The most common dental diseases in puppies
Dental formula of deciduous dentition and tooth eruption
Puppies have 3 incisor teeth, 1 canine tooth and 3 premolar teeth in each jaw, that is, 28 deciduous (»milk«) teeth. Deciduous incisors erupte at 3 to 4 weeks of age, canines at 3 to 6 weeks and premolars at 4-12 weeks of age. Permanent teeth begin to erupt at the age of 3 to 4 months, and by the 6th or 7th month of the age of the animals the eruption of permanent teeth is completed.
Normal occlusion (bite) in puppies is the same as in adult dogs. Deciduous teeth can be assessed at the age of 3 months when all are erupted. If we notice malocclusion, which causes trauma and pain and/or prevents the normal growth of the jaw or even closing of the mouth, extraction of the deciduous teeth that cause problems is advised. Extraction should be performed as soon as possible, and possible complications of such treatment should be discussed. Often, the same occlusion problems as the animal had with deciduous teeth occur also with permanent teeth and require another treatment. If the cause of the malocclusion is an abnormal growth of the jaw (skeletal malocclusion), it is considered to be hereditary (although it is difficult to prove this for an individual animal), therefore, breeding of such animals is not advisable.
Occlusion can be only fully evaluated once all of the permanent teeth are erupted and the most of the jaw growth is completed, that is, in principle, after the age of 6 months.
If the tooth is missing in the oral cavity, dental x-rays are suggested, to find out why. If deciduous tooth is present in a normal position but not erupted, it is possible that there will not be enough space in the jaw for a permanent tooth to erupt. In this case, the vet will first cut the gum over the unerupted tooth in a minimal invasive procedure, to hopefully enable the tooth to erupt more easily. The same would apply to an unerupted permanent tooth. If one of the deciduous teeth is truly (congenitally) missing, this does not cause a problem to the dog, but the permanent tooth will be missing as well, which, again, is not a clinical problem.
Persistent deciduous teeth
At the age of 4 months, when permanent incisors, canines and some premolars are erupting, deciduous teeth should exfoliate. If not, we refer to the problem as to persistent deciduous teeth, which is especially common in small breeds. Persistent deciduous teeth will interfere eith the eruption of permanent teeth (permanent teeth have no space to erupt), which will likely lead to malocclusion. Since deciduous teeth are very close to the permanent teeth, this crowding will result in an increased accumulation of plaque and calculus, leading to gingivitis (gum inflammation) and periodontitis (destruction of tooth supporting tissues).
It is always advised to remove (extract) persistent deciduous teeth as soon as possible. Deciduous teeth are comparatively as large as permanent teeth (about 1/3 of the tooth is represented by the crown of the tooth and 2/3 by the root), but they have thinner roots and are more fragile due to the larger dental pulp. Therefore, surgical extraction (with the animal under general anaesthesia) of deciduous teeth, especially in the case of canine teeth (most commonly), and especially if the dental X-ray shows that the roots are still present, is recommended.
It is inappropriate to try to remove the deciduous teeth by force or even clipping!
Although it is not confirmed that eruption problems have a genetic background, breeding of such animals is discouraged, especially if similar problems recur in the line.
Trauma to deciduous teeth
Dental trauma can happen at any age of the animal and fractures of deciduous teeth are quite common.
If trauma to the deciduous tooth results in pulp exposure, such a tooth should be removed as soon as possible to prevent infection and inflammation of the dental pulp, which could lead to irreparable damage to the permanent teeth, which lie in the immediate vicinity of the root(s) of the damaged deciduous tooth. Untreated, the infection may eventually extend to the surrounding tissues. Fractured deciduous teeth in animals are not endodontically treated, but removed (extracted).
Although deciduous teeth appear to be small, extraction is demanding, especially because of the possibility to damage the developing permanent tooth during the extraction and/or fracture of the deciduous tooth during extraction. Therefore extraction procedure needs to be monitored with dental X-rays.
If you have noted any problems with your animal, please consult your veterinarian.
Article by Ana Nemec