Like humans, dogs will shed their teeth as they near adulthood. Puppies will get their baby teeth at about three weeks old. However, those teeth will often take a long time to protrude themselves from the gums fully. The process can take up to four months.
The title of this article is a simple question, and so we will begin with a simple answer: Dogs have 42 teeth. This number applies only to adult dogs, of course. Puppies will normally have 28 smaller teeth, usually referred to as “baby teeth.”
The pups will lose those 28 baby teeth gradually, as their adult teeth replace them one by one. In most cases, the process is complete by the time the pup reaches seven weeks of age. The incisors will usually be the first teeth to be replaced.
What Are the Different Types of Canine Teeth
Dog teeth are among nature’s most multi-functional designs. Dogs have four different kinds of teeth, and each kind fulfills a specific purpose. It shouldn’t be a surprise that these jaws are very efficient weapons for hunting and defense.
First, there are the canine teeth. These are the two big ones in the front that look like fangs. Canine teeth are distinctly different from fangs, which normally carry venom. However, this is a technicality. Canine teeth are used in the same way as fangs.
For most of history, in fact, the canine teeth of dogs, wolves, bears, and apes were called “fangs,” and that is because they serve the same purposes. These are what you might call the primary killers. When a wild canine kills its prey, these are the teeth that do most of the work.
Dogs will only have four of these teeth, but that is generally all that they need. The toughness and durability of canine teeth are extremely impressive, as they seem to be able to withstand things that would surely break the teeth of a human.
Next, we have incisors. These are what you might call the primary cutters. Incisors are named for the fact that they act like a bunch of little chisels. These teeth are located front and center on both top and bottom jaws, so grab your dog and have a look.
You will see that these teeth look a little bit like the incisors that we have in the front, but the incisors of a dog tend to be sharper and larger in proportion to the dog. A dog will normally have 12 incisors; 6 on top and six on the bottom.
The health of these teeth is critical because they have to do a lot of work. That being said, dogs won’t usually chew their food with these teeth. A dog will normally use incisors to tear off pieces of food from a carcass in the wild.
Next, we have molars. Molars are the big teeth in the back of the jaw. You don’t usually see these teeth unless a dog opens its mouth widely. It would be apt to describe these teeth as the primary crushers.
To put it like this, a canine tooth is used much like a spear or a sword. An incisor is used much like a set of sharp chisels. Following this analogy, the molars are used as a grinding wheel. These teeth are big, knobby, and very important.
Dog molars are found on both the top and bottom jaws. All dogs will normally have a total of twelve molars. This will consist of six teeth on top and six teeth on the bottom. On both jaws, there will be three teeth for each side.
The third molars (from the back of the mouth) are fascinating and may be the most important teeth in your dogs’ head. One look at the skull of a dog will tell you that these teeth are huge. That makes them the best teeth for serious crushing and chewing.
When a dog gets older, some of their teeth will undoubtedly fall out. This cannot be avoided, as it is the natural result of aging. However, this third molar will continue to serve them as their primary chewing tool.
Last but not least, we have premolars. A dog will have eight of these on each jaw, with four on each side. Premolars, as the name implies, grind the food material before it reaches the molars, which are in the back.
These teeth are found behind the canines and in front of the molars. You might call them the secondary crushers. They have the same knobby structure seen in the molars, but they are significantly smaller. Also, premolars are a little more pointy.
Contrary to popular belief, dogs’ teeth usually cannot be used to determine their age. In puppies, you can make a good estimate of their age by looking at how well their teeth have grown in, but with adults, there are just too many complicating factors.
Common and Uncommon Problems
There are a number of dental problems that tend to afflict dogs. One of the worst is periodontitis. Periodontitis is a terrible inflammation of the gums. Not only will this cause a lot of discomfort, but it will eventually ruin your dogs’ entire mouth if left unchecked.
This is the case because periodontitis can eventually cause the gums to peel away from the bone and be lost. Just think about that; what if your gums just fell off one day? Now imagine if you had no hands. That is what a dog with no gums would feel!
Dogs use their teeth as their primary tool for interacting with the world. Lacking hands, dogs cannot grip an object with any other part of their body. As such, they use their mouth (and by extension, their teeth) for almost everything.
