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Oral Anatomy in Dogs

Dog Oral Anatomy: Components, Dental Problem, and Prevention

Dog oral anatomy is a group of complex mouth organs and structures. Food ingestion and processing are the main roles of the dog’s mouth. 

Adult dogs have 42 permanent teeth, while puppies have 28 deciduous (milk or baby) teeth. Dogs have four types of teeth, including incisors, canines, premolars, and molars. 

The teeth are located on the upper (maxilla) and lower (mandible) jaws. The periodontium, tongue, and salivary glands are the other anatomical structures in the mouth. 

The periodontal canine oral anatomy consists of gingiva, periodontal ligament, cementum, and alveolar bone. The tongue features a root, body, and apex. The salivary glands are lobular and produce saliva. 

Knowing the dog oral cavity anatomy is vital for understanding mouth diseases. Common oral conditions affect dog mouth parts, including plaque buildup, gum disease, tooth decay, broken teeth, tooth abscess, malocclusion, halitosis, and oral tumors. 

Regular teeth brushing is the key to preserving normal dog mouth anatomy and function. Preventative measures for preserving dog oral anatomy and mechanics include dental diets, chlorhexidine-based gels, dental chews, chew treats, and ultrasonic scaling. 

What is the Dog's Oral Anatomy?

The dog's oral anatomy is a complex set of organs and structures that process food. The five main oral structures in dogs include the lips, oral mucosa, teeth, tongue, and salivary glands. 

The different oral structures have unique anatomies corresponding with their functions. The main roles of the dog’s mouth are food prehension, mastication (chewing), and moistening. 

Prehension refers to taking food. Mastication and moistening prepare food for the next stage, deglutition or swallowing.  

The dog's oral anatomy is similar to the human anatomy of the mouth. The number of teeth and saliva composition are the key differences. 

What Does a Dog Oral Diagram Look Like?

A dog's oral diagram looks like a graph showing various structures such as the tongue, teeth, gums, palate, and throat. The diagram illustrates the positioning and anatomy of the components within the dog's mouth. Diagrams highlight common oral issues or abnormalities, such as dental tartar, gingivitis, or oral tumors, to aid in diagnosis and treatment.

How many teeth do adult dogs typically have?

Adult dogs typically have 42 teeth. The number of permanent teeth in the dog’s mouth does not depend on size. 

A Chihuahua has the same number of teeth as a Great Dane. The sole exception is the Chow Chow, which has an extra pair of molars totaling 44 teeth. 

Dog teeth change around 12 weeks old, and all adult teeth are acquired by six months of age. 

How does the dog's oral cavity anatomy differ from that of cats?

The dog’s oral cavity anatomy differs from that of cats in the number of teeth. Adult dogs have 42 teeth. Cats have 30 adult teeth. 

A significant difference in the cat oral anatomy is the presence of spiky filiform papillae on the tongue. The spiky papillae help strip fleshy meat off of bones.  

What are the Components of the Upper and Lower Jaw in Dogs?

The components of the upper and lower jaw in dogs are listed below. 

  1. Maxilla (Upper Jaw): The maxilla or upper jaw is a large, asymmetrical bone with an irregular shape that holds the upper teeth. The maxilla shapes the face, has the nose, and separates the nasal from the oral cavity. 
  2. Mandible (Lower Jaw): The mandible or lower jaw comprises two mutually connected bones and holds the lower teeth. The two halves of the lower jaw are linked with the symphysis mentalis. The mandible body has a small opening called the mental foramen for blood vessels and nerve passage.  

What are the Parts of the Dentition (Teeth) in Dogs?

The parts of the definition (teeth) in dogs are listed below. 

  • Incisors: Small and sharp teeth at the front of the dog’s mouth are used for scrapping meat off of bones, nibbling, picking up objects, and grooming. 
  • Canines: Canines, or fangs, are large and powerful teeth that grip and tear up food. 
  • Premolars: Chewing teeth between the canine and molars, responsible for shearing through and grinding food.  
  • Molars: Flat and powerful teeth at the back of the mouth tasked with food grinding and crushing for easier swallowing and digestion. 

1. Incisors

Incisors are small, sharp teeth located at the mouth’s front. Dogs have six incisors on the top and six on the bottom jaw, or 12 incisors. The name is from the Latin incidere, meaning “to cut.” 

Dogs use incisors for picking up food and objects, nibbling, and grooming. The incisors are perfect for scraping meat off bones when eating and plucking dirt and small parasites from the coat when grooming. 

2. Canines

Canines are long, pointed, and slightly curved teeth at the front, behind the incisors. Dogs have two canines on each jaw or four canines in total, which are known as fangs. 

