Dogs have 28 deciduous (temporary, “baby” or “milk”) teeth and 42 permanent teeth. Temporary teeth begin to appear when a puppy is about four weeks of age and are lost gradually when he’s between 16 and 30 weeks. This is the time when permanent teeth come in.
Occasionally, a puppy will keep some deciduous teeth after his permanent teeth have appeared. This may damage the soft tissues of his mouth and may even accelerate wear of permanent teeth. If your puppy retains his baby teeth, ask your veterinarian whether or not they should be removed.
One of the most common dental problems dogs experience is build-up of plaque and, in older dogs, calculus. Food, bacteria and saliva may accumulate and adhere to the tooth surface, forming a soft plaque. If left unchecked, plaque and calculus build-up can eventually cause inflammation of the gums (gingivitis), or the membrane lining of the tooth socket (periodontitis), or both. Without proper treatment, your puppy’s teeth may become infected and fall out. Worse, the infection resulting from these conditions may spread to other parts of the body like the kidneys or valves of the heart. You can take healthy, preventative action by regularly cleaning your puppy’s teeth and getting regular professional cleanings and scalings from your veterinarian.
To brush your puppy’s teeth, gently rub them with a soft cloth or a child’s soft toothbrush. There are special toothpastes and dental cleaning products made for pets – ask your veterinarian or check your local pet store. Never use toothpaste formulated for humans. Puppies swallow rather than spit out, and toothpaste intended for humans can upset their stomach.
Dogs sometimes suffer from broken teeth, often a result of biting on sticks, rocks or other foreign objects. A cracked or broken tooth can be painful if the nerve tissue is exposed. If it becomes infected, there’s a danger the infection may spread through the bloodstream. If your puppy breaks a tooth, take him to a veterinarian right away.