Just like humans, cats have two sets of teeth: deciduous teeth, also known as milk teeth, and permanent teeth.
Kittens are born without teeth, but within the first two to three weeks the deciduous teeth, also known as milk teeth, baby teeth, or primary teeth, erupt. All of the deciduous teeth are present by 6 to 7 weeks of age. These milk teeth will start to fall out around 3 months of age as the permanent teeth begin to erupt. Once a kitten reaches the age of 6 or 7 months, all 30 permanent teeth should be present.
What happens during teething?
Before adult teeth erupt through the gums, the begin developing underneath the gumline. As these adult teeth get bigger, they start pushing against the roots of the milk teeth. This stimulates the kitten’s body to begin absorbing roots of the milk teeth. This process is also known as “resorbing.” Eventually, the milk teeth roots weaken and leave only the crown of the tooth behind. As the permanent teeth push through the gums, these crowns will fall out. This can happen while the kitten is eating, and she will just swallow them with her food, so cat guardians may never know that this process is happening.
During this teething process, some kittens may drool, or be reluctant to eat at times. Some kittens may experience soreness in the mouth, others may begin to bite or when they are teething. Don’t allow your kitten to chew on your fingers or hands during this phase. You will inadvertently teach your kitten that biting is acceptable. Provide toys designed for kittens instead. There are catnip infused chew toys especially designed for chewing kittens.
Did you know? Kittens have 26 teeth, adult cats have 30
Problems caused by retained milk teeth
One of the major problems that can develop in young kittens is retained deciduous teeth. This happens when the adult tooth erupts next to the milk tooth, instead of the milk tooth falling out before the adult tooth comes up in the same spot. This happens because the adult tooth is in the wrong position.
When both milk and adult teeth share the same space in the jaw, the crowding of the two teeth will cause food debris to become trapped between the teeth. This can lead to dental problems such as tooth decay, gingivitis and periodontitis.
If the root of the retained tooth has been only partly absorbed, it can become abscessed. If the teeth are misaligned, they can rub against other teeth, wearing away the enamel and weakening the affected teeth. A retained milk tooth can also interfere with the normal growth and development of the jaw bones.
Treatment of retained deciduous teeth
Retained deciduous teeth should be surgically removed as soon as the permanent tooth has begun pushing through your cat’s gums. If there are fractured or retained roots, they may need to be removed with a procedure called a gingival flap. They are separated from the teeth and folded back to allow a veterinarian to reach the root of the tooth and the bone.
Early extraction of retained milk teeth will usually allow the adult teeth to move into their proper positions.
It is important to check your kitten’s mouth regularly until he is about six to seven months old. If you find any retained milk teeth, or if you suspect your kitten has an abnormal bite, bring it to your veterinarian for a thorough oral exam immediately.
This article was previously published on Answers.com and is republished with permission.