Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
Baby teeth are the first set of teeth your dog has as a puppy. All puppies are born without teeth, but as they develop around four weeks of age, they start gaining their first set of 28 baby teeth.
Also known as milk teeth, primary teeth, or deciduous teeth, as the name implies, baby teeth are meant to be only temporary, meaning that they are meant to fall out and be replaced by adult, permanent teeth. The puppy teething stage is therefore then over.
In a normal situation, baby teeth fall out and are replaced by permanent teeth without issues. Problems start though when they fail to shed, becoming retained. As the name implies, retained baby teeth are therefore baby teeth that don't shed despite the permanent tooth growing.
Retained Baby Teeth in Dogs
Not too long ago, it was believed that the presence of the baby tooth was the cause for the permanent adult tooth to grow in an unnatural position. Nowadays, we know that the opposite is true, it's the incorrect eruption path of the permanent adult tooth to cause difficulty in the baby tooth to fall out.
To better understand this, it helps to gain a closer insight into the whole process. Ideally, the roots of a puppy's baby teeth are resorbed, meaning that the roots dissolve because the properly positioned permanent teeth push them out. With the roots resorbed, the baby teeth should, therefore, fall out.
The process of baby teeth falling out is professionally known as exfoliation. In puppies, the exfoliation process starts around 14 weeks of age, but this can vary greatly from breed to breed.
While the exact process is still unclear, it is believed that baby teeth fail to fall out when the permanent teeth are not positioned correctly. With an incorrect eruption path, the permanent teeth are therefore incapable of exerting the necessary push to cause the baby teeth to shed.
In general, retained baby teeth are more common in small dog breeds, but large dogs can be affected too. Some teeth are more predisposed to become retained, primarily the canines, followed then by the incisors, and premolars. It is not unusual for both sides of the mouth to be affected.
Small dogs are particularly predisposed because they have the same amount of teeth as any larger dog, but all these teeth are enclosed in a small mouth. This leads to crowding.
There are chances that some dogs may have a genetic predisposition for retained baby teeth considering that it seems to appear almost predictably in some families of dogs.
The Impact on Health
Retained baby teeth may appear like a minor problem, and is often shrug off by dog owners as something not significant other than being somewhat unsightly. "It's not like my dog has to enter a beauty contest and have perfect teeth" an owner once remarked when at the vet's office her dog was found to have several retained baby teeth.
Instead, retained baby teeth can be troublesome in many ways, and if left untreated, can potentially lead to lifelong dental problems. What kind of problems?
First of all, consider that the presence of baby teeth cause permanent teeth to continue to grow in an abnormal position. When teeth grow abnormally, they may cause a malocclusion (an improper bite where teeth do not meet as they should) which can cause trauma to the dog's tongue, palate and mandible. Affected dogs may develop pain and potential infections potentially leading to oronasal fistulas.
On top of this, because the mouth is crowded, food and debris tend to easily accumulate in this tricky area, thus predisposing the site to the formation of tartar, therefore making affected dogs more predisposed to periodontal disease.
It goes without saying that retained baby teeth can become quite troublesome, hence why veterinarians recommend early removal.
Extracting Retained Baby Teeth in Dogs
Persistent retained baby teeth should be removed as early as possible. Make sure to check your puppy's teeth routinely to recognize signs of trouble. If you cannot or are not sure what to look for, consider that veterinarians can routinely inspect your puppy's mouth to ensure there are no signs of trouble from an early age. Of course, in show dogs this is paramount.
In general, permanent incisors in puppies first appear around 3 to 4 months, while canines show up first around 5 to 6 months of age. Roughly, all permanent teeth should be in by the time the puppy is 7 to 8 months
Removal of retained baby teeth is not something you want to wait for too long. Many dog owners wish to have them removed at the same time their dog is spayed or neutered which may be too long depending on age. The fact is, you want the extraction to be done in a timely manner so that the abnormally positioned permanent tooth is still in time to shift into a normal position.
Ideally, this procedure should be done by a specialist considering that a certain level of skill is needed to ensure the entire problematic baby tooth is removed without fracturing the root and to prevent accidental damage to the nearby permanent teeth.
Make sure your veterinarian does x-rays to ensure proper extraction considering that the roots of baby teeth are quite long. Leaving behind parts of the root can lead to inflammation and infections as the body potentially perceives it as an embedded foreign body.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2020 Adrienne Farricelli
Devika Primic on April 13, 2020:
Dogs baby teeth are tiny and you explained in detail to me. I like this hub it is important to know of this information and for all dog lovers.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 13, 2020:
You introduced me to a new word today, and that is diphyodont. I also never thought of baby teeth being called deciduous, but like leaves on a tree, it makes sense. Thanks for another look at what caring for our canine pals entails.