Updated: Dec 7, 2022
Dog’s have a mouthful of a variety of teeth that nature designed for multiple purposes: attack, defense, gripping, grooming, and chopping up food. Even if your dog isn’t on the prowl for prey-- the evolutionary purposes of all those teeth still exist and a dog’s teeth are essential to her health and wellbeing. When not properly cared for or if a trauma results in a problem with even one of a dog’s teeth, the result is often painful and can be potentially life-threatening.
How a Dog’s Teeth are Structured
You should be aware that a dog’s mouth is called “the bite” in scientific terms. The bite contains a variety of teeth depending upon whether the dog is a pup or an adult.
Dog’s are born toothless
By 12 weeks puppies have a set of 24 very sharp teeth. The puppy teeth are much sharper than adult dog teeth, which scientists believe serves two purposes: To encourage momma dog to fully and efficiently ween the pups and to help pups learn bite inhibition that maintains social hierarchy within a pack.
By 8 months dogs have all 42 adult teeth, which erupt from front to back in the following order:
6 incisors across the front of the upper jaw
6 incisors across the front of the bottom jaw
2 canine “fangs” in the top jaw
2 canine “fangs” in the bottom jaw
16 premolars (top and bottom)
4 top molars
6 bottom molars
Function of Types of Canine Teeth
Each type of tooth has a unique purpose associated with the dog’s health, survival, and ability to protect itself:
The small front teeth: used for nibbling and removing fleas, ticks, and burs; also used to scrape scraps of meat from a bone.
The canines: used for biting and grabbing.
The premolars and molars: used for crushing big chunks of food into smaller ones. The premolars do the tearing--the bulk of the work done in the eating process. If the food is very large and hard, the god uses the strong molars all the way in the back.
Though most dogs have the arrangement of teeth listed above, with the top teeth slightly overlapping the lower teeth, that is not always the case for all breeds. While we can’t cover all the varieties, suffice it to say that breeds of dog with “pushed in faces,” hairless breeds, and some large breeds may have different bite structures. If you have a breed with a different facial structure (less snout) or are concerned about the structure of your dogs bite/jaw, this is something to discuss with your dog’s veterinarian and you can check this resource to learn more about dog dental structure.
A Dog’s Teeth and their Health
Most dogs are born with an aligned bite appropriate for their breed and which supports their wellbeing. What is not normal for dogs is bad breath, though most people think that to be the case. Rather, persistent bad breath in a dog is usually a sign of an underlying health issue: Periodontal disease.
By the age of two, up to 80% of dogs have some form of periodontal disease, an infection of the supporting structures of the teeth. In fact, tooth and gum disease is the most common clinical condition among adult dogs. Periodontal disease is entirely preventable with good oral hygiene and (at least) once-a-year dental checkups.
The American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) advises that dog owners who perform regular, at-home dental hygiene degrease the risk for and progression of periodontal disease and can greatly reduce the need for expensive dental procedures such as tooth extraction, root canal, crowns and repairing structural damage caused by infection and inflammation.
Very rarely does a dog get a cavity or wake-up with infected gums. The bacteria that causes gum disease builds up over time. If you notice the following signs, take your dog for a dental exam exam right away:
change in behavior (not wanting to pet around the head or jowls)
sensitivity around the bite/jaw
Pawing at the face
trouble or avoiding chewing (either food or chew toys)
gums appear red, irritated, swollen
tooth discoloration or loose, cracking, missing tooth/teeth
Dental Disease Endangers a Dog’s Overall Physical Health
Periodontal disease does not just put your dog’s mouth at risk--it endangers the dog’s overall physical health, too. Raw and bleeding gums; areas where teeth are missing and left untreated, gives toxic bacteria an open gateway into your dog’s bloodstream. From there, bacteria travels directly to other organs including the heart, kidneys, liver, and even the brain, where it can cause irreversible damage and may put your dog’s life at risk.
Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth
There are many tools available to brush your dog’s teeth. For most dogs, what you find over the counter will be sufficient provided you brush on a regular schedule and follow the package instructions for use. Some dogs are more sensitive to brushing at home and you may have to try different dental cleaning brush styles or tools. Other dogs, because of the structure of their jaw, require special dental cleaning tools. Also, be sure to provide your dog with the appropriate size chew toys of a variety of textures and flavors so they can exercise the jaw and keep the teeth health and strong.
Check out these videos for helpful tips on dog dental hygiene:
AKC Vet’s Corner: How To Clean Your Dog's Teeth
American Veterinary Medical Association Dog Dental Cleaning Tips
If your dog is not very cooperative with tooth brushing, check with your veterinarian and/or a highly qualified groomer who is trained in providing dental hygiene for dogs.