Retained Deciduous Teeth (Baby Teeth) in Cats

How many sets of teeth do cats have?

Like humans, cats have two sets of teeth in their lives. There are 26 deciduous teeth, also known as their primary, baby, milk, or kitten teeth, and 30 permanent teeth, also known as their adult teeth.

When do kittens get their deciduous teeth?

Kittens are born without any visible teeth. The deciduous teeth start erupting through the gums around three weeks of age and are normally finished erupting by four months of age. The kitten will have 26 primary teeth in all.

A healthy mouth depends on healthy teeth. The ideal time to begin brushing a kitten’s teeth is when you first bring him home, before the discomfort of teething begins. Your veterinary health care team can help you determine the best products and methods of dental care for your kitten.

"The ideal time to begin brushing a kitten's teeth
is when you first bring him home, before
the discomfort of teething begins."

When do kittens get their permanent teeth?

In kittens, the entire teething process is relatively rapid. Teething begins in kittens at about 3½ to 4 months of age, when the primary incisors begin to be replaced by permanent incisors. By the time the average kitten reaches 6- 7 months of age, all 30 adult teeth will have erupted. 

What happens during teething?

Long before adult teeth erupt through the gums, they begin developing from tooth buds located in the upper and lower jaws. As the adult teeth develop and get bigger, they begin to press against the roots of the baby teeth, stimulating the kitten’s body to begin resorbing the tooth roots. The baby tooth roots then weaken and finally disappear, leaving only the crowns behind. As the adult teeth push through the gums, the crowns of the baby teeth fall out. You may even find these hollow shells of teeth on the floor or in your kitten’s bedding, but more often than not the teeth will fall out while the kitten is eating and he will swallow them with the rest of his food.

During the teething process, your kitten may drool, be reluctant to eat at times, and he may be irritable due to a tender mouth. Almost all kittens will have the urge to chew when they are teething. It is important that you do what you can to direct your kitten’s chewing towards acceptable objects and don't allow any chewing of people's shoes, clothes, or furniture. Avoid hard objects as they can damage the teeth.

You may also notice a characteristic breath odor, which is associated with teething. This odor is normal and will last as long as the kitten is teething.

"During the teething process, your kitten may
drool, be reluctant to eat at times, and he may
be irritable due to a tender mouth. Almost all
kittens will have the urge to chew when
they are teething."

What is a retained tooth?

A retained tooth occurs when the tooth root is either incompletely resorbed or it did not resorb at all. When this happens, the baby tooth occupies the place in the mouth that is meant for the permanent tooth, forcing the permanent tooth to erupt at an abnormal angle or in an abnormal position. The end result is often crowding or malposition of the tooth, causing an abnormal bite. 

"A retained tooth is a deciduous or baby
tooth that is still present in the mouth after
its replacement permanent or adult
tooth has erupted."

Retained deciduous upper canine teethWhich deciduous teeth are more commonly retained?

The most common teeth to be retained are the upper canine teeth, followed by the lower canine teeth and the incisors. However, in some cases, the premolar teeth may also be retained.

What problems are caused by retained teeth?

If both a deciduous tooth and a permanent tooth are in the same socket in the jaw, the crowding of the two teeth will increase the likelihood that food and debris will become trapped between the teeth. This can lead to problems such as tartar deposits, tooth decay, gingivitis and periodontitis, all of which can lead to premature loss of teeth. If the root of the retained tooth has only been partly resorbed, it can become badly infected. 

If teeth are malpositioned, they can rub against other teeth, wearing away the enamel and weakening the tooth. Occasionally, a retained deciduous tooth can cause a dental interlock which may interfere with the normal growth and development of the jaw bones.

If the retained tooth is a lower canine, the permanent lower canine is forced to grow on the inside of the lower jaw and its tip usually grows towards the roof of the mouth, causing pain and damage which makes it difficult for your cat to eat.

"This can lead to problems such as tartar
deposits, tooth decay, gingivitis and periodontitis,
all of which can lead to premature loss of teeth."

When and how are retained teeth treated?

No two teeth should be in the same socket at the same time. If you notice a retained tooth in your kitten's mouth, make an immediate appointment for an examination. Unless the baby tooth is very mobile, extraction is the treatment of choice. Early extraction in these cases will usually allow the adult teeth to move into their proper positions.

Once a diagnosis and treatment plan is discussed, the extraction should be scheduled as soon as possible. There is no reason to wait until your cat gets neutered or spayed. Extraction of the retained tooth will require a general anesthesia.

Your veterinarian will take special care during the extraction of any retained tooth to avoid damaging the immature roots of the new permanent tooth.

"Early extraction in these cases will usually
allow the adult teeth to move into their proper positions."

What happens if there is a delay before the retained tooth is extracted?

If the retained primary tooth is not extracted in a timely manner, it is unlikely that the adult teeth will be able to move into their proper positions without orthodontic treatment. In these cases, or for kittens with severe malocclusion problems, it may be necessary to selectively extract other teeth or to refer your cat to a veterinary dental specialist (www.avdc.org) for orthodontic treatment to reposition the teeth. This treatment often includes the use of orthodontic buttons and elastics.

Is there anything else I should know?

In addition to regular tooth brushing, it is important to check your kitten's mouth every week until about seven to eight months of age to ensure that his teeth are growing normally. If you find any retained teeth, or if you suspect your kitten has an abnormal bite, bring him to your veterinary clinic immediately for an oral examination.

 

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Jan Bellows, DVM, Dipl. AVDC, ABVP

© Copyright 2013 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

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