Let's talk teeth

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31 May 2013
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How many teeth do dogs have?

Dogs have two sets of teeth during their lives: the deciduous or milk teeth, and the adult or permanent teeth. The milk teeth naturally fall out when the permanent teeth start to appear. Molars are the only teeth with no deciduous predecessors. In puppyhood, dogs have 28 deciduous teeth. The average adult dog has 42 teeth; upper jaw: six incisors, two canines, eight premolars, and four molars; lower jaw: six incisors, two canines, eight premolars, and six molars.

How to prevent problems

Reducing plaque formation is one of the most important factors in preventing dental and gum disease in dogs. According to Harrogate-based vet Bob Partridge, a European specialist in veterinary dentistry, the gold standard for prevention is tooth brushing.

"There's nothing as effective, but people shouldn't think they'll be able to do it perfectly from day one," he explained. "Owners should do it at the same time every day. Start by letting the dog play with the toothbrush with flavoured toothpaste on. Expect it to take two months to train a dog to have his teeth brushed."

Never use human toothpaste - there are flavoured toothpastes and gels specifically designed for dogs. There's plenty of choice when it comes to brushes including finger brushes, microfibre fingerstalls, and long-handled toothbrushes. Regular vet checks can ensure that problems are avoided. Bob advised that dogs should have a thorough check-up every six months where the vet will look for signs of gum disease, and fractured or broken teeth which can cause pain and discomfort. A scale and polish under anaesthesia is often required if the plaque build-up becomes a big problem. However, damage to the gum tissue and supporting structures of the teeth can't be reversed.

Did you know?

Plaque is a combination of food debris, oral bacteria, and salivary secretions, deposited as a yellow/cream film on the enamel of the teeth. If plaque isn't removed it gradually builds up, becomes mineralised, and eventually forms what is called calculus or tartar, a hard yellow-brown deposit.

Spotting the signs

A whole range of problems can indicate gum disease in dogs. This includes:

Redness of gums.

Swelling.

Bleeding gums.

Plaque on the surface of the teeth.

Bad breath.

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Any signs of discomfort or pain such as when chewing food.

Not eating.

Periodontal (gum) disease is one of the most common problems diagnosed by vets. Vet Bob Partridge believes the figure is so high because owners don't look inside their pets' mouths regularly.

"It's a hidden disease but one of the most common in dogs, and the most important because of the effects on other areas of the body," he said. "I don't think the problem's got worse, it's that people have become more aware. I also think that because dogs are living longer there's a greater chance of dental disease building up." According to Mars Petcare, which organises Dental Care Month in June on behalf of Pedigree, research shows that 90 per cent of owners rate their dogs' oral health as either good or perfect.

Top tips for healthy teeth

1 Look inside your dog's mouth regularly.

2 Keep an eye out for the signs of dental disease.

3 Brush your dog's teeth daily.

4 Seek advice from your vet if you're unsure of anything or spot potential problems.

Who's at risk?

Gum disease gets worse over time, so older dogs tend to find it more of a problem. All breeds of dog can suffer dental problems but certain types of Toy and short-faced breeds can be more susceptible. Dogs who do a lot of mouth breathing, such as the Greyhound, can also be prone.

Alternatives to brushing

Not all dogs like having their teeth brushed. Nothing is as effective as tooth brushing but there are other ways to keep your dog's teeth squeaky clean. Playing tug games with a ragger-type toy can help to floss teeth. There are products that can be added to water or food which claim to prevent bad breath and control plaque build-up. Chewing hard objects physically scrapes plaque off teeth, while the saliva produced has a rinsing action. There are various chews on the market specifically aimed at tooth care. Chewing on large raw bones can also clean teeth effectively but isn't suitable for all dogs. There's some evidence that dogs who eat dry crunchy foods are less likely to suffer from dental disease. Special veterinary diets which claim to help reduce plaque and tartar formation are also available.