Is A Chipped Tooth Painful For A Cat?

Chipped or broken teeth are a relatively common injury in cats. With cats being natural hunters and predators, it’s not uncommon for them to get into scuffles with prey or other cats which can result in teeth getting chipped or fractured. Cats also frequently chew on things like bones, toys or household items which may chip their teeth. Additionally, accidents like falls or getting hit by a car can cause tooth fractures.

When a cat owner notices their pet has chipped a tooth, it’s natural to wonder if it’s causing the cat pain. A broken or fractured tooth can expose the sensitive pulp inside, which is full of nerves and blood vessels. This understandably leads cat owners to worry about whether their cat is suffering.

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at chipped cat teeth, including the causes, signs of pain, potential risks, diagnosis and treatment options. We’ll help cat owners understand if and when a chipped tooth may require veterinary attention.

Anatomy of Cat Teeth

Cats have 30 adult teeth. They have teeth designed for grabbing prey, slicing meat, and crunching bone and food. Cat teeth consist of:

  • Incisors – The small teeth in the front used for biting and grooming.
  • Canines – Also called fangs, the long pointed teeth used for grabbing prey and killing it.
  • Premolars – Pointed teeth behind the canines used for gripping and tearing meat.
  • Molars – Flat teeth in the far back used for chewing and crunching food.

The visible part of the tooth is the crown which is covered in enamel. Underneath the enamel is a layer of dentin which surrounds the pulp chamber containing nerves and blood vessels. The root of the tooth extends into the jawbone. Cats’ teeth lack the hard enamel coating on the outside of their teeth that humans have, making their teeth more prone to fractures and decay.

Causes of Chipped Teeth in Cats

There are several common causes of chipped and broken teeth in cats:

  • Chewing on hard objects like bones, rocks, hard plastic or metal – Cats like to chew on things to keep their teeth clean and sharp. However, chewing on very hard materials can easily lead to chipped or fractured teeth (Source:
  • Trauma from a fall or fight – Falls from heights, motor vehicle accidents, and fights with other animals can result in fractured teeth in cats. The maxillary canine teeth are most often affected in these situations (Source:
  • Periodontal disease – Advanced gum disease can weaken the ligaments and bone supporting the teeth, making them more prone to fracture (Source:
  • Tooth resorption – This painful condition destroys tooth structure from the inside out, leading to weak, brittle teeth (Source:

Kittens and senior cats may be especially prone to chipped teeth since their teeth and bones are still developing or weakening with age.

Signs of a Painful Chipped Tooth

There are several common signs that indicate a cat is experiencing pain from a chipped tooth. These include:

Reluctance to eat or only eating on one side of the mouth. Cats with a painful chipped tooth often avoid chewing on the affected side. They may drop food from their mouth while eating. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, chewing on only one side is one of the most obvious signs of a fractured tooth in cats (source).

Excessive drooling. The pain from a chipped tooth can cause a cat to drool more than usual.

Bad breath. Bacteria can accumulate in the exposed pulp cavity of a chipped tooth, leading to tooth abscesses and foul mouth odor.

Facial swelling. A tooth abscess caused by a chipped tooth may result in noticeable swelling on one side of the cat’s face.

Pawing at the mouth. Cats may rub or scratch at their mouth if they have discomfort from a damaged tooth.

Grinding teeth. Some cats grind their teeth as a response to dental pain. The grinding motion may be an attempt to smooth out the rough edge of a chipped tooth.

When a Chipped Tooth May Not Be Painful

Not all chipped teeth in cats are painful. If the damage is minor and only affects the outer enamel layer of the tooth, it may not cause any discomfort for the cat. The enamel is the hard, protective coating of the tooth and does not contain nerve endings. So if a chip or crack only impacts the enamel and does not reach the inner dentin and pulp, the cat may show no signs of pain (source).

Additionally, in some cases a chipped tooth may expose a small portion of the dentin but not actually damage the pulp and nerve. Since the majority of the pulp remains intact and undamaged, the cat may still not experience any pain or sensitivity from the chip (source).

Kittens and young cats may also show fewer symptoms from a chipped tooth, as the pulp chambers in their developing teeth are smaller. An injury that exposes the pulp in an adult cat may only reach the thicker dentin layer in a kitten or younger cat (source).

However, it’s important to closely monitor any chipped tooth in a cat. Even if it initially does not cause pain, it can lead to problems down the road if the pulp becomes damaged or infected.

Risks of an Untreated Chipped Tooth

An untreated chipped tooth can lead to some serious health complications for a cat. If the inner pulp of the tooth is exposed by the chip or fracture, bacteria can invade and cause an infection. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, pulpitis (inflammation of the pulp) is a common sequela of a fractured tooth in cats.1 As the infection worsens, it can spread to the root and lead to a dental abscess. Abscesses are pockets of pus that form at the root when an infection goes untreated. They are extremely painful for cats.

