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The functions of dog teeth are various depending on exactly what type of teeth we are talking about. 

Most dogs are blessed with 42 teeth, but do you know how dogs use their teeth? 

Sure, we know that dogs use their teeth for eating their chow, chewing bones and toys, and sometimes they also use them for grooming, but not all those doggy teeth are created equally.

 Indeed, every type of teeth dogs have are purposely crafted to accomplish specific tasks. So today, let's discover what those dog teeth were built for, how dogs use them and some interesting facts about dog teeth you might not know.

A Look At Dog Teeth

dog-teeth-lower-jaw

Puppies have 28 teeth, which just as in humans, are deciduous meaning that they will eventually fall out. 

However, not always everything goes smoothly, and sometimes puppies may end up having what's known as "retained baby teeth," basically baby teeth that are reluctant to fall out leaving little room for the permanent teeth to grow.

We talked about retained baby teeth in puppies here: help, my puppy's baby teeth won't fall out!

Retained baby teeth isn't only a cosmetic issue. Retained baby teeth, indeed can lead to problems, such as abnormal bites (malocclusions,), which is why retained baby teeth sometimes need to be pulled out.

When all goes well though, the dog's 28 baby teeth are replaced by 42 adult permanent teeth, usually by the age of 7-8 months old. 

These permanent teeth consist of 20 teeth housed in the dog's upper jaw and 22 teeth housed in the dog's lower jaw. More precisely, there should be 6 incisors, 2 canines, 8 pre-molars and 4 molars in the upper jaw, and 6 incisors, 2 canines, 8 pre-molars and 6 molars in the lower jaw.

Did you know? Dogs are considered diphyodont, which means that they get two successive sets of teeth, the "deciduous" set, and afterward, the "permanent" set.

Dog incisoros

Picture of dog incisors

What are a Dog's Incisors Used For?

Dogs have a total of 12 incisors in their mouths consisting of six incisors in their upper jaw and six incisors in the lower jaw.

There are two central incisors, two intermediate incisors, and two lateral ones.

What are a dog's incisors used for? These single-rooted teeth have several functions. If you watch your dog chew on a bone, you'll likely notice that he doesn't seem to use his incisors much, but if you give your dog a bone with some meat attached, you may notice that he'll use this front teeth to rip and scrape the meat off the bone. 

For sake of comparison, the action is similar to when we remove kernels of corn on a cob.

On top of being used to scrape bones, those incisors also come handy for removing burrs from the coat and carrying objects around.

Dog canine teeth

Picture of a a dog's canine teeth

What are a Dog's Canine Teeth Used For?

Right next to the incisors are a dog's canine teeth. Dogs have four canine teeth, two in the top and two in the bottom.

When the dog's mouth closes, these canine teeth should intersect nicely when they meet in a scissor bite. Canines are those sharp and pointy single-rooted teeth that are common in meat-eating animals.

What are a dog's canine teeth used for? A dog's canine teeth were very important for survival purposes, as they allowed dogs to inflict several stabbing wounds to their prey. They also helped in catching and holding prey and tearing carcasses apart.

Did you know? Canine teeth also help dogs keep their tongue in place and therefore act as a "cradle for the tongue." Indeed, when the lower canine teeth fall out or are removed, a dog's tongue may be more likely to hang out of the mouth.

dog premolar teeth

Picture of a dog's premolars

What are a Dog's Premolars Used For?

A dog's premolars win the contest as the most numerous teeth in a dog's mouth, if such a contest ever existed.

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Dogs have a total of 16 premolars, eight in the upper jaw and eight in the lower one.

They are located behind the dog's canine teeth. Also known as cheek teeth, some of the farthest premolars are only seen when a dog's lips are pulled back.

What are a dog's premolars used for? If you watch your dog chew on a toy or bone, you'll likely see him tilt his head to the side so that he can use his premolars.

 In the wild these teeth are used to rip meat away from bones. The arrangement of these teeth somewhat resembles shears with a serrated blade, an arrangement that helps dogs break food into smaller pieces, courtesy of these teeths' sharp edges.

What are a Dog's Molars Used For?

Molars live in the shadow, as they are tucked deeply inside a dog's mouth, out of sight and often out of mind. 

There are four molars in the dog's top jaw and six molars in the lower jaw. Often people become aware of their existence only when the vet mentions that one or more of these teeth need extracted.

What are a dog's molars used for? We can get a clue from these teeth's flat surfaces. Dog molars are crafted so to allow dogs to grind foods like their kibble and crush bones. 

Mother dogs also rely on their molars to snip off the pups' umbilical cord, explains Dr. Katherine A. Houpt in the book "Domestic Animal Behavior for Veterinarians and Animal Scientists."

Did you know? Since puppies rely on milk for their first weeks of life, they aren't equipped with molars.

How Are Dog Teeth Counted?

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Dog teeth are counted by using a method known as the Modified Triadan System

Basically, imagine having your dog's jaws split into four parts with a vertical line and a horizontal one.

You are therefore left with the dog's mouth split into four parts: the right upper arch, the left upper arch, the right lower arch and the left lower arch. 

Each of these arches are given a numeric range.

The right upper arch is the 100 numeric series, the left upper arch is the 200 numeric series, the left lower arch is the 300 numeric series and the right lower arch is the 400 numeric series.

So for sake of an example, the dog's first incisor on the right upper arch is tooth number 101, the second 102, the third 103 and the canine tooth is 104.

Did you know? Most dogs normally have 42 teeth, however, as a puppy, the Chow Chow typically possesses 44 teeth.

Why is it Important That Dog Teeth Meet in a Scissor Bite?

The scissor bite consists of the upper incisors nicely overlapping the lower incisors with the canine teeth also intersecting when the upper and lower jaw meet.

 When the dog's mouth is closed, you'll also notice a 'scissor-like' appearance in the way the pre-molars and molars intersect by the side of the mouth.

For several good reasons a scissor bite is what many breed standards require. 

Firstly, a good scissor bite allow dogs to better grasp items. In a hunting setting, the scissor bite allowed hunting dogs to easily grasp and retrieve downed birds for the hunter. 

Secondly, a scissor bite allows proper chewing. Dogs with a poor bite indeed can have a hard time chewing their food when eating.

References:

  • Clinical Anatomy and Physiology for Veterinary Technicians, By Thomas P. Colville, Joanna M. Bassert, Mosby; 2 edition (December 21, 2007)
  • Dental Vet, Dental Anatomy, retrieved from the web onm Sept 30th, 2016
  • Guinness World Record: Dog breed with most teeth

Photo Credit:

  • Wolf mandible diagram showing the names and positions of the teeth., William Harris- Desktop publishing software - The base-image came from work that is publicly available, CC BY-SA 4.0

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