How many Teeth? An Introduction to Understanding Oral Care in Cats and Dogs

Updated: Feb 16, 2019

Who has more teeth – Dogs or Humans? If you answered Dogs you would be right! Adult dogs have 42 permanent teeth, and puppies possess 28 deciduous teeth also known as baby teeth. Now, who has more teeth – Cats or Humans? If you said Humans you would be right again! Adult cats have 30 adult teeth and kittens 26. Humans usually have about 32 adult teeth not counting the wisdom teeth.

Puppy teeth start erupting between 4-6 weeks of age and they start with the incisors (the teeth at the very front of the mouth between the canines on the upper and lower jaw), then the canines then premolars, working its way to the back of the mouth. The eruption of the baby teeth is known as “teething”, and puppies will chew on everything to alleviate the tenderness of the gums. If you’ve ever had or played with a puppy you would know that these baby teeth are as sharp as needles!  They will lose these baby teeth around 12-16 weeks of age and all the permanent teeth should be in place around  6 months of age.

Of course the chewing would have been going on this entire time, and usually the more expensive the item the more appealing it is to the pup to chew on.  Once all the permanent teeth are in place, it can be difficult to determine the age of the pet. This would apply to a pet that has been found.  The veterinarian may look at the amount of tartar, wearing, and health of the gums to make an estimate of the dog’s age.

Factors such as lifestyle, malnutrition, breed, heavy chewing can affect the appearance of the teeth, thus making it hard to guess a pet’s age if you have not had them since they were a pup.

The baby teeth of kittens start erupting around 3-4 weeks of age, starting with the incisors and working its way to the back of the mouth. The permanent teeth start coming in around 12-16 weeks of age. Teething in cats do not seem to elicit quite the chewing behavior as seen in dogs, but a bite from a cat is far more serious. Their long sharp narrow teeth deliver bacteria deep in the wound which often results in severe infections. If you’ve been bitten by a cat is it advised that you see you seek medical attention right away!

When should you start cleaning your pet’s teeth?

If you have a pup, I usually recommend if you start placing your finger in the pups mouth and rubbing on the gums to get the pup accustomed to the sensation. Once the permanent teeth are in place, you can either use your finger, or a finger-brush to brush the teeth, always staying between the cheek and the teeth, and not going between the tongue and the teeth.

In older pets, once you have developed a bond and trust with the pet, the process is the same. Start with the finger, moving onto a finger-brush, then work your way up to a dog/cat toothbrush, if needed.  Routine brushing at home can be 2-3 times weekly and will slow down the build-up of tartar in the mouth, and improve breath and gum health. I also recommend using an enzymatic toothpaste to improve the job.

For cats, it can be a bit more challenging to brush their teeth due to their small sharp teeth, small mouth, and personality. However, some people can brush their cat’s teeth! An enzymatic toothpaste, that's safe for cats, is recommended.

Are Dental Cleanings Necessary?

As a veterinarian, I recommend annual dental cleanings. These are done under anesthesia with whole mouth dental radiographs. These dental cleanings get a nice deep clean of all the surfaces of the teeth, any pockets between the teeth and the gums are measured,  any loose teeth and defects on the tooth surfaces and broken teeth are identified. With the oral radiographs, bone loss, tooth root abscesses, and/or abnormalities below the gumline, can be identified and recommendations made.

Quite often during an oral exam, the veterinarian may be able to identify how advanced the oral disease is, and if obvious, any broken and/or bleeding teeth, exposed roots, and loose teeth.  They can also look at the gums for any swelling, bleeding, and recession. However, many times, it’s only when the calculus and tartar are removed, and all the surfaces of teeth are inspected along with the radiographs, can the true health of a tooth be evaluated. Also, the gums, tongue (above and underneath), and back of the throat, called the pharynx, can be fully evaluated for growths, foreign bodies and possible oral cancer. This is why many practices offer to call you to make recommendations for oral surgery and extractions while the pet is under anesthesia.

If the pet has never had a dental cleaning and has advanced oral disease, extractions can be expected which can range from a few teeth to more than 10! This leaves a lot of owners asking, "How Many Teeth?" Extracting a tooth is not something that is lightly recommended by the veterinary team. The recommendation to extract a tooth is based on the health of the tooth and surrounding tissue and comfort of the pet. Rest assured though, pets will still be able to chow down on their food and many owners have observed a perkier happier pet! Below is an image of the gum damage from a stick that was stuck in a dog's mouth.

At Home Oral Care

At home oral care includes inspecting your pet’s mouth up to 2-3 times weekly, brushing with an enzymatic toothpaste if you can, oral hygiene rinses, approved dental chews, and appropriate nutrition.  Certain breeds, such as Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers, and Poodles, tend to develop oral disease much worse than other breeds and more vigorous oral health care is recommended which can include a dental cleaning every 6 months. The idea of at-home oral care is to not only reduce the build-up of calculus and periodontal disease but to also look for broken teeth, masses or growths, and to ensure your pet’s breath remains kissable. Published by DR. VARSHA RAMOUTAR, DVM MS


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