By four weeks of age, kittens have their incisors, the 12 small teeth in the front of the mouth. At six weeks, all 26 deciduous teeth are in.
Kitten teeth should be white and clean, with the upper incisors meeting the lower incisors evenly. The gums and mouth tissue should be pink, or dark if pigmented; a pale color is a sign of anemia.
If possible, accustom your kitten to having its teeth cleaned on a regular basis at home. Gently rub the pet’s teeth with your finger. As she learns to accept this, use a soft cloth or a child’s soft toothbrush dipped in a solution of baking soda and water or use a toothpaste especially for dogs and cats. Do not use toothpaste formulated for humans. Because cats swallow rather than spit out the preparation, this can cause stomach upset.
Occasionally a kitten will retain some deciduous (baby) teeth after the permanent teeth have appeared. This may damage the soft tissues of the mouth and may even accelerate wear of permanent teeth. A veterinarian should be consulted to determine whether or not removal is necessary.
Inspect your cat’s mouth regularly for tartar buildup or a condition of the gums and brush your cat’s teeth with the proper brush and toothpaste (made specifically for cats) once or twice a week. Consult with your veterinarian about the correct home-cleaning process or professional cleaning.
Dry, crunchy foods can be helpful in keeping teeth clean by scraping against the teeth and acting like a toothbrush to help remove plaque. Still, there is no substitute for regular dental care.
Lesions on your cat’s gums or foul-smelling breath can be early warning signs of a potential problem. The most common dental problems cats experience result from plaque and calculus buildup. If left unchecked, plaque and calculus buildup can eventually cause inflammation of both the gums (gingivitis) and the membrane lining of the tooth socket (periodontitis).
The infection resulting from these conditions may spread to other parts of the body such as the kidneys or valves of the heart. Dental problems may also result from injury, foreign bodies such as porcupine quills or foxtail, malnutrition or systemic health conditions that infect the mouth as well as other parts of the body.
Common warning signs of dental problems in cats include:
- Red, swollen or bleeding gums
- Bad breath
- Loss of appetite
- Dark spots on molars
- Raised sores in mouth
Cats and Dangerous Greenery
A cat who nibbles household plants may suffer from oral problems not related to a periodontal health condition. Diffenbachia, or “dumb cane,” can cause severe irritation and ulceration to a cat’s mouth. The cat may salivate and have trouble swallowing. Prompt veterinary attention is needed. For a more complete list of plants that are dangerous to cats, consult your veterinarian.