Puppy Dental Problems

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Puppy Dental Problems

Puppies are born with 28 baby teeth (otherwise known as deciduous teeth or primary teeth) and 42 adult teeth. Baby teeth start erupting at 3-4 weeks of age and should be completely erupted by eight weeks of age. Baby teeth should fall out just prior to eruption of the adult tooth. Puppies will start to lose their baby teeth at 16 weeks of age, starting with the incisors. All adult dentition should be present seven months.

There are a couple of important issues that can happen to puppy teeth that we want to let you know about. Call your vet if you see any of these issues in your puppy’s mouth.

Retained Deciduous (Baby) Teeth

When deciduous (baby) teeth don’t fall out to make way for the permanent teeth, they are called retained deciduous teeth. If the permanent tooth crown is visible above the gum line, then the deciduous tooth should be gone. If the deciduous tooth is still in place it should be removed as soon as possible. Leaving a retained deciduous tooth will lead to dental problems such as overcrowding in the mouth, plaque buildup, or malocclusion. 

When both deciduous and permanent teeth are trying to occupy the same position this double row of teeth overcrowds the mouth, and food gets trapped between the teeth. This trapped food causes periodontal disease. In addition, the double set of roots can prevent normal development of the tooth’s socket and eventually erode gum support around the adult tooth.

These difficulties can be prevented by extracting the retained deciduous teeth as soon as they are seen. If the tooth is extracted early enough, the adult tooth usually will move to its correct position. If the tooth isn't extracted early enough, there is a greater chance that the adult tooth will be malpositioned. Malpositioned teeth can cause damage to the tongue, palate, mandible, etc. Often the retained deciduous teeth are removed at the same time your puppy is spayed or neutered. 

Broken Deciduous (Baby) Teeth

Deciduous teeth are fragile and can be easily broken. Broken deciduous teeth are painful and become infected quickly. Infection can travel up the broken tooth and damage the developing adult tooth still under the bone. If you notice a broken baby tooth please have it evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Bracheocephalic Breeds (i.e. flat-faced breeds)

Bracheocephalic breeds include Pugs, Shih Tzus, Boxers, Pekinese, Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers. While these breeds are adorable, their skull formation predispose them to periodontal disease. Due to their shortened upper jaw, there is not enough room for the adult teeth to erupt normally. This can lead to crowding, under-erupted teeth, unerupted teeth, malocclusions, and rotated teeth.  All of these problems will predispose these dogs to periodontal disease. Bracheocephalic breeds require extensive dental home care to keep their mouths healthy. If you own a brachiocephalic breed you should plan on your dog getting a professional veterinary anesthetic cleaning and oral assessment performed yearly to help keep your dog’s mouth healthy and treat any periodontal disease if it develops.

"Micro Dogs” (i.e. dogs under 20 lbs.)

Dogs under 20 lbs easily make up the majority of dogs treated for severe periodontal disease in veterinary medicine. As humans bred dogs to be smaller and smaller in size (and thus have smaller and smaller mouths) we did not breed down the number of teeth that must fit in their tiny jaws. This leads to crowding, under-erutped teeth, unerupted teeth, missing or deformed permanent teeth, and malocclusions. Micro dogs are also predisposed to having retained deciduous teeth. All of these problems can lead to severe periodontal disease and a very early age. Micro dogs require extensive dental home care to keep their mouths healthy. If you own a micro dog you should plan on your dog getting a professional veterinary anesthetic cleaning and oral assessment performed yearly to help keep your dog’s mouth healthy and treat any periodontal disease if it develops.

Missing Teeth

Occasionally an adult tooth may appear missing. There are two reasons for this:

1) Either the dog was born without the tooth (i.e. it is truly missing) or 
2) It is unerupted (i.e. it is present but sitting within the bone of the jaw). 

Unerupted adult teeth can lead to problems if left in the jaw. Specifically, some unerupted teeth can become a destructive cyst that destroys all the bone surrounding it. These cysts are difficult to treat once they develop. It is much easier to treat an unerupted tooth before it develops into a cyst. If your dog is missing an adult tooth (all adult teeth should have erupted by seven months of age) then the jaw should be x-rayed to confirm the tooth is truly missing and not unerupted. A good time to have this done is during the spay or neuter procedure. If the tooth is truly missing, no treatment is required and this is not a medical problem. If the tooth is unerupted, extraction of the unerupted tooth is recommended.

Malocclusion (i.e. abnormal bite)

There are lots of different types of malocclusions – some cause problems and some don’t. In a dog’s mouth, the teeth are not supposed to touch soft tissue at all. Any tooth-to-soft tissue contact is abnormal. The only place there is supposed to be any tooth-to-tooth contact is between the upper and lower molars. Any other tooth-to-tooth contact is abnormal. Malocclusions that result in abnormal tooth-to-tooth contact, trauma to the oral soft tissue, or in some teeth blocking the eruption path of other teeth need to be treated as soon as possible (ideally before permanent damage has been done). Treatment may require selective extraction of the offending teeth or referral to a veterinary dental specialist. Dogs with severe malocclusions should not be used for breeding.

Posted Friday, February 27, 2015