Healthy Teeth Right From the Start

Pet Tales

by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

Healthy teeth are important to being healthy. Keeping their teeth, as long as possible, is a goal most owners wish for their pets. However, have you ever thought about when cats and dogs get their teeth and when the need to care for them begins?

Just like their human counterparts, pets are born without erupted teeth. Different teeth break through the gum and grow into place at different times. There can be considerable difference in just when this happens in any individual. However, the timing  is most influenced by their age, their species, their breed and their health. Their first teeth are called deciduous teeth, the set that are typically shed prior to permanent tooth eruption. Kittens will eventually have 26 deciduous teeth ( with 30 permanent or adult teeth); pups have 28 (with 42 adult teeth).

Kittens begin getting teeth a bit earlier than puppies. They start to cut their first set of teeth when the deciduous incisors erupt at 2-4 weeks of age. The deciduous canines ( yes, felines do have canines! ) come in when they are 3-4 weeks old. At 4-6 weeks, deciduous premolars are coming in on the lower jaw. By the time they are 8 weeks old, usually all the baby teeth have arrived. When kittens reach 3 1/2 to 4 months of age permanent incisors are coming in. At 4-5 months, permanent canines, premolars and molars are erupting and by 6 months all permanent teeth should be present.

Most puppies at 2-4 weeks of age have no teeth noticeable. The deciduous canines are coming in at 3-4 weeks of age and by 4-6 weeks deciduous incisors and premolars are being cut. When they are 8 weeks old, puppies also should have all their deciduous teeth. Dogs begin to get their permanent teeth a bit later also, but by 3 1/2 - 4 months permanent incisors will be coming in and some growth of premolars and molars will have started by the age of 4-5 months. Between 5-7 months, permanent canines, premolars and molars are coming in and all permanent teeth are in by 7 months. Now, these ages are rules of thumb only. As mentioned, variation exists. In particular, toy breeds of dogs often have significant delays in eruption of permanent teeth.

As you can see, the process of teething takes up a good portion of the first year of their life, for puppies and kittens. The good news is that they have much less trouble with this process than do human infants. It is unlikely to make pets cranky, upset or feverish. It certainly may have an influence on whether a favourite pair of slippers will get chewed beyond recognition. However, providing a good variety of "okay" things to chew on will get most new pet owners and their pets through this stage successfully.

If an owner wants to try brushing their pet's teeth to provide optimal dental care, usually it's best not to be too intense with the deciduous teeth. They won't be there very long, anyway. Rather it's better just to get the pet familiar with things being done in and around the mouth, when it is very young. Once all the permanent teeth are fully erupted, more complete home tooth care can begin.

Veterinary attention to the health of the teeth needs to begin as soon as they are present. Probably the most common problems with the deciduous teeth involve breaking a tooth, orthodontic issues that could result in malocclusions and the failure of a deciduous tooth to come out, as the permanent tooth associated with it erupts. As a general rule, it's best not to allow two teeth of the same type in the mouth at the same time. Extraction of the baby tooth allows more secure attachment of the adult tooth to the surrounding gum tissue and prevents collection of food debris, hair and bacteria between the two teeth, which can lead to periodontal disease.

In young dogs when a malocclusion exists such as an overbite or lower canine teeth erupting more toward the centre of the mouth, extraction of the affected deciduous teeth is the treatment of choice. This will prevent trauma to the mouth, interlocking of the teeth and allow the best chance for the bite to be corrected. Barry Burtis is a local companion animal veterinarian. Past Pet tales can be found at