The main roles of the canine teeth are holding prey, tearing food, and puncturing during fights. The canine teeth cradle the tongue, keeping its free apex inside the mouth. 

3. Premolars

Premolars are flat, sharp-edged teeth on the side of the jaws. The premolars sit between the canines and the molars. Dogs have 16 premolars or eight premolars per jaw. Puppies have six premolars on each jaw. 

The premolars grind food into small chunks that are easy to swallow and digest. Dogs tend to tilt their heads to one side when using the premolars.  

4. Molars

Molars are strong, flat teeth located at the back of the mouth. Adult dogs have four molars on the upper jaw and six on the lower jaw, but puppies do not have molars. 

Dogs use molars to crush and grind food. Shredding food into small particles is important because it enables easy digestion and more effective nutrient absorption. 

What are the Structures of the Periodontium in Dogs?

The structures of the periodontium in dogs are listed below. 

  • Gingiva: Gingiva is a keratinized oral mucosa covering the jaws’ alveolar processes and encircling the necks of erupted teeth. 
  • Periodontal Ligament: The periodontal ligament is a fibrous tissue comprising collagen fiber bundles that anchor the tooth’s cement to the alveolar bone. 
  • Cementum: Cementum is a specialized connective and calcified tissue that covers the teeth' roots' outer surface and anchors the periodontal ligament. 
  • Alveolar Bone: Alveolar bone is bone tissue that supports the tooth, holds the periodontal ligament, and helps absorb and distribute occlusal forces (forces generated during chewing). 

1. Gingiva (Gums)

Gingiva (gums) is a pink keratinized mucosa that encircles and protects the teeth. The two main parts of the gums are attached and free gingiva. 

The attached gingiva is keratinized to withstand the stress of tearing food. The free gingiva surrounds the tooth's root and forms the gingival margin. The space between the tooth and the margin is called the gingival sulcus, which has a depth of one to three millimeters. 

The gingiva is important because it holds the tooth in position. Diseased gums recede, exposing the roots and leading to teeth loss.  

2. Periodontal Ligament

The periodontal ligament (PDL) is a collagen fiber bundle connecting the tooth cementum to the surrounding alveolar bone. 

The ligament anchors the teeth while allowing them orthodontic movement. The PDL helps with teeth eruption in young dogs and is rich in blood vessels and nerves.

The periodontal ligament is important because it stabilizes teeth while allowing a certain degree of mobility necessary for normal functioning.   

3. Cementum

Cementum is a hard, calcified, bone-like structure that attaches to the periodontal ligament of the tooth. 

The tissue gets nourishment from the blood vessels in the periodontal ligament and reshapes over the dog’s lifetime. The cementum is constantly forming, destroying, and repairing. 

A dog’s cementum protects the teeth and is nonsensitive. Damaged cementum loosens the teeth and exposes the underlying dentin, which is highly sensitive. 

4. Alveolar Bone

Alveolar bone is a thick bony ridge containing tooth sockets, alveoli, or alveolar processes. The alveolar socket is located on the upper and lower jaw. 

The alveoli's bony lining, the cribriform plate, is highly dense. Radiographs of the cribriform plate show a striking white line called lamina dura. 

The alveolar bone is important because it houses, supports, and enables normal teeth functioning.  

What are the most common dental problems encountered in dogs?

The most common dental problems encountered in dogs are listed below. 

  • Plaque Buildup: Plaque buildup is an accumulated sticky substance comprising food particles and saliva on the surface of teeth that leads to tartar and gum disease. 
  • Gum Disease: Gum disease is a gum infection caused by plaque and tartar buildup pressuring and receding the gums, culminating in premature tooth loss. 
  • Tooth Decay: Tooth decay is damage to the tooth surface (enamel) by acids produced by bacteria, leading to hole formation known as dental caries or cavities. 
  • Broken Teeth: Broken teeth are caused by traumatic injuries that are painful to touch and unable to function correctly. 
  • Tooth Abscess: A tooth abscess is a pus-filled pocket at the tip of the tooth root caused by untreated oral caries or bacterial infections. 
  • Malocclusion: Malocclusion is teeth misalignment, occurring when the upper and lower teeth do not fit properly. 
  • Halitosis: Halitosis is the medical term for bad breath associated with inflammatory dental diseases such as gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth decay. 
  • Oral Tumors: Oral tumors are benign or malignant growths in the dog’s mouth and are one of the common dental problems in canines. 

