Do puppies have baby teeth?
Dogs have baby (deciduous) teeth, the same as we do. Your puppy will already have deciduous teeth by the time you bring them home, as they start to appear (erupt) from about one month old. The deciduous teeth are replaced by adult (permanent) teeth from around 3.5 months of age and should all be gone by the time your pup is seven months old. Dogs have 28 deciduous teeth and 42 permanent teeth.
Your puppy’s pearly whites should be just that – pearly white. Any discolouration is not normal and you should ask your vet for advice. But what can cause discolouration?
Trauma to the puppy’s teeth
As you’ve probably found out, puppy teeth are like needles – narrow and sharp! We can only see the part of the deciduous tooth that’s above the gum line (the crown). However, they have surprisingly long, narrow roots anchoring them into the gum.
For some teeth, the crown makes up only a quarter of the total length of the tooth! This spindly shape means these deciduous teeth are very fragile and easily damaged. Any injury or trauma may result in fracture of the tooth. However, you may be surprised to know that teeth can bruise too, just like skin.
A knock to our skin can damage the small blood vessels underneath the surface, causing them to leak. If the skin isn’t cut then this blood has no way of escape, so accumulates under the skin. As the blood is broken down by our body it changes to a purply-black colour – which we see as a bruise.
Teeth have tiny blood vessels running down their middle (the pulp) to supply them with nutrients. A knock to the tooth can damage these vessels, causing bleeding inside the tooth and a change in tooth colour from white to purply-black. The nerves in the pulp become inflamed – and unhappy nerves = pain.
If your pup has a purple tooth, your vet is likely to recommend it is extracted as it will be painful. We may not appreciate that our pet is in pain (especially as puppies will often keep on bouncing regardless!) but that doesn’t mean they’re not feeling sore. A damaged deciduous tooth can also interfere with the growth of the developing adult tooth. This may to further problems later down the line.
A common cause of tooth fracture or bruising is chewing on something that’s just too hard – those deciduous teeth are so fragile. When selecting a chew or toy for your dog, push your thumbnail into the item. If your thumb nail can’t leave an indent, the item is too hard and is likely to cause damage.
Plaque and tartar
Plaque starts to build up on teeth – deciduous and permanent – as soon as they erupt. It’s a sticky mixture of saliva and food, and just the place for bacteria to flourish. As well as causing smelly breath (‘doggy breath’ is not normal!), bacteria cause gum inflammation, seen as reddening or bleeding of the gums. This damage ultimately leads to painful wobbly teeth and even tooth loss.
You may be able to see plaque as a yellowy coloured film on your puppy’s teeth. You may also see the subsequent hard yellowy-brown deposit tartar. The number one way to prevent the problems caused by plaque is to remove it by regular tooth brushing – see our article for advice on how to get started.
In some dogs, particularly toy breeds, the deciduous teeth may not fall out when they should and the adult teeth end up being squashed in alongside them. Even with tooth brushing it is impossible to keep the area between these teeth clean as they’re cramped so close together. Tartar will build up here very quickly, and in addition the adult tooth may not erupt normally if the deciduous tooth is in the way. It’s important that your puppy has their teeth regularly checked at your veterinary practice to make sure the deciduous teeth aren’t persisting longer than they should. If they haven’t fallen out by the time the adult tooth erupts your vet will recommend removal.
Less common causes of tooth discolouration
Teeth are protected by a hard white coating called enamel. Severe illness at the time the enamel is being created (around age 8-14 weeks) can result in the enamel not developing properly. Then when the adult teeth erupt, we see patches of the brown coloured dentine that’s normally covered by enamel. Distemper used to be a common cause of this problem, but thanks to vaccination this is thankfully now rare.
Some medications can cause permanent tooth discolouration. Your vet will avoid prescribing these to your puppy where possible.
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From our forum; How often should I be brushing my puppy’s teeth?