Pet Dental Facts

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

Pets Have Teeth Too

February is pet dental health month and therefore now becomes a good time to discuss some facts about teeth.

Puppies and kittens are not born with teeth. Their temporary (sometimes called deciduous, milk or baby) teeth start to come in when they are about 3 weeks old. By the time they are 6 weeks old their full set of temporary teeth will usually have erupted - 26 for cats and 28 for dogs. The crowns of the permanent teeth are formed by approximately 11 weeks of age but remain hidden within the jawbone. As their roots develop, the crowns begin to erupt through the gum. The nearness of the erupting crown to the temporary tooth contributes to the breakdown of the root and gradually the baby tooth is lost. The adult or permanent tooth can now come in through a clear pathway. Ideally, the temporary tooth should be gone as the permanent tooth comes through the gum. Sometimes, especially in the toy breeds of dogs, this does not happen. If the baby tooth is slow in being lost, in most cases, eventually, the temporary tooth will come out on its own. However, sometimes such a tooth is permanently retained. When this occurs, veterinarians recommend they be extracted. This will prevent possible problems resulting from two teeth being very close to one another. Dogs begin to erupt their permanent teeth at about 14 weeks of age and by the time they are 6 months old, usually have their full set of 42. Cats start and finish getting their adult teeth at approximately the same age as dogs but they have only 30 in total number.

The fact that a Chihuahua has the same number of teeth as a Great Dane, sometimes surprises people. Yes, the little dog does have smaller teeth but they still must fit the same number of teeth into a mouth that is very much smaller. It is a reason that, in general, small dogs probably have more tooth and gum problems than do the larger breeds. Also, different breeds of dogs have very different shaped heads. This will affect the positioning of the teeth, hence their relationship and their predisposition to disease. There are three major types: Borzois, Dobermans and Greyhounds have a long narrow face; Labradors, German Shepherds and most terriers, spaniels and hounds have a medium length and width muzzle; Pekingese, Pugs, Boxers, Bulldogs and Shih Tzus have wide short muzzles. Cats have a very much more uniform head shape.

The articulation of the jaws of carnivores is designed to produce maximum biting force. The teeth are precisely arranged for shearing and cutting in both dogs and cats. The biting force exerted in the dog is approximately 1200 pounds per square inch, compared with 150 pounds per square inch in humans.  

Kittens and puppies, in most cases, have few problems associated with the teething process. Unlike human infants, they seldom develop a fever or experience sore, aching gums. I tell owners they are more likely to be bothered by the process than their pet. This is so because, undoubtedly, cutting new teeth causes the young animal to be more likely to chew on things. Otherwise, most often, owners would have no idea so much change is occurring in their new pet's mouth. Chewing probably helps with the loss of the temporary teeth. When the tooth comes out, often it is swallowed, sometimes it just falls to the ground. When this happens, an owner may notice a spot of blood in the mouth, around the lips or on something being chewed, but, that's usually all there is to it. There is none of this "tying a string around the tooth and attaching it to a doorknob" required to get the tooth out!

Both cats and dogs sometimes suffer from deviations in the normal bite or means by which opposing teeth meet and work with one another to cut or tear. These deviations are known as malocclusions. Some types of malocclusion are more serious than others. Ones that cause trauma to parts of the mouth or lips or ones that cause pain should be corrected. Orthodontics, tooth shortening or extractions are the most common methods used to correct these problems.

Teeth are a very important body parts for our pets. Remember that your veterinarian should be consulted for any problems that your pet may have with them. In most veterinary practices, dentistry constitutes a major part of the health care services offered. In addition, there are veterinarians who have specialized in dentistry. For certain dental problems, it may be recommended that you visit them for an examination and/or appropriate treatment.