Dog Teeth
All About Your Canine's Teeth

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Dog teeth come in two sets over the course of the dog’s life, just as human teeth. The baby teeth come in sometime between the third and sixth week of the puppy’s life. Puppies do not have molars because grinding a lot of food in not necessary at this young stage in their lives. At about four month old, puppies begin to lose their puppy teeth and the adult dog teeth begin to come in. Adults have 42 dog teeth, although there is some slight variation in breeds. The molar are the last to come in at about six or seven months old.

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When dog teeth begin to replace puppy teeth, the incisors come in first followed by the canines (fangs), then premolars. Teething can be frustrating for your puppy and for you. Puppies want to chew on everything to aid in the teething process. He may chew on your expensive leather shoes, your furniture, and even your children’s toys. All this chewing is just an attempt to relieve discomfort. Your dog may also drool excessively, be irritable, or show fluctuations in his appetite.

How many teeth does your dog have?

Your dog has six incisors on the upper jaw and six incisors on the lower jaw. These teeth are used to eat shreds of meat from bones as well as for grooming. Dogs groom themselves, as well as other dogs. Grooming other dogs is a greeting and bonding behavior. It also maintains pack order. Both dominant and submissive dogs groom each other. It is the order in which the grooming occurs that keeps pack order. The dominant dog can seek or give grooming whenever he wants to while the submissive dog can not. The submissive dog must wait until he is asked or approached for grooming. If you have more than one dog, you can learn a lot about your pet by paying attention to these grooming sessions.

What about those canines?

The canine teeth are for most people, the scary teeth. Movies and television makes us picture ferocious and wild creatures that hunt people down as prey. These media images can lead to a misunderstanding and fear of mild-mannered dogs that just happen to show their teeth a lot. These teeth are very useful to the dog. Canine dog teeth help to hold objects in the mouth and, when necessary, can help the dog defend himself. Wolves do use these fangs to grab and rip their prey, but wolves should not be mistaken for house pets.

The four premolars are behind the canines and line each side of the upper and lower jaw. Wolves use these teeth to shear and rip large chunks of flesh from prey animals. Dog teeth are no longer used to hunt for survival, but dogs can still eat in the same manner that wolves do. They can use the premolars to grab meat and rip it off the bone.

Dog teeth can also be beneficial for play. Dogs use the premolars to chew on rawhides, bones, and other toys. Dogs use the premolars by tilting their jaw to the side and biting a toy that is held between their paws.

The molars are the crushing teeth. Wolves use these teeth to crack caribou bones. Dog teeth function in the same way to eat the last bites of a large biscuit. The top jaw holds two molars on the left and two on the right. The bottom jaw holds three molars.

Dog teeth can have the same problems that people teeth can, including retained baby teeth, malocclusion, and tooth decay. Pet owners should periodically check their dog’s teeth to make sure that they remain healthy. Use biscuits as treat to let your dog exercise his jaws. Feed kibbled food as well. Provide chew bones and toys to promote a healthy mouth.

Baby dog teeth have roots, which should be absorbed as the adult teeth come in. However, this does not always happen. If the root does not absorb, or the absorption is slowed, the puppy tooth does not allow the dog tooth to come in. Malocclusion, or a bad bite, can be caused by this retention of puppy teeth. Malocclusion can cause many problems later on, including tooth decay. The puppy tooth needs to be removed if it does not fall out when the adult tooth comes in.

Why does that puppy chew on everything?

The way that the dog’s teeth fit together when his jaws are closed is the bite. Most breeds have a scissors bite where the upper incisors overlap and touch the lower incisors. This scissor bite prevents wear and tear on the incisors while keeping the teeth aligned.

If the incisors meet edge to edge, it is called a level bite. This bite is not ideal, but is acceptable.

Two very common bite problems are overshot and undershot jaws. In an overshot jaw, the upper jaw is longer than the lower jaw. This causes the dog’s teeth to overlap without touching. The permanent teeth from the lower jaw can damage the soft tissue in the roof of the mouth as the come in. This damage can be prevented by removing some of the teeth on the lower jaw.

In an undershot jaw, the bottom jaw is longer than the lower jaw, which is generally a problem. However, some breeds do have a naturally undershot jaw. These breeds include the Boxer, Boston Terrier, and Bulldog.

Breeders try to avoid breeding dogs with these jaw problems. Undershot and overshot jaws are not allowed in the show ring. Puppies that do have these jaw problems are not sold as show dogs, but as pets.

Dogs with these problems can experience eating problems. In the wild, a wolf or coyote would not be successful in killing and eating prey with an overshot or undershot jaw. Dogs do not have to hunt their prey, but the same problems with eating their food will exits. Dogs with an overshot or undershot jaw may also have trouble playing fetch or Frisbee.


