A healthy cat's teeth, next to his claws, are his most valuable defense weapons. As an obligate carnivore, cats' teeth are designed not only to kill prey, but to tear and shred its flesh for swallowing. An adult cat has 30 teeth, evenly divided between top and bottom:
• 12 Incisors
Used for grooming, and scraping shreds of meat from the bone of its prey.
• 4 Canine Teeth (aka "Fangs")
Used mostly for defense and killing prey.
• 10 Pre-molars
Used in conjunction with the molars.
• 4 Molars
Unlike humans, cats do not use their molars to "grind" their food. Instead, they work in a sort of "slice-and-dice" operation, somewhat like an electric meat slicer does.
A cat's teeth are normally white, with small evidence, if any, of tartar buildup. They are rooted securely in the cat's jawbone. Any signs of redness in the gums around the teeth or loosening of teeth should be investigated by a veterinarian. Following a regular dental care plan will help ensure healthy teeth and gums.
Normally, a kitten will have 26 baby teeth once it is six months old. By the time it reaches adulthood, an adult cat will have 30 teeth. Misalignment of a cat's teeth, or malocclusion, occurs when the bite does not fit accordingly. That is, the top and bottom jaws do not fit together neatly. This may begin as the kitten's baby teeth come in and usually worsens as their adult teeth follow.
Common problems that can arise from tooth malocclusion:
• Mouth injuries
• Periodontal disease
• Soft-tissue defects from tooth contact in the floor of the mouth and the roof of the mouth (palate)
• Wear on the teeth
If problems with the palate persist, a fistula may result and become infected. In cases of misaligned teeth, the cat may have difficulty chewing, picking up food, and may be inclined to eat only larger pieces. They are also prone to tartar and plaque build-up.
There are several types of diagnosable malocclusion:
• Overbite (sometimes called overshot, Class 2, overjet, or mandibular brachygnathism)
• Underbite (also called undershot, reverse scissor bite, prognathism, and Class 3)
• Level bite (sometimes called even bite)
• Open bite (front teeth don’t meet each other when mouth is closed)
• Anterior crossbite (canine and premolars occlude normally but one or more lower incisors are in front of the upper incisors)
• Posterior crossbite (one or more premolar teeth overlap the upper teeth)
• Wry mouth or bite (one side of jaw grows longer than the other)
• Base narrow canines (lower teeth protrude inward and can harm the upper palate)
With an overbite, the upper jaw is longer than the lower one. When the mouth is closed, a gap between the upper and lower incisors occurs. Kittens born with an overbite will sometimes have the problem correct itself if the gap is not too large. However, a cat's bite will usually set at ten months old. At this time improvement will not happen on its own.
Your pet's overbite may worsen as the permanent teeth come in because they are larger and can damage the soft parts of the mouth. Teeth extractions are sometimes necessary.
Malocclusions may be caused by:
• A congenital or hereditary predilection
• Failure of deciduous (baby) or permanent (adult) teeth to erupt properly
• Trauma to the mouth
• Retained baby teeth or delayed loss of baby teeth
See your vet if you notice or suspect that your cat has any tooth or mouth difficulties.
Early intervention can help a cat live a longer, healthier life.
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