Brushing Up on Dental Health

Help your puppy stay healthy by keeping his teeth in tip-top shape.

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When to See the Vet
Does my puppy need to see a vet dentist? Sometimes, not all of a puppy's baby teeth will fall out. "Adult teeth are not always directly underneath [the baby teeth], so they can't pressure them out. This happens a lot with toy breeds," Dr. Luskin says. In these cases, a vet will have to pull out the baby teeth to prevent future dental problems.

"If you see an adult tooth coming in before the baby tooth is lost, make an appointment with your vet," Dr. Niemiec advises. "Often, puppies aren't scheduled for their first dental checkup until they're 6 months old, when they're coming in to be spayed or neutered. But that may be too late if there are serious problems," he says.

"Be proactive by making sure that the puppy teeth are lost when they're supposed to [around 16 to 30 weeks of age]. Toy breeds will often have that double tooth thing [baby and adult teeth present simultaneously], which can lead to periodontal disease when the adult tooth is pushed into an abnormal position," Dr. Niemiec continues. Yorkies and Maltese are especially prone to retaining their baby teeth, he says.

Chihuahuas, Lhasa Apsos and Shih Tzu sometimes won't get their puppy teeth at all, according to Dr. Lyon. "If they don't come in, your dog should get an X-ray," Dr. Lyon advises. "Sometimes pups will need to have windows cut into the gums so that the teeth can emerge."  

If your pup can't shut its jaw properly, you need to take it to a vet, Dr. Luskin emphasizes. "Pink or gray teeth need immediate attention. A dead tooth's necrotic pulp [dead tissue] will drain into the surrounding bone and cause it to weaken and eventually fracture."

Ask your vet to examine your pup's teeth and bite at the initial physical exam. "A pup should have its bite evaluated at 8 to 10 weeks of age, to check for orthodontic problems," Dr. Niemiec advises. "Lower jaws sometimes grow farther than upper jaws, and though the upper jaw may catch up, sometimes it won't. When this problem is caught early, puppy teeth can be pulled to allow for full growth potential, but if the jaw is significantly overshot or undershot, interceptive orthodontics [corrective surgery] may be required. In most breeds, a scissors bite is normal, with lower incisors located just behind the upper ones."

Next Step: Chews Wisely

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