6 Common Canine Tooth Problems

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Veterinary dentists estimate that 85% of all dogs over the age of 4 have some kind of dental problem. Periodontal disease and malocclusion (misalignment) of the jaws and teeth are just two of the concerns facing our canine companions. Tooth problems are often difficult for dog owners to see when they examine their pets’ mouths, but, by learning how to recognize common tooth issues, owners can save their pets from pain, infection, and tooth loss.

Six of the most common canine tooth problems include:

Loose Teeth

For your puppy, loose teeth are not an issue. Just like a human baby, a puppy’s first teeth, called deciduous teeth, need to loosen and fall out to make room for larger, permanent teeth. The process begins between 4 and 6 months of age and concludes around the 8th month when all 42 adult teeth have come in.

In adult dogs, loose teeth are typically an indication of advanced periodontal disease or trauma to the mouth. The bacteria found in periodontal disease can cause gum and bone degeneration that allows the tooth roots to detach from the fibers and periodontal ligaments holding them snugly in place. A blow to the mouth or some other kind of oral trauma can result in the same thing. Loose teeth won’t correct themselves, so an exam by your veterinarian is needed to determine the underlying cause of the problem. Your vet may recommend an extraction.

Teeth Needing Extraction

Teeth extractions are the most common oral surgery performed on companion animals. As a rule, veterinarians try to salvage as many of your pet’s teeth as possible. However, teeth extractions are required if a tooth is fractured and the root is no longer healthy and viable, if the tooth is loose and no longer attached to the bone, if the teeth are misaligned and crowded, or if a deciduous (baby) tooth is retained in the mouth crowded the permanent tooth. Additionally, teeth affected by odontoclastic resorptive lesions require extracting.

Less common in dogs than cats, these lesions are the result of the activation of odontoclast cells that destroy the normal bone cells of the teeth, eating away at the enamel and dentin and destroying the pulp and root until nothing is left. Characterized by a hole in the base of the tooth that looks like a red dot, ORLs are quite painful, and can cause lack of appetite and weight loss.

Misaligned Teeth

Crooked teeth or a misalignment of the upper and lower jaws characterizes some breeds known for their distinctive bite. If the configuration of the teeth is extreme, however, your dog may have problems chewing or drinking normally. Additionally, crooked teeth sometimes rub against the soft tissues inside your dog’s mouth creating open sores and pain. Most veterinarians opt to either extract or cap the crooked teeth creating the most problems.

Broken Teeth

Broken, or fractured, teeth are common in both dogs and cats. Caused by trauma (hit by a car, a rock, a ball – or abuse) or due to the animal chewing on hard objects, broken teeth can leave the tooth pulp and the root exposed to the bacteria in the mouth, leading to infection. This infection can cause abscesses and bone destruction at the tip of the tooth root. If not treated, the infection can travel through your pet’s bloodstream to other areas in the body, most notably the liver, kidneys, and heart and cause substantial functional damage to these vital organs. The canine (fang) teeth in the dog and the cat, as well as the upper 4th premolar (large tooth in the back on the top before the molars) in the dog, are the teeth most commonly found worn or broken.

Veterinary dentists recommend 3 options for fractured teeth. Root canal therapy is considered the best treatment for healthy teeth with no periodontal disease and with intact roots. A vital pulpotomy – a procedure where the pulp is removed, the area is sterilized, and the pulp chamber sealed – may be recommended if the injured tooth is in a younger cat or dog under 18 months of age. The final option, and the one veterinarians prefer to avoid, is tooth extraction. Because of the size and nature of most broken teeth, extractions can be difficult to perform, painful for the animal, and the patient loses the chewing function of that tooth.


Dogs that grind their teeth (bruxism) need veterinary attention to stop the wearing down of tooth enamel that can lead to fractures, pulp exposure, tooth infections, and painful teeth and gums. This teeth grinding can be attributed to jaw abnormalities, and stress/anxiety, but may also be a signal to a bigger issue. Bruxism is usually a symptom of some type of pain, most often abdominal or mouth pain.

Treatment for canine tooth grinding begins by finding the initial problem causing the issue. If your dog is grinding its teeth because of jaw misalignment, you may want to consult with a veterinary orthodontist to correct the problem. Dogs with anxiety or stress may need anti-anxiety medication and behavioral therapy to address the teeth grinding. Your veterinarian can recommend a course of medical treatment if your dog’s teeth grinding is a result of abdominal distress.

Teeth Falling Out

The most common reason for a dog’s teeth falling out is periodontal disease. Periodontal disease occurs when food left clinging to your dog’s teeth and gums disrupts the normal bacteria found in your dog’s mouth and it begins to reproduce without regulation. The bacteria congregate in spaces around the gum line causing irritation, inflammation, and bleeding. Without veterinary intervention, once the periodontitis reaches the root of the tooth, bone damage and the loss of the periodontal ligament holding the tooth in place often results in the dog’s teeth falling out of its mouth.