Dog Teeth: Understanding Your Dog's Teeth And Providing Care
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM August 17, 2020
Whether your dog is consistently flashing you their pearly whites or you are experiencing their bad breath when they get up close, your dog’s teeth should be on your mind. After all, the teeth are used as the first step of the digestive process by breaking down food. Healthy teeth can go a long way in keeping your dog healthy whereas unhealthy teeth can set your pup up for a losing battle. Having an understanding of your dog’s teeth can help ensure that they are taken care of properly. This will enable your dog to eat without issues to get the nutrition they need for living a long healthy life.
Dental Anatomy Of Dogs
Not all dog teeth are the same. In fact, they are all actually quite different. Each one is specially shaped and designed for its designated purpose, whether that be chewing, biting, or tearing. Let’s look at each group of teeth individually to find out what makes each one special.
These are the tiny teeth right in front. Dogs have 12 incisors - 6 on the top and 6 on the bottom. Incisors are usually pretty uniform in shape, with the middle ones sometimes being just a bit smaller. Their main purposes are to pick and pull at food, nibble meat off bones, pick up objects and scratch. Incisors are your dog’s main tug-of-war teeth.
Canine teeth are the 4 long and pointed ‘fangs’ that sit just beside the incisors. There are 2 canines on the top and 2 on the bottom with one on the left and one on the right. Canine teeth are meant for grabbing and tearing objects. In the wild, that means meat. But for our domestic dogs, that means toys. When a dog bites down, the upper canines lock behind the lower canines in a scissor motion.
These are the wider, flatter teeth behind the canine. There are 16 premolars total, with 8 on the upper jaw, eight on the lower jaw. There are four premolars on each side of both jaws. The premolars are sharp and are meant for chewing, tearing and biting.
The molars are the bigger chewing teeth found behind the premolars. Adult dogs have 10 molars total. There are 6 on the lower jaw and 4 on the upper jaw. Puppies don’t have molars. Dogs use these teeth to chew hard objects, like bones. You may notice when your dog is really chewing on a toy, they will turn their head to the side in order to get the toy way back to those back molars.
How Many Teeth Do Dogs Have?
Just like humans, the number of teeth that a dog has varies from puppyhood to adulthood. Puppies have fewer baby teeth that will give way to more adult teeth. In general, adult dogs have 42 teeth (12 incisors, 4 canines, 16 premolars, and 10 molars) while puppies only have 28 (12 incisors, 4 canines, and 12 premolars).
For adult dogs, that means 22 teeth are located on the bottom jaw since there is an extra set of molars on the bottom. The remaining 20 teeth are located on the top jaw. Puppies however, have an equal split of 14 teeth on both the upper and lower jaw.
When Do Dog’s Stop Teething?
The first stage of teething in puppies happens around three weeks of age. This is when they get all of those baby teeth in place and ready to start eating dog food. The baby teeth will start to fall out between 12 and 16 weeks of age and will gradually be replaced by adult teeth. By six to seven months of age, all adult teeth should be in and baby teeth out. Occasionally, dogs may retain some of the baby teeth along with the erupted adult teeth which can lead to an improper bite, excessive tartar buildup, and discomfort. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian if anything seems out of place in your pup’s mouth.
Why Do Dogs Lose Their Teeth?
Dog teeth may fall out for a number of reasons. Most of the time, these reasons are preventable. So in order to help keep your best friend’s smile fully intact, let’s look at reasons that a dog’s teeth may fall out.
This is the most common reason for loosing teeth. Again, teething starts between 12 and 16 weeks of age and continues through about six months of age. During this time, you may find tiny baby teeth on the floor or in your pup’s water bowl.
If your dog is one of those intense chewers, they could start losing teeth. Dogs that chew on hard objects, such as bones, rocks, or even some chew toys, can break or even loosen teeth that will then fall out. Moreover, taking a fall or getting hit in the mouth with something can break off or loosen teeth to the point that they fall out.
- Dental disease
When plaque and tartar are allowed to buildup on teeth, it can cause inflammation of the periodontal tissues that surround the teeth. If those tissues experience too much inflammation, then they can weaken and allow the tooth to fall out. Along with plaque and tartar, there are also bacteria that can cause infections to the gums, jaw bone, and periodontal tissues that will cause the same problem.
What Do You Do If Your Dog Lost A Tooth Or Has A Loose Tooth?
If you happen to find one of your adult dog’s teeth on the floor or in the food bowl, don’t panic. Rather hang on to the tooth and visit your veterinarian. Having the tooth available to show the vet will help them determine if any pieces or roots are left inside the gum. If the tooth happens to be healthy with the root intact, you can place it in a glass of milk and possibly have it placed back into the socket.
