Care and Prevention of Canine Tooth Disorders

3rd October 2012 - in Health

Types of Dog Teeth

In the same way as humans, dogs have two sets of teeth starting with temporary teeth which are often referred to as ‘puppy or milk teeth’ and then later permanent adult teeth, which if looked after correctly will last them a lifetime.

There are four types of teeth in an adult dog and they perform different functions :

  • Incisors - Used for shearing and grooming
  • Canine - Designed to grasp and tear with great pressure
  • Premolars - Have sharp edges for shearing
  • Molars - Have a flat surface and are used for grinding and crushing

An adult dog has the following number of teeth :

TypeUpper JawLower Jaw

Examining and Cleaning

Examination and cleaning of a dog's teeth should begin as a puppy such that they become used to humans looking and 'working' in their mouth. Debris can collect between the teeth and tartar builds up on the surface in a progressive and cumulative manner. If this tartar is allowed to build up the scale will need to be chipped away with a range of specialist dental instruments. Dogs that are accustomed to dental examination will usually allow this chipping and descaling procedure to be carried out by their owners, but other dogs may need a visit to the veterinary surgeon and may even need anaesthetic to allow the work to be administered.

Regular cleaning of a dogs teeth is therefore of paramount importance. Various toothpastes, gels and powders are available in formulations specifically designed for dogs. Many people clean their dog's teeth by rubbing them with a dampened cotton bud, dipped in tooth powder or a little hydrogen peroxide and then rinsing with clean water. Personally I have found the action to be too smooth and lacking in abrasion and for this reason I use an electric toothbrush. Also I find hydrogen peroxide a little too strong for the gums. A normal toothbrush can be awkward to use and can cause sore gums if the dogs moves unexpectedly. Many dogs object at the outset, but soon become accustomed and the end result of healthy teeth and gums and subsequent better health of the animal, not least of all the 'sweeter' breath, is most certainly worth the trouble.

The most common cause of the onset of tooth decay results from not only from the lack of care, but mostly from the modern diets on which many dogs now are fed. This is further compounded by giving your dog sweet foods and treats, which do nothing for the animal except promote the onset of plaque and pave the way to obesity if care is not exercised.

When dogs eat normally, the construction shape, layout and size of the teeth are designed to rip and tear and in doing so cause abrasion to the surface of the enamel thus almost eliminating and at the very least reducing tartar build up, especially when the dog is allowed bones as a natural part of the diet.

The ultimate and unfortunate end result of lack of care and modern diets is teeth extraction. However dogs still manage to enjoy gnawing at a bone, whether they have had some, most or all of their teeth removed, due to the fact that the gums harden.

Puppy Teething

When a puppy is bought by a new excited owner, the puppy teeth will be sharp and feel like little needles and consist of 34 actual teeth. Puppies begin to cut their 'milk teeth' at about 14 days after birth and they have no molars in this set. Puppy teeth are shed and replaced by 42 adult teeth between the age of approximately 4 months and 6 months.

During teething the puppy will want to chew everything and so make sure it is provided with a large marrowbone, some really hard dog biscuits or a play rope. This keeps the dog from chewing your new shoes, helps with the loss of puppy teeth and assists in keeping the new adult teeth in a clean, fit and healthy condition.

Usually the first adult teeth to emerge are the two centre teeth in the top jaw and the last are the large canines located at the back of the top and bottom jaw. Some discomfort in the shedding of teeth may occur and sometimes a little soreness and blood, but in general the problems are only minor.

Occasionally puppy teeth are retained and are difficult to push out by the arrival of the adult teeth and in cases like this, gentle movement (backwards and forwards) of the puppy tooth over a short period will loosen its grip in the jaw and can be either pulled out or the dogs natural chewing activity will eventually cause it to fall out. Sometimes the puppy teeth are very secure and in cases like this a trip to the vet may be necessary to have the teeth removed surgically, otherwise the adult teeth may be misaligned and grow at an incorrect placement, which affects the shape of the mouth and for a show dog this is defined as a serious fault.

Common Problems

The most common problems in a dog's mouth are due to adult teeth not coming through or being restricted by retained puppy teeth and the accumulation of tartar. Dogs are not especially prone to tooth decay, but incorrect diet, poor dental maintenance and gum disease all contribute to the problems that can cause not only dental problems but poor health. It is very often overlooked that the mouth acts as a breeding ground for bacteria and an infected mouth, with teeth and gum disorders acts as a perfect host for the bacteria. Saliva is released from the salivary glands, which is swallowed together with the ingestion of food carrying the harmful bacteria into the body, which can cause general poor health.

Broken or cracked teeth sometimes occur through accident and molars in particular (especially in older dogs) can become cracked or damaged through chewing bones or stones. In addition to retained puppy teeth, worn, loose or broken teeth and excessive tartar, the dog can have other problems such as halitosis (bad breath), pain on eating, excess salivation or gingivitis. All of these disorders may need the attention of a vet.

These problems are not separate but inter-related in that long-standing accumulated tartar can cause gingivitis. Loose teeth can also often occur through accumulated tartar, which then in turn causes gingivitis.

Gingivitis is where the gums become red and inflamed from the accumulation of tartar, causing them to recede and thus allowing the bacteria free access.

Dental surgery may be the only answer if you neglect the teeth and gums over a period of time. Canine surgery is very often directed to the removal of tartar (scaling) or in extreme cases, removal of the teeth themselves. Specialist dentistry such as filling and capping can also be carried out, but in practice this happens very little and it is not uncommon in these cases for the vet to seek the help of a local dentist.

Preventative Measures

All these measures are both costly and in many cases unnecessary. Preventative care to overcome the problems directly caused by the soft foods that many people feed their dogs is crucial but usually overlooked until the problem is acute!

As previously mentioned a dogs eating action is designed to rip and tear, which aids natural cleaning of the teeth, but with modern foods, especially the 'wet' tin foods, the dogs hardly even have to chew!

So in addition to regular teeth cleaning, rawhide chews, specially designed chewing toys, suitable large bones, hard biscuits, etc., etc., are a necessity in the fight against tooth decay.

  • 10th January 2013 19:46 - Posted by : Bobby

    What sort of electric toothbrush is best to use? Would it have to be one for a child/baby? Are there electric toothbrushes for dogs?

  • 11th January 2013 13:27 - Posted by : RATPACK

    Hi Yes I tended to use childrens electric toothbrushes as they were naturally less 'aggressive' in terms of noise and vibration. Just pop into your local supermarket and you will find a selection of cheap toothbrushes which are powered by battery, unless of course you wish to splash out and buy the rechargeable units. I trust this helps. Best Regards Steve Hutchins

  • 15th January 2013 19:17 - Posted by : Bobby


    Looks like a trip to tesco is in order. I've been using a child's manual toothbrush but always had an idea that electric would be better. Great :)