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Tooth decay in dogs

Although dog teeth can develop tooth decay, dogs teeth generally do not develop cavities. Many tooth problems stem from soft foods in the diet that leave food debris in gum pockets at the base of the teeth. That food debris can lead to infections. Infections cause the gums to soften and recede as well as cause bad breath. Either sign should trigger a trip to the veterinarian. This infection can lead to loss of teeth if left unchecked and untreated.

Tartar buildup on the dog’s teeth can also lead to loss of teeth and an increased risk of gum disease. Tartar builds up on teeth in hard water areas because it is a precipitate of calcium salts.

Tartar should be removed on a regular basis. The buildup of tartar increases with age. Advanced tartar buildup may require scraping of the dog’s teeth with dental instruments, which also requires sedation of the dog. Tarter can be removed from dog teeth at home with a rubbed on solution of three percent hydrogen peroxide or a weak one percent solution of hydrochloric acid.

There is quite a lot that pet owners can do to prevent or lessen the onset of gum decay. Feed kibbled foods and hard biscuits to help scrub the teeth. Don’t give soft foods, or keep them to a minimum because these can leave debris behind. Provide hard rubber toys or nylon toys for chewing. Brush your dog’s teeth twice a week with baking soda toothpaste or toothpaste formulated for dog teeth. Do not use toothpaste formulated for people.

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Dog teeth can be intimidating. You should be able to manage your dog’s use of his teeth with practice. Do not let your dog get the idea that his teeth can be used to control people.

Some early lessons in bite inhibition are necessary with your puppy. Puppy teeth serve many functions including examining the environment, greeting pack members, testing the hierarchy of the pack, and relieving the discomfort of teething. Puppies should be taught to open their mouths on command. This will allow you easier access to the dog’s mouth to evaluate tooth and gum health. If your puppy is more comfortable with you examining his mouth you can remove foreign objects, check for injuries or tumors, and administer medicine or vitamins.

You will need a good strategy to begin teaching bite inhibition to your puppy. Puppies do not like to have their mouths handled. Puppy teeth are sharp, so once you have your fingers in the puppy’s mouth, don’t pull away quickly or you may get scratched. If your puppy grabs a finger or other body part, don’t yell at him as the puppy will not understand this response. Instead, yelp in pain. Yell, “Owwwww.” This should be fairly easy to remember if you do get scratched by a puppy tooth, as it does hurt. Redirect the puppy by giving him something he is allowed to bite or chew on when he lets go of your finger.

Stop the bite!

What do you do if your puppy bites again? Pick the puppy up gently by the scruff of his neck and shake him gently. Do not shake him roughly!

A time-out in his crate may be necessary if your puppy still insists on biting your hand or ankle.

Children can encourage biting by waving their hands, toys, or food near the puppy’s face. Don’t let your puppy play with small children unsupervised, and don’t let your children encourage biting with teasing behaviors.

Although it is tempting, do not let your puppy have free reign over the food. This makes it much more difficult to house train the puppy. Free feeding also gives control to the puppy and the puppy’s mouth. You want to retain control of the puppy’s mouth, so do not free feed.

How to inspect your dog's teeth

You should check your puppy’s mouth several times a week. Each time you check his mouth, reward him with a treat. You can condition your puppy to this handling of his mouth. Begin by lifting up his lips to look at his teeth.

Place your right hand across your puppy’s muzzle and with your thumb, lift his lip just behind his canine tooth. Lightly grasp his lip while holding him still with your other hand. Push your thumb into the puppy’s mouth while giving the command, “open.” Lift up on the upper jaw. Give a treat when you puppy has successfully completed this check. Check your dog’s teeth two to three times a week.

Once you can handle your dog’s teeth without fear or frustration on both your part and the dog’s, it will be easy to administer any medication prescribed by your vet, including his monthly heart worm pill. You can also easily remove foreign objects from his mouth. You can also teach your dog to drop something he has in his mouth. Do this by removing the object from the dog’s mouth and then encourage the dog to give you the removed object.

Although dogs do not hunt in the wild for their food and kill their own meals, dog teeth still perform the same functions that they once did in the wild. Dog teeth can seize, tear, and crush. Dogs still have the instinct to use their teeth for chewing, social bonding, and if necessary, defense. As a pet owner, understanding canine behavior can help you teach your dog to use his teeth in a manner acceptable for living among humans, and not dogs. You can also keep better track of the health of your dog’s teeth. Although it is frustrating at times to teach your dog to use his teeth in an acceptable manner, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Especially when your dog remains healthy and keeps his mouth off of your couch!

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