Why Are My Cat’s Teeth Turning Black?

Introduction

Black teeth in cats refer to teeth that appear darker than the normal light yellow/white color. This is usually caused by a buildup of plaque and tartar on the teeth. As plaque and tartar accumulate, they can cause the teeth to take on a brown or black stained appearance.

Cat owners may first notice black teeth in their pets during routine teeth brushing sessions. However, blackened teeth can also become visible when a cat yawns or meows. The black coloration starts out faint but becomes more pronounced over time as more plaque and tartar develop.

While some discoloration is normal for cats as they age, excessive blackening of the teeth is a sign of poor dental health. It indicates that plaque and tartar have been allowed to build up, which can lead to gum disease, tooth decay and loss, and other medical issues if left untreated. That’s why it’s important for cat owners to understand the causes of black teeth and seek veterinary dental care when needed.

Plaque Buildup

Plaque is a sticky film that accumulates on your cat’s teeth every day. It is composed of food particles, saliva, and bacteria. The bacteria in plaque metabolizes the food and saliva to produce acids that can erode tooth enamel and cause tooth decay. Over time, the minerals in your cat’s saliva harden the plaque into tartar or calculus. Tartar contributes to gum disease and tooth decay.

The acids in plaque dissolve the minerals on the tooth surface, causing demineralization. This makes the tooth more porous and leads to discoloration as stains penetrate deeper into the tooth. Plaque also irritates the gums, causing inflammation and bleeding. The bacteria in plaque release toxins that damage the gums and jaw bone, leading to periodontal disease. Advanced periodontal disease can cause teeth to loosen and even fall out.

According to source, the yellow, orange or brown buildup on your cat’s teeth indicates calculus formation from plaque films produced by bacteria. As plaque accumulates and demineralizes the teeth over time, they become discolored.

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease is an advanced form of gum disease caused by a buildup of plaque and tartar on the teeth (Feline Dental Disease – Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine). As plaque and tartar accumulate along the gumline and under the gums, bacteria cause inflammation and infection of the gums and tooth roots. Over time, this leads to destruction of the tissues and bone that support the teeth.

With periodontal disease, plaque thickens and hardens into tartar that sticks to the teeth. The tartar builds up along the gumline and provides an environment for more bacteria to accumulate. As the infection spreads deeper below the gums, the gums recede and pockets form around the teeth. Pus may discharge from these pockets. In advanced stages, the bone and ligaments supporting the teeth are destroyed, leading to loose and eventually lost teeth.

The advanced infection causes gums to become inflamed and turn reddish-purple. The tartar also stains black, so an advanced gum infection causes blackened tartar to build up on the teeth near the gums. The blackened teeth are a clear sign of severe gum disease (Dental Disease in Cats – VCA Animal Hospitals). The black tartar is difficult to remove and continues to exacerbate the gum infection.

Missing Teeth

One common cause of black teeth in cats is missing teeth. After a tooth falls out due to dental disease, trauma, or other issues, the empty socket where the tooth used to be can turn black over time. This occurs as the gum tissue in the socket recedes and the underlying bone is exposed. The bone then undergoes necrosis (tissue death) and turns black.

According to veterinarians, once a tooth falls out, the bone and gum tissue in the socket start to deteriorate. This deterioration leads to the black coloration. The black socket is not necessarily unhealthy on its own, but it can collect debris and should be monitored.

Stains from Food or Medication

Certain foods and medications can cause stains on a cat’s teeth, leading to discoloration. Foods like tuna and canned fish contain metals that can react with a cat’s saliva and leave dark stains on the teeth. Dry kibble also often contains dyes and artificial colors that can accumulate on the tooth enamel over time.

Additionally, antibiotics like tetracycline and doxycycline can bind to calcium in developing teeth and leave permanent gray, yellow or brown stains if given to kittens before their permanent teeth are in. Chlorhexidine, an antimicrobial commonly used for dental disease, can also stain teeth brownish-green.

To avoid stains from food, look for high quality wet and dry foods without artificial colors. When giving medications known to discolor teeth, follow up with a thorough dental cleaning with your veterinarian once the medication course is complete. Proper dental care and limiting discoloring foods/meds can help keep your cat’s smile bright and healthy.

