Cats, the consummate carnivores, have an impressive arsenal of teeth that they use to catch, hold, and kill prey. The cat’s teeth can also tear meat like serrated blades, and their barbed tongue scrapes it from the bones of the cat’s prey. Cats who don’t hunt still use their teeth to pick up and hold the food we give them, and then to slice it down for swallowing.

The adult cat has 30 teeth total: 16 on top (six incisors, two canines, six premolars and two molars) and 14 on the bottom (two fewer premolars). You can barely see the molars, though, because those are vegetable-mashing teeth and carnivore cats don’t really need them.

It’s not unusual to see adult cats with fewer teeth than normal. Some cats are just born that way, and this has no effect on their health.

Kittens are usually born without teeth, but 26 needle-sharp milk teeth start appearing at the about the same time the eyes open — in seven to 10 days. The incisors come first, then the canines (the fangs!), then the premolars, which are all in by about six weeks of age.

The baby teeth are replaced by permanent teeth over the first three to seven months of life. Watch your kitten carefully to make sure her adult teeth are coming in and her baby teeth are coming out. If you see what appears to be a double set of teeth, the baby tooth should be puled by a veterinarian. As a cat ages, the teeth will yellow and wear down. That’s normal. But cats can also have dental problems. If your cat ate a totally natural diet of prey animals, her teeth would be cleaned by scraping over the bones of their prey. Since domestic cats don’t live on mice, though, their teeth do decay. Cats get plaque and gingivitis, just like we do. That’s why they need to go to the dentist for regular check-ups.

Cats can also get cavities. Unfortunately, a cat with a cavity has to have her tooth pulled. While we have wide, flat teeth that give plenty of surface area for drilling, cats have sharp, narrow teeth that tend to fracture under a dentist’s drill. Fortunately, though, cavities aren’t that common among felines.