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the terrible tooths: toy breeds and dental disease

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan


Good things really do come in small packages, as evidenced by lovable toy breed dogs.  Whether they’re found riding in style in your handbag or strutting their stuff on-leash, there are no two ways about it – toy breed dogs bring a smile to all but the most hardened of folks.
  

But there’s one trouble spot for toy breed dogs: their mouths. You see, toy breed dogs have some unique problems when it comes to dental health, and one kiss from one of these little angels will alert you to the first clue of dental disease: halitosis (or stinky breath).

Toy breed dogs, like Chihuahuas, Toy Poodles, Brussels Griffons, and Yorkies (just to name a few) may have big personalities, but they have tiny mouths. Yet, their teeth, when compared to their bigger doggy friends, are relatively large. This makes for a very, very crowded mouth, which in turn puts our toy friends at a disadvantage from the get go. 

When all of those teeth are crowded into a small space, there are more crevices in which tartar can build up, leading to gum and periodontal disease.  And all those large teeth don’t leave very much room for bone between the roots of the teeth, so even mild periodontal disease can have devastating effects. 

As if their mouths weren’t crowded enough to begin with, toy breed dogs are also prone to having persistent deciduous teeth.  Now, that’s just a fancy way of saying that their baby teeth don’t like to always fall out the way they should.  While this can be a relatively common occurrence in the canine teeth of all breeds, in toy breed dogs, any tooth is fair game.  So, take an already crowded mouth and add in several more baby teeth that never fell out, and you’ve got a grill of shark-like proportions!

Toy breed dogs are also prone to deformed permanent teeth. Abnormally shaped crowns or roots exacerbate the buildup of tartar and periodontal disease.  When tooth roots are malformed, it is very common to have endodontic disease (or disease in the jaw bone surrounding the roots).

In addition to all of the other problems I’ve listed, toy breed dogs are also prone to dental malocculsions.  In fact, some of them are actually built to have them!  Take, for instance, a Shih Tzu.  These elegant dogs are bred to have a Class III malocclusion, where the lower jaw is longer than the upper jaw.  Malocclusions result in abnormal tooth-to-tooth or tooth-to-gum contact, which can be both uncomfortable and lead to dental disease.

If you have a toy breed dog, or are considering getting one, keep in mind that they are particularly prone to dental issues.  Make sure your veterinarian does a thorough oral exam at each puppy and adult visit to keep an eye on emerging problems.  And be sure to practice good oral health routines at home.  Though you can’t influence whether your toy breed dog’s baby teeth are going to be retained or not, you can help keep your pet’s crowded mouth clean by brushing daily.  Dental chews, dental wipes, and water additives are all tools that should be in your arsenal, too!  Ask your vet for a list of his or her favorite products to keep your tiny tot’s teeth in tip top shape!

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Chris AshtonCo-Founder and Co-CEO of Petplan Pet Insurance
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