10 fascinating things to know about cat teeth

Cat teeth: a Maine Coon yawning and showing its teeth
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Need to know about cat teeth? Whatever questions you might have about the pointy bits in your moggy's mouth, you should be able to find the answers right here.

For cats their teeth – alongside their claws – are essential tools for catching and killing prey, as well as for eating, but on the whole we don't really see a lot of them. Cats tend to keep their mouths firmly closed a lot of the time, and we're most likely to catch a glimpse of their teeth (in particular their fangs) when they're having a good yawn.

When you do get a look at cat teeth, though, you might have questions. Like, what's the deal with those tiny front teeth? We're here to answer that question and more besides.

Because cats mostly keep their teeth to themselves (except when they're out killing small furry things), it's not always easy to spot if they're having tooth problems. So as well as giving you all the facts about cat teeth you need to know, we can also provide you with guidance on potential problems as well as advice on how to keep cat teeth clean

Read on to discover the answers to all your feline dental questions.

How many teeth do cats have?

A healthy adult cat should have 30 teeth in total: 16 on its top jaw and 14 on the bottom jaw. Kittens, on the other hand, have just 26 teeth, sometimes known as baby, primary or milk teeth.

What are cat teeth called? 

You'll find four distinct types of tooth in an adult cat's mouth. The little ones front and center are called incisors (more on those in a bit), and to either side of them you'll find those oh so obvious fangs, properly known as canines, which are long and sharp and used for biting into other animals when hunting or fighting. 

Behind the canines are the pre-molars, used for chewing food down to a swallowable size, and then right at the back of your cat's mouth are the smaller, tougher and serrated molars, used for crunching kibble and bones.

One thing you might not realize is that cats can't chew their food in the same way as we do. Our jaws move from side to side as well as up and down, making it easier to grind tough food down, while cats' jaws only move up and down, so they rely on their tough, sharp molars and pre-molars and lots of jaw pressure to crush and shred their food into something they can swallow.

Cat teeth: a cat showing its teeth

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Do cats lose their teeth?

Cats lose all their teeth early in life; that is, as kittens they start off with a set of deciduous or milk teeth, which fall out fairly quickly to be replaced by adult teeth; you can learn all about this in our guide: Do kittens lose their teeth?

Adult cats shouldn't lose their teeth, but of course this can still happen, but it's normally down to injury or disease, or of course having to have them removed by a veterinarian.

How old are cats when they lose their teeth?

Adult cats shouldn't naturally lose their teeth at any age, but that's not to say they'll get through their entire lives without losing one or two for whatever reason. Kittens, on the other hand, start to lose their deciduous teeth at around 12 weeks of age, with their adult teeth coming through soon after. 

Incisors are the first to arrive, around three and a half months, followed by canines and molars at around five months, and the last adult teeth to grow in are the pre-molars, which should have all arrived by about six months.

Why do cats have tiny front teeth?

Those little incisors at the front of your cat's mouth don't look very effective, do they? But looks can be deceptive. 

Your cat's incisors don't need to be big, because they serve two main purposes: they're mostly used for gripping prey and for grooming, so they just need to be little and tough.

Cat teeth: a cat showing its teeth

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Is it normal for cats to not have front teeth?

In short: no. It's possible that you might not think your cat has front teeth because they're very small and of course cats don't bare their teeth very often. 

However it's possible that some of your cat's kitten teeth may not have fallen out and they're preventing its adult teeth from coming through; a more likely outcome is that your cat may have an overcrowded mouth with both deciduous and adult teeth trying to share the same space. 

If you're concerned that your cat's teeth don't seem to be growing correctly, you should get it checked out by a vet.

How can you tell how old a cat is by their teeth? 

It's sort of possible to get an idea of a cat's age from its teeth, but it's far from fool proof. With a kitten you can roughly figure out its age from the ratio of deciduous to adult teeth, but beyond that it all gets a bit dicey. 

The amount of tartar on a cat's teeth can be a rough indicator of its age, and a cat with lots of visible tartar is probably getting on a bit; however an older cat with a good diet may well have less tartar than a younger cat that hasn't been eating so well. For more useful tips, see our vet's guide to how to tell a cat's age.

Why are cats teeth so sharp? 

If you've ever been bitten by a cat you'll know that their teeth are really sharp. And the simple reason is that cats are built for hunting, fighting and for eating raw meat, both of which require sharp, tough teeth. 

Sharp teeth mean that they can kill prey more effectively and eat it quickly; they'd have a much harder time as predators with less finely-honed teeth.

Cat teeth: a cat having its teeth examined

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Health problems with cat teeth

There are three main health problems you need to keep an eye out for with cat teeth, and unfortunately it's not always easy to be on the ball with this, because cats generally won't give away any signs that they're having tooth problems if they can possibly help it.

Too much plaque and tartar can lead to gingivitis: inflamed, painful and sometimes bleeding gums. If gingivitis is left untreated, this can lead to periodontal disease, which can result in loose teeth and even tooth loss.

Finally there's tooth resorption, which is the most common cause of tooth loss in cats. It's a breakdown of the structure of the tooth itself and can be especially painful for cats, and by the time there's a visible sign of it (usually a defect at the gum line) the damage is already done and the tooth will likely have to be removed.

One of the best ways to avoid tooth problems is to get your cat checked out by a vet regularly, and to watch out for tell-tale signs such as avoiding food, drooling and pawing at the mouth.

Cat teeth: a cat having its teeth examined

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to care for your cat's teeth

The other leading way to avoid feline dental issues is to take care of your cat's teeth yourself. Making sure kitty has plenty of crunchy food to scrape off tartar is an easy fix to ensure a healthy mouth; as well as standard kibble you can also get specific dental biscuits as well as veterinarian-approved options.

If you're prepared to go all-out to help your cat keep its teeth healthy and strong, however, it's time to think about brushing its teeth. This may seem like a hair-raising proposition (both for you and your cat), but if you go about it the right way, it'll keep your furball's teeth and gums in tip-top shape. To learn all about it, see out vet's guide on how to brush your cat's teeth.

Want to stop your cat play biting? This feature can help you.

Jim McCauley

Jim is a writer, performer and cat-wrangler based in Bath, who last year adopted a pair of sibling rescue cats who turned out to be effectively feral, and has spent a lot of time since then trying to get them accustomed to people (some success) and each other (ongoing project).