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How To Easily Determine Dog Age By His Teeth

If you’re wondering about a dog’s age, the condition of his teeth will give you a lot of information. The old expression, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,is derived from the fact that horse’s teeth have distinctive wear patterns, that can help you determine his age fairly precisely for the first 7 years of his life and well beyond. Just as horses’ teeth provide strong evidence of their age, dog teeth have distinctive wear patterns that can help you to discern the age of your new family friend fairly accurately.

Determining dog's age by his teeth
3 week old toothless puppy

How Many Teeth Do Dogs Have?

Puppies should eventually have 28 deciduous teeth, 12 incisors (the  small front teeth - 6 upper and 6 lower), 4 Canines (the fangs) and 12 premolars and molars. They are missing the first premolar and the last molars, that will eventually develop in the adult dog.
The incisors are located along the front row of teeth, between the canines. Incisors are used in grooming and nibbling activities. The canines are used for tearing in conjunction with the incisors and premolars. The premolars follow the canines on the sides of the jaw; the premolars and eventually the molars are used for heavy chewing.
Adult dogs should have 42 teeth: 12 incisors, 4 canines, 16 premolars and 10 molars (2 on each side of the upper jaw and 3 on each side of the lower jaw). For many breeds, full dentition is an issue, and they may develop fewer adult teeth. Missing premolars are more common, but dogs can fail to develop canines, incisors and molars. For many show dogs and especially in the working breeds, full dentition is a requirement. However, many toy breeds such as the Chinese Crested are notorious for missing teeth, and allowances are made depending on the degree of missing dentition.

How Long Do Puppy Teeth Last?

Understanding the sequence of development of puppy milk teeth can assist you in gauging a puppy’s age. Like most mammals, puppies are born without teeth, and their mothers are grateful for that!

  • At around 3 weeks of age, the incisors begin to erupt.
  • The incisors are followed by the canines at around 4-5 weeks. These new puppy teeth are very sharp and brittle, encouraging the mother to begin weaning her puppies.
  • By 8 weeks the premolar #2 and molars numbers 3 and 4 have appeared.
  • From 8-12 weeks there will be very little change in the puppy’s mouth.
  • As the adult teeth form, the roots of the milk teeth should begin to reabsorb.
Puppy front milk teeth
Eleven week old puppy incisors flanked by the canines.

Side view of puppy canine, premolar and molars.
Eleven week old puppy canine, premolars and molars.
Note the first premolar is missing.

At 12-13 weeks puppy teething begins. The new adult teeth should push out the rootless, deciduous milk teeth, although occasionally puppy teeth are retained. If the puppy teeth do not fall out on their own, they will need to be removed by a veterinarian to prevent them from affecting adult tooth placement and the dog’s bite.
  • Starting around 12 weeks the incisors will begin to be shed and replaced with their adult counterparts.
  • At 4 months the canines (the fangs) will begin to erupt.
  • By 5 months, all of the adult incisors should be in place.
  • The adult premolars and molars come in between 5 and 7 months of age, erupting from the front of the mouth with the premolars to the back with the final molars.
  • By 8 months of age, a puppy should have all of his adult teeth.

5 Indicators of Dog Age By Wear On The Teeth

The condition of a dog’s teeth can be an excellent indicator of his age. However diet, oral care or lack thereof, as well as behavior can affect your ability to properly gauge a dog’s age.
Factors such a antibiotics taken while adult teeth are forming can affect tooth color from the start. Chewing on bones and other hard toys or surfaces or fence fighting can prematurely break teeth. Also a diet based exclusively on soft food can accelerate tartar build up and tooth decay. The following guidelines can give you a reasonably good estimate of the dog’s age given that he has enjoyed a normal diet that includes kibble.
At one year of age the dog’s teeth will be very white. The lower incisors will have ridges on top of them (the cusp) that resemble a fleur de lis design or that of a three leaf clover. (As time progresses, the pattern of the incisor teeth will begin to wear down).

One year old border collie dentition
Note the fleur de lis pattern on the lower teeth
 is clearly evident on the center incisors.
By 2 years old, the dog’s teeth will no longer be as bright white as they were at the start of his first year. Depending on diet and oral care, some yellowing and tartar buildup may have begun on the back molars.
Two year old dog incisors and canine teeth
Incisors of a two year old border collie; the fleur de lis pattern is still 
evident on the center incisors, although it is beginning to wear down.

From 3-5 years of age there will be yellowing on all teeth, tartar will begin to build up on the molars, and the front incisors will begin to show wear. The cusps of the lower front two incisors will begin to grind down and the fleur de lis pattern will begin to erode; by 5 years old half of the ridges of the cusps on the lower incisors will have worn away.

Border Collie incisors and canines
Incisors of a three year old border collie; 
center incisors are beginning to show wear.
  • Incisors of a 5 year old border collie
    Incisors of a 5 year old border collie; note that the 
    center two lower incisors are very worn down.

By seven years of age, the cusps of the lower incisors are worn level and those teeth are substantially short that they were when they erupted. Canines will begin to blunt as well. Without dental intervention, the tartar build up on the molars will appear orange or medium brown.

Border Collie teeth at age 7
Incisors of a 7 year old border collie. Here all lower incisors 
are ground down from contact with the upper incisors. 

At eight years old and beyond, teeth may be broken or missing. Some older dogs (9+) may also experience buildup of gum tissue (Gingival Hyperplasia). In this instance the gums appear swollen above the canines, however it is just a build up of extra gum tissue.

Fooling the Experts With Good Canine Dental Care

While you can't avoid the wear and tear on incisors in a close scissor or level bite, you can affect the health of your dogs teeth and gums with good oral hygiene. Regular brushing with specially formulated canine enzymatic tooth paste can substantially reduce tartar and the yellowing associated with tartar buildup. Crunchy treats such as carrots, raw chicken thighs and chicken feet can massage gums and reduce plaque buildup as well, while fleece tug toys and nylabones can also promote oral health.
Raw Bones Versus Antlers: Raw beef shank bones and marrow bones are delicious for dogs to chew on, but they can easily crack and break teeth.  Naturally shed deer and elk antlers are equally delicious, and they are softer and more porous that marrow bones. The porous aspect of the antler also makes it a better plaque remover.  If your dog loves to chew, an antler will quickly remove most of the tartar on the molars and premolars. Choose the non-split variety for a longer lasting chew and a better value. The upper canines will likely still need scaling.
antlers for good canine dental heath
Elk Antlers make good canine dental care easy.

Buy It Now

If your dog still has plaque buildup after gnawing on a variety of dental toys and chews, your veterinarian can clean his teeth quickly and safely. Check with her to see if she will have any oral health care specials coming up, and plan to take Fido in for a cleaning. His newly rejuvenated pearly white teeth will thank you for it!

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