Periodontitis is caused by bacterial contamination. As such, doctors and researchers have had good luck in being able to use antibiotics to combat this affliction. Speaking of which, keep your eye out for any abnormal swelling in your dogs’ jaw.
You might be surprised to learn that cavities are somewhat rare in dog teeth. This may be because they eat little to no sugar, or it may have to do with cleaning action of the bacteria that dwell in a dogs’ mouth.
A swelled jaw and bad breath can often be signs of an abscessed tooth. This simply means that a decayed tooth has gone rotten and has not been removed. Rotting teeth can become infected, leading to an infection of the facial area. This problem can kill if left untreated.
Loose teeth are another common issue. Sometimes, a dog puts its teeth into something that even their formidable jaws cannot handle. The result will often be a tooth that is loose or cracked. In both cases, these teeth will need to be extracted.
A loose tooth will generally not repair itself. Every once in a while, these teeth can re-attach themselves properly but don’t count on it. Your vet will probably recommend that the offending teeth be removed as soon as possible.
Contrary to the assertions of some ill-informed dog owners, a dog cannot re-grow an adult tooth. Like ourselves, they get exactly two sets of teeth in this world and no more.
It should be noted that veterinarians can replant teeth that have fallen out. Although the procedure is expensive and doesn’t always work, it is an option for at least some dogs that will help them maintain a healthy canine smile.
A Word About Canine Dental Hygiene
Most people do not brush their dogs’ teeth. Although we probably should, a lot of us feel that we don’t have the time. However, virtually any dog owner should be able to make time for this activity because it doesn’t take very long once mastered.
You should use a special toothbrush that is designed for dogs. If you don’t have a specialized dog toothbrush handy, you can use a child toothbrush. These have soft bristles that are perfect for the job.
You must also use a toothpaste that is designed for dogs. There are substances in standard human toothpaste that are unsafe if ingested. Although fluoride has been well-proven to aid the health of the teeth, it can be toxic if ingested.
Dogs are more sensitive to chemicals than we are, so it is a good idea to keep them away from all chemical products, even those that are as seemingly benign as a tube of toothpaste. Baking soda and salt is another human remedy that isn’t good for dogs.
You’re probably wondering how frequently you should brush your dogs’ teeth. The answer is that you should do it every day if possible. If this is not possible, every other day should be good enough.
You especially need to keep your dogs’ mouth clean if you have observed any gum bleeding recently. This is one of the initial signs of periodontitis, but you may be able to kill it with cleanliness if you catch it early enough.
Your main issue will be the resistance of the dog. Most dogs don’t like it when you mess with their teeth, even if they like you. I have dogs that I have raised from birth that still don’t like for me to examine their teeth.
This is where you have to be firm and maybe a little persistent. If the dog struggles, it only increases the chance that something could go wrong. In the case of large dogs, there is a bite risk that should probably not be overlooked.
Is It Possible for a Dog to Have Extra Teeth?
There are certain instances in which a dog will have one or more extra teeth. However, this is not a genetic mutation of a different species. It’s just a deformity that sometimes occurs if a dog is not given proper oral care.
You already know that puppies lose their baby teeth at about four months. Sometimes, the old teeth will not fall out completely. Hanging by a thread, it stays anchored in the gums while another tooth grows in behind it. This can result in some funny-looking dogs.
Have you ever seen a dog with really snaggly teeth that stick out in funny directions and which make him look like a vampire or an orc? Chances are, a leftover baby tooth was the cause. These extra teeth are called “retained deciduous teeth.”
These retained baby teeth aren’t necessarily a huge problem, but they can eventually rot. This results in some of the worst dog breath you have ever smelled. More importantly, it causes a lot of pain and irritation for the dog.
Even though it may represent a financial hit, you really should get these extra teeth removed in a hurry if your dog has them.
This little deformity may seem cute when your dog is just a pup. However, it will grow into a major problem as your dog gets older.
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As you can see, dental issues and dental concerns are often neglected by the average pet owner. How many people do you personally know who brush their dogs’ teeth daily? I would wager that you know very few.
However, I hope that this article has convinced you of the importance of proper oral care for your dog. Just imagine if you had a toothache and you couldn’t tell anyone! Think about that every time you are tempted to neglect your little buddy’s teeth.
"If you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two."
-- Phil Pastoret