Do dogs lose their teeth as they get older?

Your puppy’s deciduous teeth (also known as baby teeth) start coming in when they’re roughly 3-6 weeks old and fall out naturally as their adult teeth come in. Many puppies swallow their teeth, which won’t harm them in any way, but others lose them while eating and playing. When your puppy reaches the teething stage at around 3-4 months old, you’ll probably want to hide your favorite shoes. By the time your puppy is 7 months old, they’ll have their adult dog teeth.

While an adorably gap-toothed grin is perfectly fine for a teething puppy, it isn’t a normal occurrence in adult dogs. If you have an adult dog with missing teeth or breath reminiscent of an open dumpster on a hot day, it’s time to learn a bit more about why your dog might be having dental issues — and figure out if it’s time for a trip to the vet, or better yet, if it’s time to consider a dog dental insurance plan

Here’s what you should know about your dog’s dental health. 

Good hygiene for adult dogs

Your dog needs good dental hygiene just like you do. That means cleaning their teeth daily using toothpaste with a dog-approved flavor. They make toothbrushes just for dogs. The bristles of a toothbrush are better at loosening up plaque and preventing tartar buildup, but using your finger is a suitable alternative if your dog tucks tail and hides at the sight of a toothbrush. 

Preventing plaque and tartar buildup is paramount to your dog’s dental health, as buildup is one of the leading causes of periodontal disease. But if you clean your dog’s teeth regularly and still notice signs of tooth loss, there could be an underlying issue. 

What causes tooth loss in adult dogs?

The two primary causes for tooth loss in adult dogs are trauma and periodontal disease. Trauma can occur in a variety of ways. If your pet has been involved in an accident, it can cause dental problems that can lead to tooth loss. But even less serious issues can cause dental problems. Hard treats like bones and antlers may lead to damaged or loose teeth that eventually fall out. 

Fights with other dogs can not only cause tooth loss, but they can also severely damage delicate gums. Even overly enthusiastic playtime with another dog can dislodge a tooth or two if your dog is hit in the mouth.  

According to the American Veterinary Association, roughly 85% of adult dogs have periodontal disease, which can have major complications if left untreated. Periodontal disease is another leading cause of tooth loss in adult dogs, and because so many dogs have it, it’s essential that you catch it early on. 

A black and white dog gazing into the camera.

Symptoms of periodontal disease

While you can’t reverse periodontal disease, you can treat it and prevent it from worsening. If it’s left unchecked, periodontal disease can cause a host of health complications for your dog. Even if your dog doesn’t have missing teeth yet, there are warning signs. Here’s what to look out for to determine whether you should take your dog to the vet. 

  • Loss of appetite or difficulty chewing
  • Excessive pawing at the mouth or rubbing the mouth against objects
  • Loose teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Lethargy 
  • Swelling around the mouth
  • Bumps or discoloration on the gums
  • Bleeding or swollen gums
  • Behavioral changes

Periodontal disease begins as an accumulation of food particles and bacteria at the gum line. As time progresses, what started out as plaque and tartar buildup becomes inflammation deep within the gums. Over time, the inflammation causes the gum tissue — and in severe cases, the jawbone — to deteriorate, which results in tooth loss. 

Catching periodontal disease before it progresses is the best thing for your dog’s dental health, but treatment is possible even if your dog has already suffered tooth loss.

Treating gum disease in dogs

Just like you need regular checkups and deep cleanings at the dentist, your dog’s teeth need maintenance, too. Your veterinarian will take a series of X-rays to determine the severity of your dog’s periodontal disease and come up with a plan of action. 

If in-depth treatment is required, your vet will put your dog under anesthesia to perform a deep cleaning and scaling, which removes plaque and tartar from each tooth as well as pockets of bacteria from beneath the gum line.

After treatment, maintaining your dog’s dental hygiene can help prevent a recurrence of bacterial growth. Brushing your dog’s teeth daily, plaque and tartar-fighting dental chews, and regular checkups will help keep your dog’s mouth in good shape for years to come.  

If you want to know more, check out our guide on the possible reasons behind your dog’s smelly ears.

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