Sources: https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/mouth/c_ct_discolored_teeth, https://1stpetvet.com/feline-tooth-resorption-a-guide-for-cat-owners/

Smoke Inhalation

Inhalation of smoke can lead to blackened teeth in cats. Smoke contains toxins and chemicals that can stain the teeth when inhaled over time. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, “The heat contained within smoke can lead to burns within the airways and lungs, triggering severe swelling and inflammation.”

Cats living in smoky environments or exposed to secondhand smoke are at risk of developing respiratory issues as well as discoloration of their teeth. The chemicals in cigarette smoke in particular can cause yellowing or blackening of the teeth and gums.

As noted by VCA Hospitals, “Do you know that second-hand smoke can negatively affect pet cats, dogs, and birds? Learn more and get expert animal advice at VCA.” Keeping cats away from smoke is the best way to prevent smoke inhalation and potential tooth discoloration.

Trauma

Injuries to a cat’s mouth or teeth can also lead to discoloration. Trauma such as bites, falls, or blows to the head may damage the teeth or supporting structures. This can lead to bruising of the pulp inside the tooth, which contains the nerves and blood vessels. A bruised or damaged pulp may die off and cause the tooth to darken or turn gray.

According to the Veterinary Lexicon, “The majority of discolored teeth in cats are the result of previous dental trauma.”[1] Trauma can fracture the enamel and expose the inner dentin layer, which is a yellowish color. It can also damage the pulp and lead to pulp necrosis. A dead or dying pulp will no longer give the tooth a pinkish hue, causing it to turn gray or black.

Genetics

Some purebred cats are genetically prone to tooth discoloration and other dental issues. For example, Siamese cats are known for having darker pigmentation on their gums and teeth. This breed tends to develop plaque and tartar buildup more quickly, leading to blackened teeth over time (https://www.webmd.com/pets/cats/what-to-know-about-a-siamese-cat). Other breeds like Persians and Himalayans can have misaligned bites that cause teeth to wear down unevenly. The enamel erodes over time, exposing the darker dentin underneath and creating a blackened appearance.

Certain breeds are also prone to dental issues like gingivitis and periodontal disease, which can also lead to blackened teeth. Proper dental care through brushing, dental cleanings, and professional treatment is especially important for these predisposed breeds.

Diagnosis

To determine the cause of black teeth in cats, veterinarians will perform a full oral exam. This involves looking at the teeth, gums, tongue, roof of the mouth, and throat for any abnormalities. The vet will check for signs of plaque buildup, gum inflammation, and tooth decay or death.

The vet may probe the teeth with a dental instrument to check for looseness or pockets around the roots, which can indicate advanced periodontal disease. They will also evaluate the color, size, and integrity of each tooth. Blackened or discolored teeth often signal issues like tooth resorption, infection, or pulp death.

In some cases, the vet will take dental x-rays to check for damage below the gumline or around the tooth roots. X-rays can also reveal abscesses, cysts, or bone loss associated with advanced dental disease. The veterinarian may recommend a full dental cleaning and extraction of any non-viable teeth.

With a thorough oral exam and dental radiographs, the vet can determine whether the blackened teeth are due to plaque, gum disease, infection, pulp necrosis, medication stains, or other causes. This allows them to recommend the appropriate treatment.

Treatment

There are a few options for treating discolored teeth in cats:

Professional dental cleaning is usually recommended to remove plaque and tartar from the teeth. The vet will scale and polish the teeth to remove stains and deposits. Cleaning may need to be done regularly if plaque and tartar build up quickly. One source recommends an annual dental cleaning for cats 3 years or older. (Source)

If teeth are too damaged or diseased, extraction may be necessary. Severely affected teeth may need to be pulled to prevent further infection or dental issues. The vet will examine the mouth thoroughly and determine which teeth can be saved with a cleaning versus teeth that need extraction.

For cats who won’t tolerate a professional dental cleaning, there are some at-home options. Veterinary toothpaste or dental gels can be applied regularly to help remove plaque. Just a small amount on a soft brush or finger pad is all that’s needed for cats. Specific dental diets or treats may also help slow plaque buildup. However professional dental cleanings are still ideal for optimal oral health.

In severe cases of advanced dental disease, a full mouth extraction may be recommended. Removing all teeth eliminates sources of infection and discomfort. Cats can adapt well to toothlessness and are able to eat soft foods. It’s an option if decay is too advanced in multiple teeth.

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