A puppy gets its first milk teeth at four to five weeks of age. Just three months later, the milk teeth are gradually being replaced by permanent teeth. At the age of about six months, the change of teeth is complete. Most dogs then have 42 teeth, 20 in the upper jaw and 22 in the lower jaw. That’s ten more teeth than humans. However, some dog breeds do not (always) have all of their teeth.
Why healthy teeth are so important
A perfect catch with perfect teeth is desirable not only for aesthetic and hygienic reasons. As is well known, the digestive process begins in the mouth with the absorption, crushing, and salivating of food. Therefore, a functional set of teeth and a healthy oral cavity are vital.
However, the muzzle is teeming with germs, mainly bacteria, and protozoa, i.e. tiny, single-celled creatures. These germs can already be found in every healthy dog and colonize the oral mucosa and teeth. One also speaks of the so-called “oral flora”. With this, the dog usually lives in peaceful harmony. It keeps them in check by self-cleaning through salivation, movements of the tongue and cheek mucosa, abrasion caused by chewing and gnawing, and by the body’s defense mechanisms.
However, if these mechanisms fail, the germs in the oral cavity begin to multiply en masse. The bacterial lawn forms deposits on the tooth surface. These deposits – also known as plaque – are a felt work of germs, food residue, sloughed-off cells, saliva contents, etc. Starting at the gum line, these deposits soon cover the entire tooth and become thicker and thicker. Mineral salts from the saliva are stored. Over time, the hard plaque develops from the soft dental plaque through calcification.
This starts a vicious circle, first of all, gingivitis develops. The tartar presses on the gums and pushes itself between them and the tooth neck. Pockets form at the gum line and the gums recede, allowing bacteria to enter the tooth socket. There the pathogens continue their destructive work. The result is loosening of the teeth, bacterial infections, and tooth loss. Periodontal diseases can even damage organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys via inflammation in the jawbone.
Tooth decay also occurs in dogs
Despite their hardness, teeth can break or develop hairline cracks. The cause here is a sudden, strong impact of force. Typical examples are a violent bite on hard objects (stones, bones, etc.) and a blow to the jaw (accident, fall). The tooth splinters and its tip may break off. This almost always opens the root canal, which runs inside the tooth and through which the tooth is supplied with blood vessels and nerves. This causes severe pain, which the dog shows through chewing problems to refusal to eat. The tooth damaged in this way is not only sensitive to heat and cold; Dirt particles and germs can also penetrate the periodontium via the root canal and result in tooth socket inflammation.
Caries are cavities in the teeth caused by the decalcification of the enamel. In dogs, however, this occurs relatively rarely compared to humans. Caries in dogs are usually the result of tartar or constant malnutrition with sweets. Sugar that sticks to the teeth is converted by the oral flora into acid, which effectively etches away the tooth enamel. Bacteria can also get back into the root canal through the resulting holes and cause inflammation.
Such inflammations often go unnoticed because the affected tooth – if it has multiple roots – remains anchored in the periodontium by roots that are still healthy. However, the inflammatory process continues. Finally, the jawbone is attacked, resulting in the so-called dental fistula. Dental fistulas often occur in the upper jaw, with the fang being predominantly affected. It is not uncommon for such sources of infection to pose a threat to the entire body since bacteria can break into the bloodstream. This event, in which the pathogens are flushed out into other tissues, is also referred to as blood poisoning (sepsis).
There is also a risk of losing a tooth. If the pet owner notices this, he should take the dog to the vet immediately. When a tooth is lost, the root canal is exposed, and pathogenic bacteria have a free path into the gums. This can lead to abscesses in the jawbone. With early treatment, however, even broken teeth can be preserved. There is the option of root canal treatment, filling, or crown.
Disorders of the change of teeth and changes in the position of the teeth
Like other mammals and humans, dogs also have milk teeth. This is changed to a permanent set of teeth by the age of six months. Here it can happen that the dead milk tooth remains do not fall out in time and get stuck on or next to the permanent tooth. This is often the case with the fang, where food remains can easily get trapped in the resulting gap. Remaining milk fangs can also cause misaligned teeth in the permanent teeth. Therefore, observing the change of milk teeth in puppies is an important measure.
Changes in the position of the teeth and missing teeth (tooth gaps) are almost always hereditary. Such changes lead to breeding exclusion in some pedigree dogs. In some breeds, on the other hand, they are considered desirable breed characteristics. In most cases, the partner teeth of the upper and lower jaw do not meet exactly like scissors, as nature intended. In the case of a pike bite, for example, the upper jaw is too short about the lower jaw, in the case of an overbite (carp bite), exactly the opposite is the case. Misaligned teeth become a medical problem if the absorption and crushing of food are impeded, normal tooth abrasion does not take place, tartar build-up is encouraged or the oral mucosa is damaged.
Foreign bodies in the oral cavity
Foreign objects cause great damage. They can burrow into the oral mucosa (awns, needles), wrap themselves around the tongue (thread, rings of blood vessels from the lining), or wedge between the teeth (bone and wood splinters). This creates wounds that are painful and prone to infection. The tongue can also be constricted and crushed. In most cases, the dog cannot get rid of the foreign body on its own. Without help, painful, sometimes life-threatening conditions can develop. Suspicion of a foreign body always arises when there is a strong flow of saliva in connection with violent jaw movements, chewing problems, refusal to feed, bleeding from the muzzle, or pitiful whimpering.
Dental care – but how?
Dental diseases can therefore significantly affect the well-being of the animal. Therefore, oral and dental hygiene should be part of a dog’s everyday life. The animal should be taken to the vet for a dental check-up at least once a year. As part of regular vaccinations, the teeth can be checked at the same time.
The vet recognizes dangerous diseases of the teeth, gums, and periodontium right from the start and can treat them quickly and effectively – before they become a problem. As with humans, regular veterinary removal of tartar and subsequent polishing of the teeth is a valuable prophylactic measure for animals. Follow-up care at home is just as important for lasting success: through consistent dental hygiene.
However, should acute, severe oral cavity infections or tooth socket suppuration occur, the veterinarian can treat them with antibiotics specially approved for this purpose.
Dental care is best started in puppyhood. Then the dog quickly gets used to regular touches on the head and mouth. If the dog tolerates this without any problems, the teeth can also be gently touched regularly. With dog toothpaste applied to the finger or a finger toothbrush, one tooth can be brushed first, and later several teeth. Brushing the outside of the teeth is usually enough. Just brushing your teeth for about 30 seconds a day brings tremendous benefits to dental health. Appropriate gels are available for gum care.
Older animals that are not used to brushing their teeth and therefore do not allow it should use their instinct to chew for daily dental care. There is an extensive range of chewing strips that also train the chewing muscles. Teeth and gums are cleaned mechanically. In addition, natural enzymes are increasingly released during chewing, which can also remove plaque from the teeth and thus protect them from tartar and periodontal disease. Most of the chewing strips contain supporting valuable milk proteins, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements.
Symptoms of dental problems
- red, swollen gums
- teeth that appear longer or gum loss
- increased, also bloody saliva (“drooling”)
- tooth discoloration and tartar
- bad breath
- one-sided chewing
- preference for soft food
- scratching the muzzle with the paw
- snout across the ground