A guide to your dog's teeth
Published on 20 Aug 2021
Good dental health is essential for a happy, healthy, pain-free life for our dogs, just as it is for ourselves. Dental disease is a very common cause of pain and discomfort in our pets. As a pet parent, there are many ways that you can help your dog to have a great set of pearly whites.
Many factors will affect the condition of your dog's teeth including the shape of their skull, their genetics, and their diet. There are lots of things you can do at home to maximise your dog's dental health.
Read on to learn all about keeping your dog's mouth in great shape.
Types of dog teeth
Incisors are the tiny teeth at the very front of the mouth. These are predominantly used to remove meat from bones, and are also used in grooming.
The canine teeth are the very distinctive large teeth directly behind the incisors. There are two upper canines and two lower canines, which are mostly used for grasping and tearing at food.
Located behind the canines, the premolars are used for chewing and shredding food.
Right at the back of the mouth, the molars are used to break down hard food.
Common Dental Diseases in Dogs
Periodontal disease is perhaps the most common health issue seen in our dogs. If your dog's teeth are not cleaned, bacteria form a biofilm and over time the gums become inflamed and tartar will develop. Inflamed gums affected by gingivitis will become brighter red, and will easily bleed when touched.
The bacteria can then invade the periodontal ligament which holds the tooth in place, and cause periodontitis. Bone loss occurs from around the tooth, and the tooth may fall out.
Bacterial invasion can also lead to a tooth root abscess which can be both painful and shocking to owners as it may cause their pet's face to suddenly swell up. Treating early signs of periodontal disease such as mildly inflamed gums, and tartar at the early stages of development can prevent significant discomfort and tooth loss for your pet.
Prevention is better than cure!
Retained deciduous teeth
Certain breeds of dogs, especially small breeds, are quite prone to some of the baby teeth being retained, which means failing to fall out when the adult teeth come through. This most commonly affects the canine teeth.
Retained teeth can cause problems with the development of the adult tooth and can lead to periodontal disease, so if you notice this, please have your dog checked by your vet as the baby teeth will likely need extraction.
It is not uncommon to see dogs with broken teeth in veterinary practice. While bones were traditionally a popular choice for dogs for environmental enrichment and dental care, many dogs will break their teeth on bones. Bones can also cause constipation, diarrhoea, and gastrointestinal obstructions. Dogs will also break teeth in traumatic incidents, such as dog fights or road trauma. If you think your dog has broken a tooth, arrange a consultation with your vet as soon as possible.
Tips to care for your dog’s teeth
One of the most important ways to look after your dog's teeth is to be able to look at them. Often owners are unaware there is a problem because they just don't look into their pet's mouth.
Whether you have a puppy or an adult dog, getting them used to gentle handling and examination of their mouth is well worth your time. Your safety is paramount, and if your dog shows signs of anxiety when you touch their mouth please discuss this with your vet before you proceed.
1. Consistently check your dog’s mouth
Gently lifting your dog's lips, make sure you look at the back teeth as well as the front ones. If you regularly check you will notice any changes such as redness of the gums, or the development of tartar.
Being near your dog's mouth regularly also gives you the best chance of noticing any changes, such as your dog developing smelly breath. If you find any abnormality you can then make an appointment with your vet.
In terms of the actual tooth and oral care, approaching dental hygiene from a variety of angles is helpful to optimise long term dental health. A combination of brushing teeth, offering dental treats, chews and supplements, choosing a tooth-friendly diet, and regular veterinary care, will ensure your pet has a winning smile.
2. Brush your dog’s teeth regularly
The gold standard for home dental care is to brush your pet's teeth, ideally daily. We have more tips on how to perform toothbrushing here. Approach brushing your dog's teeth with patience and gentleness, and always use positive reinforcement, so this can be an enjoyable part of the day for both of you.
