Why Are My Cats Teeth Disappearing?

Normal Cat Dental Anatomy

Adult cats have 30 permanent teeth, comprised of 12 incisors, 4 canines, 10 premolars and 4 molars (Dutch, 2022).

Incisors are the small front teeth used for biting and nibbling food. Canines, or fangs, are the pointed teeth on either side of the incisors used for grabbing prey and for defense. Premolars and molars are the larger teeth in the back of the mouth used for chewing and grinding food (Daily Paws, 2022).

Kittens are born without any teeth. They start getting their baby teeth, called deciduous teeth, around 2-4 weeks of age. Kittens have 26 deciduous teeth. Around 6 months old, their permanent adult teeth start coming in and the deciduous teeth fall out (Purina, 2022).

Common Dental Issues in Cats

Some of the most common dental issues seen in cats include:

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease is inflammation and infection of the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth. It begins with a buildup of plaque on the teeth, which if not removed regularly, leads to tartar buildup below the gumline. This causes gingivitis (gum inflammation) which can progress to periodontitis where the infection spreads deep into tissues and bone, leading to loose teeth and eventual tooth loss if left untreated (VCA Animal Hospitals).

Tooth Resorption

Tooth resorption is the gradual destruction of the tooth structure from cells inside the tooth incorrectly breaking down tissue. It is the most common cause of tooth loss in cats. The cause is unknown but may be related to inflammation. It often starts subtly with minimal symptoms but can progress to severe destruction of the tooth (Cornell Feline Health Center).


Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums, usually resulting from plaque buildup on the teeth due to poor dental hygiene. The gums become red, swollen and can bleed easily. Left untreated, it can advance to periodontitis and tooth loss (PetMD).


Stomatitis is severe inflammation and swelling of the mouth lining, which can be incredibly painful for cats. It often occurs alongside gingivitis and can make eating difficult. The exact cause is unknown but may involve an abnormal immune response (VCA Animal Hospitals).

Tooth Fractures

Cats can fracture teeth from trauma like being hit by a car or falling. The pulp cavity may be exposed, causing severe pain. Fractures allow bacteria to invade the tooth, causing infection and abscess. They require immediate treatment to prevent complications (PetMD).

Signs of Dental Disease

There are several common signs that may indicate your cat is suffering from dental disease or tooth loss:

Bad Breath: Persistent bad breath or halitosis can signify advanced dental disease. When plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth, it can lead to tooth decay and gum inflammation, producing a foul odor from the mouth (Dental Disease in Cats – VCA Animal Hospitals).

Drooling: Excessive drooling or drool staining on the fur under the mouth is associated with dental infections and oral pain. Cats may drool because eating and swallowing is uncomfortable (Dental Issues in Cats).

Difficulty Eating: Your cat may show signs of discomfort or difficulty chewing dry food. You may notice them dropping kibble from their mouth while eating. Dental disease can make it painful to apply pressure while chewing (Feline Dental Disease).

Weight Loss: Kitties with dental problems often have decreased appetite due to oral pain and discomfort. This can lead to progressive weight loss (Dental Disease in Cats – VCA Animal Hospitals).

Nasal Discharge: Sinus infections associated with tooth roots damage can cause nasal discharge. You may see drainage from one or both nostrils if this occurs (Dental Issues in Cats).

Facial Swelling: Abscesses around affected teeth may lead to noticeable swelling of the face. The cheeks, jaw, or area under the eyes may appear puffy or enlarged (Dental Disease in Cats – VCA Animal Hospitals).

Causes of Tooth Loss

There are several potential causes for tooth loss in cats:

Advanced periodontal disease – This occurs when plaque and tartar buildup leads to infection and inflammation of the tissues surrounding the tooth, including the gums and bone. As the disease progresses, it can cause severe bone loss around the tooth root, eventually leading to tooth loss. Periodontal disease is the most common cause of tooth loss in adult cats. (Source: https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-dental-disease)

Tooth resorption – This is a painful condition where the tooth structure begins breaking down due to an abnormal resorption of the mineral components. It often starts below the gumline, leading to inflammation and eventual tooth loss. Tooth resorption is very common in cats, affecting up to 70% of cats to some degree. (Source: https://veterinarydental.com/cat-losing-teeth/)

Trauma/injury – Blunt trauma to the mouth, biting down on a hard object, falls, or motor vehicle accidents can fracture teeth or dislodge them entirely. Trauma is an acute cause of tooth loss.

Congenital defects – Some cats are born missing teeth or with abnormal tooth development that leads to early tooth loss.

Diagnosing Dental Issues

Veterinarians will conduct a thorough physical exam of your cat’s mouth to look for signs of dental disease. This involves examining the teeth, gums, tongue, lips, and jaw for any abnormalities. Discolored, loose, or missing teeth may indicate problems. Red, swollen, or bleeding gums are also a sign of dental disease like gingivitis or periodontitis. Your vet will note any tartar buildup, tooth fractures, masses, or ulcers in the mouth.