1. Plaque Buildup

Plaque buildup is the accumulation of plaque on the tooth surface. Plaque forms a couple of hours after eating when bacteria in the mouth mix with saliva and food particles. 

Unremoved plaque turns into tartar within several days. The plaque-to-tartar transformation results from the deposition of calcium and other minerals. 

Plaque buildup and tartar cause gum inflammation called gingivitis. Early gingivitis is reversible, while untreated gingivitis progresses and is the first stage of gum disease. 

2. Gum Disease

Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is when the gums recede under the pressure of plaque and tartar accumulation. The receding gums expose the roots and loosen the teeth. 

Small breed dogs and brachycephalic dogs with short muzzles are predisposed to gum disease. Poor oral hygiene is the leading risk factor. 

Gum disease is not curable, but it is manageable. The goal is to stop the gingiva from receding and prevent loose teeth. 

3. Tooth Decay (Caries)

Tooth decay is a progressive rotting and a major side effect of plaque buildup. Plaque contains carbohydrates from food, and bacteria naturally exist in a dog’s mouth. 

Decay occurs when bacteria start fermenting the sugars found in plaque. The fermentation produces acids that strip the enamel and dentin from the teeth, causing holes. 

Mild tooth decay is repaired with a filling, moderate tooth decay requires root canal therapy, and advanced tooth decay (caries) entails surgical extraction of the rotten tooth. 

4. Broken Teeth

Broken teeth are fractures of the teeth affecting the enamel, crown, or root. External traumatic injuries and chewing on hard objects are the top two causes of broken teeth. 

Dogs with broken teeth are in severe pain and often chew on one side. Pawing at the face and shying away when petted are telltale signs of pain. 

Root canal, vital pulp therapy, and extraction are the treatment options for broken teeth. The vet recommends the preferred approach depending on the damage extent.  

5. Tooth Abscess

A tooth root is a pocket filled with pus located beneath the gums at the tip of the root of a tooth. Dogs with tooth abscesses are in severe pain and reluctant to eat or play with toys. 

Tooth abscesses are probable in all dogs but are more common among eager chewers and develop on the upper premolars and lower molars.  

The treatment is complex and consists of antibiotic treatment followed by surgery. Root canal and extraction are the two surgical options for treating a tooth abscess

6. Malocclusion

Malocclusion is the abnormal alignment of the dog’s teeth. Underbite and overbite are the most common types of malocclusion in dogs.

Skeletal malocclusion occurs when the jaws are of incompatible lengths. Dental malocclusion is when there are malpositioned teeth. 

Certain cases of malocclusion are purely cosmetic, and others cause functional problems and require surgical correction. 

7. Halitosis (Bad Breath)

Halitosis, or bad breath, is a foul odor from the dog’s mouth. Bad breath is an indicator of an underlying oral or systemic disease. 

Oral conditions causing bad breath are periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay, and oral tumors. Systemic issues manifesting with halitosis include kidney problems, liver disease, and diabetes. 

Maintaining proper oral hygiene and regular veterinary examinations are the best ways to avoid halitosis (bad breath) in dogs. 

8. Oral Tumors

Oral tumors are benign or malignant growths in the dog’s mouth. Certain breeds, like Poodles, Shih Tzus, and German Shepherds, are predisposed to oral tumors. 

The top common oral tumors in dogs are malignant melanoma (MM), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), fibrosarcoma (FSA), acanthomatous ameloblastoma (AA), and osteosarcoma (OSA). 

Malignant oral tumors are locally invasive and spread to distant tissues. Surgery is the standard treatment for oral tumors in dogs. 

What are the Parts of the Tongue in Dogs?

The parts of the tongue in dogs are listed below. 

  • Root: The root is the caudal third of the dog’s tongue that attaches it to the floor of the mouth. The tongue root is closely connected to a small so-called hyoid bone. The hyoid bone (os hyoideum) is a group of osteochondral structures that enable tongue flexibility.  
  • Body: The section between the root and apex is the body of the tongue. The body consists of muscle bundles, connective tissue, and fat. The tongue’s surface is covered in papillae, some containing taste buds. Dogs have filiform, fungiform, foliate, and circumvallate papillae. 
  • Apex: The free, rostral extremity of the tongue is the tip or apex. Dogs have many taste buds on the apex. An important part of the dog tongue anatomy is the lyssa body, a rod or J-shaped structure located beneath the apex of the tongue. The lyssa body is believed to be a skeleton basis for the free tongue tip. 

What are the Functions of Salivary Glands in Dogs?

The functions of the salivary glands in dogs are listed below. 