A dental abscess requires veterinary treatment with antibiotics and sometimes draining of the abscess. If the infection is allowed to persist long-term, cats can develop pathologic tooth resorption. This is a condition in which the tooth essentially destroys itself from the inside out. Resorption is very painful and affected teeth often need to be extracted.

Finally, an untreated chipped tooth is at high risk for complete fracture. The structural integrity of the tooth is compromised. Normal biting and chewing forces can cause it to split apart or shatter. Extraction is the only option if the fracture leads to tooth loss.

Therefore, it’s imperative for cat owners to have a chipped tooth assessed promptly. Early intervention can help save the tooth and prevent complications like infection, abscesses, resorption, fractures, and tooth loss.

Diagnosing a Chipped Tooth

Veterinarians use a few different methods to diagnose a chipped tooth in cats. The first step is a visual exam of the teeth and mouth. The vet will look for any signs of damage, discoloration, or exposed pulp. They may use a dental probe to feel for cracks or roughness on the tooth’s surface.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, vets will also do a vitality test by applying cold or heat to the tooth to check for a pain response. This helps determine if the pulp is exposed or infected

The most definitive diagnostic tool is dental x-rays. Radiographs allow vets to visualize the tooth roots and surrounding bone to look for any hidden damage. Fractures or cracks may not be visible from the surface. X-rays are essential for determining the extent of the injury and best treatment approach.

Treatment Options

There are several treatment options for a cat with a chipped or fractured tooth:

  • Tooth extraction – This involves surgically removing the affected tooth. It is an affordable option and may be recommended if the tooth is severely damaged. The cat will need to be under general anesthesia for the procedure [1].
  • Root canal therapy – This option saves the tooth by removing the pulp and nerves inside it. The root canal is then filled and sealed. A crown or filling may be placed on top to restore the structure. Root canals have a good long-term prognosis but do require referral to a veterinary dentist [2].
  • Vital pulp therapy – If the pulp is only partially exposed, it may be possible to apply a medicated filling to encourage healing and save the tooth [2].
  • Tooth restoration – For minor chips, the tooth may be restored with composite fillings or crowns to prevent further damage and infection.

Leaving a chipped or fractured tooth untreated is not recommended, as it will likely lead to worsening pain, infection and tooth loss. Working with a veterinarian to determine the best restoration option can help preserve your cat’s teeth and prevent complications.

Caring for a Cat with a Chipped Tooth

If your cat has a chipped tooth, there are some things you can do at home to care for them and make them more comfortable while awaiting veterinary treatment:

Soft Foods

Feeding your cat soft, canned foods will put less pressure on their chipped tooth and make eating less painful. Avoid dry kibble or treats that could further irritate the damaged tooth. Wet food is easier for them to chew and swallow. Consult your vet on the best diet to feed your cat following a chipped tooth.

Pain Monitoring

Keep an eye out for signs of pain in your cat like reduced eating, lethargy, or aggression. You may need to give pain medication prescribed by your vet. Make sure your cat is eating enough since dental pain can reduce appetite. Contact your vet if pain seems to be getting worse.

Prevent Further Chips

Remove any hard treats or toys that could lead to more chipping while your cat’s tooth is damaged. Feed them using ceramic or stainless steel bowls rather than plastic which may irritate. Handle their head gently and avoid yanking on toys during play that might crack the tooth further. Take steps to prevent additional injury until the tooth can be repaired.

Caring for your cat’s chipped tooth at home can help manage pain and prevent complications until professional veterinary treatment is received. Monitor your cat closely and follow up with your vet if the chipped tooth seems to worsen. Proper at-home care is important for your cat’s comfort and health.

Preventing Chipped Teeth

There are several things cat owners can do to help prevent chipped teeth in their cats:

Dental care – Regular toothbrushing and professional cleanings can help remove plaque and tartar that weaken teeth over time. Using veterinary-approved cat toothpaste and toothbrushes designed for cats can help keep teeth and gums healthy. Professional dental cleanings at the vet 1-2 times per year are recommended.

Diet – Feeding wet food instead of dry kibble reduces wear and tear on teeth from crunching hard bits. Canned food also has moisture that helps wash away plaque. Avoiding people food prevents exposure to cooked bones, nuts, and other hard human foods that can chip teeth.

Avoiding trauma – Keeping cats indoors prevents injuries from fights with other cats or wildlife. Using puzzle feeders instead of throwing kibble on the floor reduces the impact on teeth. Providing scratching posts helps satisfy scratching urges without using furniture or woodwork that could cause tooth fractures.

Regular veterinary exams can detect early signs of dental problems so they can be addressed promptly before causing tooth fractures. Being attentive to changes in eating habits that could indicate an injury or infection requiring dental care.

With proactive dental care and avoiding trauma, cat owners can help minimize the chances of a painful chipped tooth in their pet.

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