Is it normal for cats to lose their teeth?
Dental disease is a very common issue in cats and can have a significant impact on their overall health and well-being, as well as their quality of life. Discomfort caused by gum disease, injuries, or other problems can make eating difficult for your feline friend. And while losing baby teeth is normal for kittens, it’s important to know when this should occur and how to monitor for problems. Read on to learn more!
Teething in Kittens
Cats normally lose teeth when their first set of deciduous or “baby” teeth fall out so the permanent adult teeth can grow in. Kittens are born without any teeth. Their milk teeth or deciduous teeth begin to emerge at about 2-4 weeks of age. The incisors are the first to appear (3-4 weeks), followed by canines (3-4 weeks), while the premolars are the last to emerge when the kitten is 5-6 weeks old. Most cats have a total of 26 baby teeth.
When kittens are about 4-7 months of age, the baby teeth will start to fall out and are gradually replaced by permanent adult teeth. The second set has 30 permanent teeth that should have fully emerged before kittens are one year old.
You may find your kitten's teeth lying on the ground when they’re teething. But in most cases, you won’t notice many baby teeth falling out because kittens usually swallow them when eating.
Is it normal for adult cats to lose their teeth?
Unfortunately, tooth loss in adult cats is often caused by problems that affect the teeth and gums.
Periodontal disease is one of the top health issues in cats. Studies report that between 50 and 90% of cats older than four years of age suffer from some form of dental disease. The good news is most diseases that affect the teeth and gums of cats are preventable or treatable.
Cats with dental disease suffer from severe pain and discomfort which can negatively affect a cat’s quality of life. When a cat stops eating because of the pain, this can pave the way for various health problems to develop.
Causes of Dental Disease in Cats
Several conditions can affect the teeth and gums of cats, but the most common are gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth resorption.
Gingivitis is characterized by the inflammation of the gums around the teeth. Affected cats have gums that appear red, swollen, and painful. The primary predisposing factor of gingivitis is plaque buildup on the teeth and gums when a cat’s teeth are not brushed regularly. Plaque creates a favorable environment for bad bacteria to thrive.
As plaque continues to accumulate, it will harden as it absorbs minerals from the saliva and gums and become tartar (calculus). The rough surface of the calculus provides an excellent area for bacterial attachment. Both plaque and tartar will migrate deeper into the base of the teeth where they meet the gums (gingiva). An inflammatory reaction is triggered when the cat’s immune system reacts to the bacteria that have reached the gums’ inner tissues. As the bacteria multiply and cause infection, they produce substances that damage the tissues that separate the gums and teeth.
Some medical conditions have also been identified as important predisposing factors of gingivitis. These include:
- Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
- Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
- Feline calicivirus
- Kidney disease
- Diabetes mellitus
- Autoimmune disease
Gingivitis caused by any of these diseases may be accompanied by concurrent stomatitis, which is characterized by inflammation of the mucous lining of the mouth.
Symptoms of gingivitis
- Bleeding in the gingival margin (where the gums and teeth meet)
- Loss of appetite
- Bad breath
- Some cats may prefer soft foods
Prevention and Treatment of Gingivitis in Cats
A good home dental regimen is the best way to protect your cat against gingivitis. Regular tooth brushing removes any plaque that has formed. Make sure to use toothpaste or other dental products that are specially made for cats. Human products may contain ingredients that cause digestive upsets or be toxic to cats.
If your cat’s gums are swollen and inflamed, it should be brought to the attention of your vet as soon as possible. Most cases of gingivitis in cats are reversible. The treatment will depend on the assessment of your vet regarding the severity and the underlying cause. This may involve dental cleaning and scaling, a round of antibiotics, immunosuppressive drugs, and in severe cases, removal of the affected teeth.
If gingivitis is caused by an underlying disease, the primary disease should be addressed first to manage the gingivitis.
Periodontitis is the result of gingivitis that is left untreated and uncontrolled. Unfortunately, once the dental issue has reached this stage, it cannot be reversed.
Periodontitis is characterized by the weakening of the tissues that attach the tooth to the gums and bones. The damage is caused by the substances produced by bacteria that are causing infection and inflammation.
When the tissues that anchor the tooth to the gums and bones are destroyed, teeth can become loose, and this will eventually result in tooth loss.
Symptoms of Periodontitis
In addition to symptoms of gingivitis, cats with periodontitis may also exhibit the following:
- Recession of the gums
- Exposure of the tooth root
- Loose teeth
- Tooth loss
Prevention and Treatment of Periodontitis in Cats
Since periodontitis is almost always a result of untreated gingivitis, successful management of gingivitis is of utmost importance.
Treatment of periodontitis in cats involves tooth scaling and polishing to remove the buildup of plaque and tartar. Extraction of affected teeth may be required in severe cases of periodontitis.
3. Tooth Resorption
Tooth resorption is the most common cause of tooth loss in cats. About 30-70% of cats have some signs associated with tooth resorption. It’s characterized by the breakdown of the tooth’s structure. The destruction starts from inside the tooth, and eventually progresses to other parts of the tooth. The cause of tooth resorption has not been fully established.
Symptoms of Tooth Resorption
A pinkish color is noticeable at the border where the tooth meets the gums. When this is present, significant damage has already occurred. Resorptive lesions can vary in severity and appearance. In advanced cases, the defects have reached the tooth crown’s enamel. Tooth resorption may or may not be present with gingivitis.
Tooth resorption causes severe pain in cats, causing them to drool and be reluctant to eat. Some turn their heads to one side when chewing food. There may also be sudden changes in their behavior. The pain and discomfort can make affected cats irritable.
A cat with resorptive lesions will have to be placed under general anesthesia so the veterinarian can thoroughly examine the mouth, teeth, and gums, as well as probe any lesions. X-rays of the head and jaw may also be performed.
Treatment of Tooth Resorption in Cats
The treatment regimen of tooth resorption in cats is aimed at pain alleviation, preventing more destruction, and restoring tooth/teeth function as much as possible.
Tooth extraction may be necessary for cats suffering from pain and discomfort. This is also indicated when the lesions have extended into the enamel of the tooth.
Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your cat’s loose tooth or another condition?
Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.