For teeth that are broken off, your vet may need to go in and surgically remove the root or remaining pieces in order to prevent infections and inflammation of the gums.
If your dog is showing some loose teeth due to dental disease, getting rid of the plaque and inflammation may help the teeth reset into the gum. This requires a dental cleaning, often with antibiotics and/or anti-inflammatories.
How To Spot Signs Of Dental Disease
Finding a lost tooth isn’t the only thing that should clue you into the health of your dog’s mouth. In fact, it’s something that you should look into quite regularly. A healthy mouth leads to a healthy body, so check your pup’s teeth at least weekly for any of these signs of dental disease.
- Bad breath
Usually the first sign that pet parents notice is a foul breath when they get their morning kisses. Bad breath is a common indicator of dental disease and can be attributed to the bacteria in the plaque layer of your dog’s teeth and sometimes in the periodontal tissues and gums.
- Red gums
Gums that are irritated from plaque and tartar buildup usually turn a bright red. In more mild causes of gingivitis, the red color will appear in a thin line right at the gum line along the teeth. In more severe cases, it will spread toward the jaws and can even bleed.
- Bloody drips
Sometimes dogs with dental disease will leave little blood droplets in their water bowl, bed, or food dish. The blood can come from gums affected by gingivitis or from loose or lost teeth.
- Brown teeth
Plaque buildup on teeth can turn them into an ugly brown and makes the teeth feel rough. The plaque starts at the gum line and works its way towards the crown of the tooth as it gets more severe.
- Decreased appetite
Dental disease can be pretty uncomfortable making dogs not want to eat, especially their hard kibble. If your pup’s appetite is waning recently or you notice they are having trouble chewing, then dental disease could be the issue.
- Heart problems
Believe it or not, some dogs with dental disease can actually experience exercise intolerance or lethargy. Bacteria that grow on plaque in the mouth don’t stay in the mouth. They can move throughout in the bloodstream and wreak havoc in other areas of the body such as the valves of the heart. So if bad breath isn’t enough of an incentive to keep your dog’s teeth clean, then the possibility of heart disease should be.
How To Care For Your Dog’s Teeth
Hopefully by now, we all understand the importance of dog teeth. So let’s learn how to take care of them to keep your dog healthy.
Brushing your dog’s teeth is actually a great way to prevent plaque buildup and ward off infections and gingivitis. Fortunately, there are many products out there to make this an easier process. Always use toothpaste meant for dogs since human toothpaste can be quite dangerous. Dog toothpastes also come in more fitting flavors like liver and chicken. Choose a small headed toothbrush or finger brush that’s easy and comfortable to use. You’ll have better luck if you get your dog used to teeth brushing as a puppy, but adult dogs can be trained to tolerate it as well. While you may brush your teeth twice a day, brushing your dog’s teeth at least once a week will usually suffice. However, the more the merrier, so if your pup is willing, brush those pearly whites more frequently.
If your dog isn’t the tooth brushing type, at least check their teeth once over every week. Lift their lips and examine the outsides of their teeth and gums for discoloring, plaque, and gingivitis. Open their jaw (carefully!) and check on the inside surface of those teeth as well. Don’t forget to look at the tongue and roof of the mouth while you’re in there.
Giving your dog chew toys can also help mechanically remove plaque and tartar. Look for toys that are made of firm rubber that won’t break up easily when chewed. Bonuses for toys that have different textures that will massage the gums to stimulate a healthy blood flow.
However, if your pup prefers a tastier version to chew toys, look into dental treats and chews. These products work by mechanically cleaning teeth or are coated with substances that help break up tartar and plaque. Some are like large kibble with interwoven fibers that clean teeth as your dog chews, and some will have enzymatic cleaning action similar to tooth paste. There are many dental chews and treats available, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk to your veterinarian about the best options for your pup.
Lastly, regular veterinary visits are also a must for a healthy mouth. Not only will your veterinarian be able to spot dental issues, they will be able to take care of them with regular cleanings and exams. Vets should also be your go-to for recommending proper chew toys or products to clean teeth.
Our dog’s teeth may be something that most dog parents take for granted. After all, they’re small, not often seen, and don’t really draw attention to themselves until there is a problem. The teeth do amazing things to keep the body supplied with nutrients, and it really only requires a little cleaning and maintenance to keep them working properly. So keep your dog’s teeth maintained to help them live a long and healthy life of enjoying food and treats!