The teeth that are present around 6 weeks
of age are not the permanent teeth the puppy will have as an adult. Like humans,
dogs have two sets of teeth that develop during their lifetime. The first set
of teeth, sometimes called “baby” teeth are also called deciduous
teeth because these teeth are present early in life, and then are shed as the
developing permanent teeth erupt into position. Deciduous teeth are typically
lost or shed as the roots of these teeth are resorbed and the crown becomes loose.
If the deciduous tooth is not shed in a timely manner, we refer to them as “retained”.
Retained deciduous teeth should be removed, provided there is a permanent tooth
to replace it.
As a general rule of thumb, there should only be one tooth occupying
a specific place. More simply put, if there is a permanent tooth that has erupted
through the gingiva and a deciduous tooth remains, the deciduous tooth should
be removed to prevent possible deflection of the permanent tooth’s eruption
path, or to prevent crowding of the two involved teeth, which could lead to periodontal
problems that could affect the permanent tooth.
This a retained maxillary right deciduous (“baby”) canine
Note the plaque and calculus build-up, gingivitis, and gingival recession.
This tooth should be removed before it endangers the permanent tooth any
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Broken deciduous teeth should also be extracted.
These teeth are sometimes “trimmed” in an attempt to correct or avert jaw length discrepancies, usually in puppies intended for show. Exposure of the pulp of these teeth can lead to pulpal death and infection, with possible abscess formation. The inflammation or infection at the tip of the deciduous tooth may influence the enamel producing cells of the underlying adjacent permanent tooth resulting in damage to the permanent tooth enamel called hypomineralization or hypoplasia. These affected permanent teeth erupt with enamel defects, appear brown or yellow in areas where enamel is missing, and tend to accumulate plaque and calculus quicker.
In some instances deciduous teeth interfering with the development of normal
jaw length may require extraction. In these cases, removal of only the deciduous
teeth creating or maintaining an abnormal dental interlock either with other
teeth or soft tissues will free up the jaws to grow to their genetic potential.
This may or may not be to an acceptable occlusion. Care should be taken when
performing these extractions not to damage the developing underlying permanent
tooth buds, as these teeth are best removed between 8-12 weeks of age if this
procedure is to have any benefit.
Deciduous teeth in puppies are usually present at 5-6 weeks of age and are lost between 3-6 months. Certain breeds such as Tibetian terriers are prone to have delayed eruption of deciduous and permanent teeth. This is not necessarily a problem, but dental radiographs can be used to detect unerupted teeth and removal of the gum tissue over the teeth (called operculectomy) will help facilitate eruption in many cases. See the webpage regarding dental radiographs.
One of the best times to evaluate for retained
deciduous teeth is at the time of the spay or neuter surgery. Since the pet will
already be under anesthesia, this creates an excellent opportunity to remove
any retained deciduous teeth that might cause further problems. The root of a
deciduous tooth is amazingly large. What you see of a deciduous tooth above the
gumline is about 25% of the entire tooth.