In many cases, a physical exam alone is not enough to diagnose dental disease. Dental x-rays allow vets to see below the gumline and detect problems not visible during an oral exam, such as bone loss, tooth root abscesses, or cysts. X-rays can find otherwise hidden causes of tooth loss and fully evaluate the health of the teeth and jawbones (VCA Hospitals). For example, they may reveal severe periodontal disease in a cat with no apparent symptoms. Like in human dentistry, x-rays are an essential diagnostic tool.

If an oral mass or lesion is found, the vet may recommend a biopsy to analyze the cells and determine if it is benign or malignant. Biopsies require anesthesia to safely take a tissue sample.

Treating Dental Disease

Treating dental disease in cats usually requires a professional dental cleaning and often extractions of severely diseased teeth under general anesthesia. Here are the main treatments vets use:

Professional Dental Cleaning

A professional dental cleaning, also called scaling and polishing, is needed to thoroughly remove the plaque and tartar above and below the gumline that brushing cannot reach. This involves using specialized tools to scale off calculus and polish away remaining plaque and stains on the teeth under anesthesia.

Tooth Extractions

Severely diseased teeth with advanced periodontal disease often need to be extracted. X-rays help determine teeth with infections or other issues that require removal. Extractions are done as atraumatically as possible under anesthesia.


Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat or prevent infections after dental procedures. Common antibiotics used include clindamycin and amoxicillin.

Pain Medication

Cats may be prescribed pain relievers such as buprenorphine for several days after dental surgery. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like meloxicam may also be used for pain and inflammation.


Cats require some special care in the days and weeks after dental surgery. It’s important to follow your veterinarian’s instructions to help your cat heal properly.

Offer a soft food diet for 5-7 days after surgery. Canned or semi-moist foods are ideal as they are easier for your cat to chew and swallow while their mouth is tender. Avoid dry kibbles or treats that could irritate surgical sites. Gradually transition back to normal foods as your cat’s mouth heals. Provide food and water bowls that are easy to access.

Monitor your cat for signs of pain or discomfort, such as reduced appetite, vocalizing when touched on the face, or excessive licking at the surgery site. Your vet may prescribe pain medication; be sure to give this as directed. Never give human painkillers to cats.

Schedule a follow-up vet exam 3-10 days after surgery to assess healing and remove any sutures if needed. Alert your vet if you notice ongoing bleeding, difficulty eating, excessive drooling, or other concerning symptoms.

At home, prevent your cat from rubbing or scratching at their face, as this could disturb the surgery site and sutures. It’s important to keep the area clean – wipe gently around the mouth with gauze and warm water to remove food debris.

Preventing Dental Disease

There are several ways cat owners can help prevent dental disease in their feline companions:

Regular veterinary dental exams – Cats should receive annual veterinary dental exams starting around age 3. The vet will check for early signs of periodontal disease and tartar buildup, and perform a professional cleaning if needed. Getting ahead of any issues early is key.

Brushing teeth – Daily toothbrushing is ideal, but even a few times per week can remove plaque and reduce tartar buildup. Use a soft bristle toothbrush and pet-safe toothpaste. Introduce slowly and make it a positive experience with praise and treats.

Dental diets – There are prescription dental diets for cats that are formulated to scrub the teeth clean as they eat. The kibble is larger, crunchy, and fibrous. Diets often contain compounds that prevent plaque from hardening into tartar.

Dental treats – Similar to dental diets, there are dental treats made to scrape and remove plaque. Greenies and CET chews are popular options veterinarians recommend.

Oral rinses – Rinses with chlorhexidine or other antiseptics can reduce bacteria when used a few times per week. Wipe along the gumline with gauze or a soft cloth.


With proper treatment, most cats with dental disease can live healthy lives with a good quality of life. However, without treatment the prognosis is poor. Untreated dental disease is painful and can lead to serious health complications like heart, liver and kidney disease. The infection can spread through the cat’s body.

Treatment in the early stages of periodontal disease usually leads to an excellent prognosis. Even in more advanced cases, a full cleaning, extractions and follow-up care can restore oral health. Cats feel much better after infected teeth are removed.

The cost of treatment depends on the severity of dental disease. A basic teeth cleaning under anesthesia may cost $300-500. If extractions or antibiotics are needed, it could be $800-1500. Regular at-home dental care and professional cleanings can help prevent costs from escalating.

With treatment and prevention, most cats can enjoy years of healthy teeth and normal eating. It’s important to have a veterinarian examine your cat’s mouth annually and address any emerging dental problems promptly.

When to See the Vet

Cats often hide signs of dental disease, so it’s important to be vigilant and monitor their eating habits and mouth closely. Certain signs require immediate veterinary attention:

  • Loose or lost teeth
  • Discoloration or swelling of the gums
  • Pus around teeth or gums
  • Bad breath
  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty eating or chewing
  • Weight loss

Veterinarians recommend bringing cats in for dental checks at least once a year. Senior cats or those prone to dental issues may need checks every 6 months. Don’t wait until you notice a problem, as dental disease can progress quickly in cats. Regular professional cleanings and exams are the best way to stay on top of your cat’s dental health.

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