If you recently welcomed a new puppy into your life, you know all about his sharp little teeth that love to chew on anything that catches his eye. Those baby teeth, also known as milk teeth or deciduous teeth, will start to fall out as his adult choppers erupt between 12 and 16 weeks of age. Some dogs, however, retain some of their deciduous teeth. Find out what this means, why it's a problem and what your veterinarian can do about it.
Your Dog's Teeth
Puppies, like their human counterparts, don't have visible teeth at birth. They typically have 28 deciduous teeth that erupt between two and four weeks of age. Those 28 deciduous teeth will be replaced by 42 permanent adult teeth. As your puppy visits the veterinarian every three to four weeks to receive his vaccine boosters, the doctor will take a peek in your puppy's mouth to monitor his teething progress. As the bud of each permanent tooth develops, the body starts to resorb the root of the deciduous tooth that the permanent tooth will be replacing. This loosens the deciduous tooth and enables it to be pushed out as the permanent tooth grows in to fill its place. This natural process doesn't always work out perfectly, however.
Retained Deciduous Teeth
Sometimes, the root of a deciduous tooth doesn't resorb. This keeps that tooth anchored in place, and the permanent tooth grows in alongside of it. This commonly seen abnormality is known as a retained deciduous tooth. Any of the deciduous teeth can be retained, but this most commonly occurs with the canine teeth, which are the teeth that resemble fangs. Any dog breed can have retained deciduous teeth, but this issue is more prevalent in smaller and brachycephalic breeds, such as the following:
- Yorkshire terriers
- Boston terriers
- French bulldogs
- English bulldogs
By looking in your puppy's mouth, you can tell that he has retained deciduous teeth if you see any double teeth. For example, if you see a larger canine tooth nestled against a smaller one, that smaller tooth is a retained deciduous tooth. Two teeth are occupying the same space where only one should be, and this leads to dental trouble.
Problems Caused By Retained Teeth
One of the reasons that toy breeds and brachycephalic breeds are so prone to periodontal disease is because the size or shape of their mouths results in dental overcrowding. A Labrador retriever or German shepherd, whose mouth is large with elongated jaws, can fit 42 permanent teeth much more easily than a Yorkshire terrier's tiny jaws can. When you add retained deciduous teeth to those 42 permanent teeth, then that results in even more crowding. Permanent teeth may also be forced to grow in unnatural positions. Some consequences of retained deciduous teeth include the following:
- Infection in the oral or nasal cavity when roots are partly resorbed
- More tiny spaces and crevices where debris becomes trapped in between the teeth and along the gum line
- Increased plaque accumulation and tartar formation
- Periodontal disease
- Tooth decay and early loss of permanent teeth
- Malocclusion of permanent teeth, causing pain in the mouth or wearing down of teeth that rub together
Since two teeth should never occupy the same space once the permanent teeth have fully erupted, the situation must be corrected.
Retained Tooth Extraction
Your puppy will typically receive his final vaccines around 16 weeks of age. Neutering is usually scheduled to take place at around six months of age. If your veterinarian observes any retained deciduous teeth at the time of your puppy's final vaccination visit, then he or she will want to recheck your puppy's mouth two months later. By six months of age, dogs have completed the teething process, all permanent teeth have fully erupted, and all deciduous teeth should have fallen out. If any retained deciduous teeth remain, they will need to be extracted. Since your puppy will need to be under anesthesia to have the tooth wiggled and pried from his jaw as well as to have dental radiographs taken to confirm complete extraction of the tooth's root, the ideal opportunity for this procedure comes along when your puppy is put under for the neuter surgery.
Get your puppy accustomed to a home dental care routine by starting to brush his teeth as soon as he joins your family. Early training will make the task easier in the long run. Once gleaming adult pearly whites have replaced all those deciduous teeth, lifelong animal dental care will be an important part of preserving his overall health.