Dog teeth perform the functions of tearing food, sometimes biting prey, and breaking or grinding food into smaller pieces. Dogs, like people and many other species, are born without teeth and develop two sets of teeth during their lifetime. The baby teeth, also known as the deciduous teeth, begin to develop at about three weeks of age.
The baby teeth serve during puppyhood and are replaced by the adult or permanent teeth. Dogs generally have 28 baby teeth that are gradually replaced by 42 adult teeth. When the teeth come in and how they develop will depend on the breed but can even vary within the breed or within the same litter. Learn more about the tooth development schedule in this article: Do Dogs Have Baby Teeth?
As the body and bones grow and reach maturity, the adult teeth develop, pushing out the baby teeth. The adult teeth are larger than the baby teeth and will be the teeth that will remain with the dog for the rest of its life.
The teeth are located in the upper and lower jaw bones. There are different types of teeth and they have different functions. Learn more about that in this article: How Many Teeth Do Dogs Have?
How Do You Care for Your Dog’s Teeth?
It is important to care for your dog’s teeth, just as it is important for you to care for your own teeth. Similar recommendations exist between humans and dogs. Our dentists recommend that for basic care, in addition to flossing, that we brush at least daily and have dental cleanings every 6 months.
For dogs, daily brushing is recommended and a deeper professional clean periodically. The frequency of a deeper clean will depend on your ability to brush your dog’s teeth and his innate dental situation. Deeper dental cleaning, commonly referred to as a “dental”, “dental prophylaxis” or dental “prophy”, is done by a veterinarian. Learn more about Dog Teeth Cleaning: Who Should Do It?
Just as some people have beautiful teeth with very little work or dental care, the same is true for dogs. On the opposite side, some dogs have terrible dental disease even with great care. Some dogs benefit from a dental cleaning twice a year, yearly or every other year depending on the individual patient’s situation.
How Can You Tell if Your Dog Teeth are Diseased?
There are several signs of dental disease in dogs that can vary depending on the underlying cause. They may include:
- Tartar accumulation on the teeth
- Bad breath (also known as halitosis)
- Red or inflamed gums – learn more here: Is Your Dog’s Gum Color Bad?
- Difficulty chewing
- Dropping food from the mouth
- Tooth loss
- Picking eating – some dogs may prefer softer food
- Pawing or rubbing at the face or mouth
- Infection in the skin below the eye (tooth root abscess)
- Drooling (increased salivation)
- Decreased appetite
In general, dogs are very good at hiding symptoms of pain, just by their nature of survival. By instinct, they don’t want to appear vulnerable to predators. Some dogs with significant problems may show very few symptoms. In fact, it is common for dental problems to be diagnosed during a routine physical examination by your veterinarian. After problems are treated, pet owners frequently notice that their pet feels much better, has a better appetite, and is more playful. One of my favorite quotes from dog owners after treating dental problems is “Doc, I didn’t know how much he hurt until he didn’t hurt”.
Common Dog Teeth Problems
Dogs and cats get most of the common dental problems that we humans get that includes dental plaque, tartar, periodontal disease, gingivitis, and more. Below is more information about some common dog dental problems.
- Plaque – Dental plaque is a sticky substance that covers the teeth consisting of bacteria, saliva, food particles, and epithelial cells. Plaque builds up on the tooth surface and gum line every day. Left undisturbed the plaque can mineralize, or harden, in less than 2 days, forming calculus or tartar.
- Tartar– Dental tartar is a film that covers teeth consisting of calcium phosphate and carbonate, food particles and other organic matter, or is basically ”mineralized plaque”. The tartar will stick to the tooth surface forming a scaffold for more plaque accumulation. The continued build-up of tartar both above and below the gum line can eventually produce an environment that is a haven for certain types of bacteria that may be more destructive to the periodontal tissues and also produce a more noticeable odor. This can lead to periodontal disease. Learn more about Dental Tartar.
- Periodontal Disease – Periodontal disease is a very common infectious disease caused by bacteria that make up plaque. This results in inflammation of the structures that support teeth, the gum tissue, periodontal ligament, alveolus (small cavity) and cementum (bonelike connective tissue covering the root of a tooth and assisting in tooth support). Learn more about Periodontal Disease in Dogs.
- Gingivitis in Dogs – Gingivitis is inflammation of the gum tissue resulting in redness and swelling, most commonly caused by dental plaque in dogs. Bacteria mixes with the proteins and starches in the saliva that adheres to the teeth. Gingivitis can lead to periodontitis or inflammation around the tooth root, which in turn can lead to tooth loss.
- Tooth Root Abscess – An abscess can form around the tooth root that can cause pain and tooth loss. Sometimes the infection will migrate up to the cheek and appear as a wound on the face.
- Teeth Chattering – Some pet owners may notice that their dog’s teeth may chatter. There are many causes for this that can range from pain to a seizure.
- Attrition (Worn Teeth) in Dogs – As dogs age, the teeth can show signs of wear. This is particularly common in the incisors (front teeth) of older dogs. Attrition is the word used to describe an abnormally rapid loss of the top of the tooth (crown).
When to See Your Vet About Dog Teeth
If you have concern for your dog’s teeth, please see your veterinarian. Dental disease can be painful and dogs are excellent at hiding their dental issues. If your dog has bad breath, is pawing at his face, has a decreased appetite, increased drooling, or you have any other concerns, please see your veterinarian.
Is the Dental Vaccine Recommended for Dogs?
In 2006 a vaccine called the Porphyromonas Vaccine was introduced to help prevent periodontal disease. The bacteria that cause most periodontitis are Porphyromonas gulae, Porphyromonas salivosa, and Porphyromonas denticani. Studies document these bacteria have long-term effects on bone loss.