What makes a happy canine mouth? Breedwatch 2016 presentation

Simone Kirby, Dentistry Lecturer from the RVC spoke about canine dentition at today’s Breedwatch Education Day.

This talk began with an overview of the anatomy and normal occlusion of the dog’s mouth, from birth to adulthood. Simone talked about common malocclusions, and explored the difference between merely cosmetic issues and more serious conditions.

Puppies are born without teeth; primary dentition erupts at 3-4 weeks and is completed by 2-3 months. Puppies have 28 teeth. Adult teeth start to come through between 3-7 months – incisors come first, canines erupt at 4-5 months and there will be mixed dentition during the changeover period.

Normal dentition is a scissor bite and full adult dentition is 42 teeth. In general, malocclusions should be treated as a cause of pain.

Cosmetic variations are not an issue from a medical perspective, compared with dogs intended for showing, where Breed Standards will be quite specific about requirements and faults. Some breeds have malocclusions as part of the Breed Standard, e.g Brachycephalic breeds.

Simone discussed a particular example of base narrow canine teeth where lower canines impinge on the upper palate. This is often painful. It may be combined with a short lower jaw.
Anecdotally, many breeds are pre-disposed to this. Often there may be just one puppy in a litter. Not much data is available on breed prevalence.
Treatment includes extraction, crown shortening + vital pulp treatment. Braces (orthodontics) are rarely used in dogs as they can be difficult to retain unless a puppy is calm. Any such treatment should be reported to the KC.

Periodontal disease was the next topic to be discussed: It is very common amongst all dogs; however certain skull shapes predispose some dogs more to this than others.

Tooth crowding:
You find premolar crowding if the jaw is too short or incisor crowding if the jaw is too narrow. Both can result in periodontal pockets on the root  that sits in the palate.

Primary teeth not coming out:
– crowding causes pockets where food gets stuck and invites disease
– persistent baby teeth can cause malocclusion of adult teeth
Persistent primary teeth are more common in small breeds such as the Chihuahua and Yorkshire Terriers.

Periodontal disease:

70% of dogs over 3 years are affected to some degree. This includes infection of the jaw bone. It is multi-factorial, related to bacteria in plaque, oral hygiene, nutritional deficiencies, genetics and stress.
With gum recession and heavy tartar coverage, the tooth root becomes mobile. This is not always recognised by owners.

Is tartar removal enough? Probably not; you can miss disease under the gum-line. Vets really need to probe under the gum line and use x-rays under GA. X-rays will identify periodontal pockets.
Treatment includes extractions, scale/polish, pocket treatments, Prevention – daily tooth brushing is the gold standard.

Prevention – daily tooth brushing is the gold standard.

Simone noted that it can be difficult to brush teeth in pugs and other brachy breeds. As a veterinary dentist, she would welcome seeing longer muzzles in these breeds.

Finally, she discussed trauma to teeth: The incidence is higher in younger dogs, due to their extremely playful nature, but can affect any age group. There was a brief overview on the treatment of fractured teeth, and strategies of risk-reduction when choosing toys for your dog.

Toy breeds have specific jaw fracture risk. Jaw and bone size have shrunk in these breeds, but their teeth are the same size as in larger dogs. This results in a thinner jaw bone and the jaw bone can become weak with periodontal disease. The risk is greater in lower jaw bones.

Larger head and muzzle size would help increase jaw bone height. It is unlikely that we would be able to breed for smaller teeth. These breeds need meticulous oral care from puppy age. An anti-plaque drinking water additive and annual dental checks are also recommended.

Dental trauma:
Tooth fractures are more common in younger dogs. Canines fracture due to play behaviours. Premolar and molar fractures are usually caused by chewing sticks, bones, nylon toys, antlers and cow hooves.

Untreated, they  can result in an abscess. Extraction or root canal treatment is required.
Blunt trauma – “pink tooth” – can cause bleeding inside the pulp. The pulp then dies off and needs the same treatment as an open fracture.

Abrasion – slow wear: Tennis balls are the number 1 culprit, but any toys on the beach are also problematic due to the presence of sand. Abrasion trauma is mild in many dogs, but more common in terrier-types.

Avoiding dental trauma – advice…













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