need many molars (typically used for grinding and chewing plant matter) because they are fully carnivorous animals.

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Caption: Illustration of cat teeth

6. Cats do not get cavities

Although cats can suffer from various dental diseases, they do not get cavities. Unlike humans and dogs, cats do not have flat chewing surfaces (horizontal occlusion) on their teeth, which are susceptible to significant damage. Tooth decay-causing bacteria thrive in crevices and grooves commonly found in chewing surfaces used for grinding food.

Cat teeth do not get cavities like human teeth. However, cats can suffer from other dental conditions. You can learn more about common dental diseases in cats to better identify them.

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Some of these conditions include tooth resorption (a process where the outer layers of the tooth are dissolved and absorbed into the deeper layers, gradually destroying the tooth). Extracting the affected tooth is the best treatment option for tooth resorption. However, it is not an easy task as cat teeth are fragile and can break during the removal process.

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Caption: Cat teeth replacement

7. Cats can also suffer from periodontal disease

While cats do not get cavities, they are prone to periodontal disease, which is an infection of the structures surrounding the teeth. Most cats develop periodontal disease by the age of 3, which can cause symptoms such as red gums, persistent bad breath, loss of appetite, weight loss, bleeding, and loose or discolored teeth. If left untreated, periodontal disease can be associated with more serious health conditions such as kidney disease, liver disease, heart complications, and diabetes.

It is crucial to get acquainted with your cat’s mouth and regularly check for any abnormalities. Report anything unusual to your veterinarian to rule out any significant health issues.

8. Hard kibble does not clean cat teeth better

Feeding cats dry kibble does not necessarily keep their teeth clean because most cats do not chew enough to make a difference. Cats have a harder time chewing due to their jaw’s limited range of motion, which only allows for up-and-down movement rather than side-to-side chewing like humans. Additionally, some cats have a habit of swallowing rather than chewing kibble.

9. Cats can break their teeth

Just like us, cats can accidentally break their teeth. The most vulnerable tooth is the upper canine (large fang), and the first sign you might notice is sneezing! Unfortunately, cat teeth do not grow back. Once a cat has grown its full set of 30 permanent teeth, if a canine or any other tooth is broken, it will never grow back. Unlike rodents, cat teeth do not continuously grow.

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Caption: Cat with a broken canine tooth

10. Cats brush their teeth with bones

In the wild, cats rely on bones from their prey to clean their teeth. As they scrape meat off the bones, their teeth sweep across the bone surface, keeping their teeth relatively clean. However, pet cats do not usually have access to bones, so dental care for cats is crucial.

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One of the most effective ways to prevent dental diseases is to brush your cat’s teeth at home using a cat toothbrush and toothpaste specifically made for cats. Never use human toothpaste as it can contain ingredients that are toxic to cats.

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Caption: Cat eating a raw bone

11. Cats rarely show dental pain

Cats are masters at hiding their pain. Their instincts prevent them from showing signs of pain, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel it. If you’ve ever lost a filling, broken a tooth, had a cavity, or experienced dental malocclusion, you know how painful it can be.

If you’re not paying close attention, it can be challenging to tell if your cat is experiencing dental pain. Look out for excessive drooling, red gums, and any changes in eating habits. Also, take note of any changes in your cat’s breath. Foul-smelling breath is a typical sign of dental issues. However, this symptom can also be caused by other health conditions. We recommend reading “Common Causes of Bad Breath in Cats” to find the appropriate solution.

Bring your cat for regular dental check-ups and health evaluations to prevent issues before they arise.

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Caption: Cats can experience dental pain

12. Cats may need braces

As odd as it sounds, some cats need braces to correct severe dental abnormalities. An “overbite” is another issue that occurs when a misalignment causes one or both canine teeth to protrude at different angles, hindering normal eating. Cat braces are not for aesthetic purposes but rather a life-saving measure.

13. Cats can develop oral cancer

Unfortunately, cats are also at risk of oral cancer. Oral squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the most common malignant tumor in the mouth of cats, although various types of cancer can occur. If you observe any lumps, swelling, or discoloration in your cat’s mouth, have your veterinarian examine them immediately.

14. Summary

Cat teeth are crucial to a cat’s life. Teeth not only enable cats to eat and survive, but they also provide valuable information about them. Cat teeth can offer insights into their age, their need for a meat-based diet, and signs of infectious diseases.

These teeth are essential but susceptible to loss, damage, or breakage. Therefore, you must carefully care for your cat’s oral hygiene by regularly brushing their teeth and taking them for routine health check-ups. Once lost, cat teeth will never regrow.

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Caption: Oral cancer in cats

Video tutorial on how to care for and brush your cat’s teeth available at

Disclaimer: The content of this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian regarding your cat’s dental health and any other health concerns.

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