3. Offer daily dental treat
Offering a dog dental treat daily can also keep your dog's mouth healthy. There are many options available so you can see what your dog likes. Watch your pet eat the treat and you can see if it takes some time to consume, which will mean it has a chance to contact the surfaces of the teeth.
For additional peace of mind, you may consider choosing products with the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval, which have been clinically proven to reduce the buildup of plaque or tartar or both.
4. Offer dental toys
Chew toys can be a great entertainment for dogs. However, it is very important to ensure they are chewing on safe objects. Some common things that can damage a dog's teeth may surprise you. It is not uncommon to see dogs who have worn down their teeth chewing on tennis balls.
Equally, chewing on very hard objects such as bones or antlers can commonly cause a break to the molar teeth known as a slab fracture, where a portion of the tooth shears off, usually needing extraction.
View our range of dental toys for dogs.
5. Offer dental food
Some foods are particularly designed with dental health in mind. Hills T/D and Oral Care, and Royal Canin Dental are some of the diets scientifically designed to prioritise oral health. These diets contain complete and balanced nutrition and are usually received as very tasty!
I also think that wet food is more likely to stick to the teeth than dry, so feeding the wet food first, followed by the kibble, and then a dental treat is most likely to result in clean teeth following a meal.
6. Regular dental check up with a Vet
Just as we are recommended to regularly have a scale and polish with our dentist, your dog will likely need an occasional clean at the vet. This has to be done under an anaesthetic so that tartar can be removed from underneath the gumline.
The more home care you can perform, the less frequently you are likely to see tartar and periodontal disease developing, and thus the less frequently your dog should need a scale and polish.
Dog Teeth FAQs
How many teeth does a dog have?
A puppy with normal dentition will have 28 deciduous teeth and these will be replaced with 42 adult teeth.
How often should I brush my dog’s teeth?
Ideally, you should brush your pet’s teeth at least once daily to prevent the build-up of a bacterial biofilm.
How safe is dog teeth cleaning?
Sometimes owners are concerned about their pet going under anaesthetic for a dental scale and polish. Modern anaesthesia is very safe and the benefits of good dental health are great. Your vet will usually offer to perform pre-anaesthetic bloodwork to check the condition of your pet before the procedure.
You should always feel free to ask questions about anything you need to be clarified, before going ahead with your pet's dental work. To fully evaluate teeth dental x-rays are often required, so it may be that your vet won't know if teeth need extracting until your pet is under anaesthesia.
Why does my dog show his teeth?
Dogs may show their teeth in a variety of circumstances from being very relaxed, to overt aggression. It is important to be aware of your own dog's body language as they are all individuals.
If you can see your dogs teeth but they are relaxed and happy it is likely they are just smiling. However, if your dog is baring their teeth and this is accompanied by body language such as backing away, growling or barking, they are likely feeling anxious or aggressive and you should attempt to remove them from the stressful situation.
What to feed a dog with few teeth?
Often dogs with few teeth can continue to eat their normal food. Avoid food that requires a lot of chewing.
Dogs with no teeth can often handle small kibble with no problem but I would avoid larger dental style kibble for these dogs. If you feel your dog needs softer food you can choose wet dog foods or soften their kibble with water.
It is still important to brush your dog's remaining teeth.
What to feed a teething puppy?
High-quality puppy kibble and puppy wet food are the best choices for your teething puppy. If you suspect your puppy has a sore mouth you can try softening the kibble by mixing hot water with the food and then allowing it to cool into a softened puppy porridge.
You can also offer safe chew toys. Make sure you dispose of any damaged toys and choose toys too large to swallow. Puppies are frequently hospitalised for gastrointestinal foreign bodies because of swallowing things they shouldn't! Before you offer any treats to your puppy, have a read of the packaging and check the age recommendation, as many treats are not recommended below a certain age, for example, six months or one year.
- Dog Dental Chart, accessed 10/08/21
- How to Spot and Prevent Periodontal Disease in Dogs, accessed 12/08/21