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 tooth.
Note the plaque and calculus build-up, gingivitis, and gingival recession.
This tooth should be removed before it endangers the permanent tooth any further.
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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.