  • Food Moistening: The salivary glands produce saliva, which moistens food and allows easy chewing or mastication. 
  • Lubrication: Saliva lubricates the food, enabling swallowing. Vocalization is aided by keeping the oral cavity well-lubricated.  
  • Oral Mucosa Protection: The dog’s salivary gland secretion creates a protective barrier covering the mucosal lining of the oral cavity. 
  • Antibacterial Effect: Saliva has a potent antibacterial effect that keeps the environment healthy and prevents bad breath despite the large number of bacteria in the mouth. 
  • Debris Washing: Saliva flushes debris from the mouth, minimizing the risk of certain dental conditions. 

Is there a Preventive Measure to Reduce the Risk of Oral Problems in Dogs?

Yes, there is a preventative measure to reduce the risk of oral problems in dogs. Regular oral care through brushing is the best prevention option. 

Brushing a dog's teeth is the most effective form of preventive oral health care, states a study, “Dental Homecare: Teaching your Clients to Care for their Pet's Teeth,” published in the Journal of Veterinary Dentistry 2009.

The study’s authors recommend at least three brushing sessions per week. Teeth brushing helps remove plaque buildup, reducing the risk of oral problems. 

How to Assess a Dog's Oral Condition?

To assess a dog’s oral condition, follow the steps listed below.

  1. Inspect the Gums. Start by inspecting the dog’s gums. Healthy gums are salmon pink and lack signs of redness, ulcers, bleeding, lumps, or visible tooth roots. Some dogs have patchy dark areas on the gums, which are normal pigmentation. 
  2. Check the Teeth. See if all teeth are present and whether they have plaque or tartar buildup, which looks like a brownish, hard substance on the neck of teeth above the gingiva. Touch each tooth to check for wobbliness and pain. 
  3. Smell the Breath. Sniff the dog’s breath to assess its oral health. A pungent and repellent scent, known as halitosis, is a telltale sign of an underlying oral or dental condition. 
  4. Observe the Dog. Pay attention to the dog’s eating and playing habits. Dogs with dental conditions hesitate to eat or chew on one side to avoid toothache. Keen chewers refusing to play with new chew toys are signs of an underlying oral issue. 

What is the Consequence of Leaving an Oral Problem Untreated?

The consequence of leaving oral problems untreated is tooth loss. Dental conditions in dogs are progressive and culminate in early tooth loss without treatment. 

Premature tooth loss in dogs has a functional effect. Dogs without teeth are unable to chew on kibble and require special liquid diets. 

A consequence of leaving oral problems untreated is chronic pain. Dental issues cause a low grade but continuously present pain that harms the dog’s quality of life. 

Can CBD Oil Helps Dog Oral Problems?

Yes, CBD oil can help dog oral problems. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a natural hemp extract with strong anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is an important aspect of periodontal (gum) disease, the number one oral problem in dogs. 

Cannabinoids were more effective in reducing the bacterial colony count in dental plaques as compared to the well-established synthetic oral care products, according to a human study, “Comparison of Efficacy of Cannabinoids versus Commercial Oral Care Products in Reducing Bacterial Content from Dental Plaque: A Preliminary Observation,” published in Cureus in 2021. 

CBD has similar effects in humans and dogs because it works similarly through the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The anti-bacterial effect of CBD in humans is expected in dogs. 

How to Prevent Oral Problems in Dogs?

To prevent oral problems in dogs, follow the tips below. 

  • Oral Assessment: Inspect the gums, check the teeth, smell the breath, and observe the dog’s eating and playing habits regularly to get an insight into oral health. Early discovery enables easier treatment.
  • Teeth Brushing: Brushing the dog’s teeth thrice weekly to prevent oral problems. Owners must use a soft bristle brush (for dogs or babies) and toothpaste made specifically for dogs. Human toothpaste products contain xylitol, which is toxic to dogs. 
  • Chlorhexidine Gel: Chlorhexidine gels have an antiseptic effect and help keep the dog’s mouth clean. The gel must be used daily for optimum results. 
  • Dental Diets: Dental diets are specifically formulated foods that support plaque and tartar scraping through chewing. The kibble is abrasive and large, promoting prolonged chewing and better scraping. 
  • Dental Chews and Treats: Dental dog chews support oral hygiene by scraping the accumulated plaque, while dental treats contain active ingredients like vitamin C and zinc sulfide that help loosen tartar. 
  • Ultrasonic Scaling: Schedule yearly professional teeth scaling treatments for the dog. Scaling is done by a veterinary dentist using a special ultrasonic device. The procedure is routine but requires general anesthesia. Combined with brushing and other measures, scaling minimizes the risk of oral problems.