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It’s normal for puppies to lose their primary teeth. For an adult dog, a loose or wiggly tooth can be the result of an injury or a sign of dental disease. And because dental disease takes years to develop, we have an opportunity to intervene and prevent tooth loss, starting with good dental hygiene.

Prevention is the most effective strategy for avoiding dental problems. But if you happen to notice that your dog has a loose tooth, it’s important to consult your veterinarian to ensure that your dog receives timely care. Your vet can offer advice on how to improve your dog’s oral health.

When Do Puppies Lose Their Teeth?

Puppies are born without teeth. When they’re about three weeks old, their baby teeth start to erupt until they reach their full complement of 28 primary teeth (though some puppies have fewer). Typically, by six months of age, puppies will have lost all their primary teeth and end up with 42 adult teeth.

“You might notice your puppy rubbing their face or chewing on things or see a little bit of blood on a toy or in the water bowl,” according to Dr. Amy Attas, VMD. “All can be indications that teeth are in the process of falling out.”

Golden Retriever puppy chewing on a ball laying in a dog bed indoors.
©photology1971 -

How Can You Tell If Your Dog Has a Loose Tooth?

Dogs of all sizes have the same number of teeth. “But the smaller the dog, the more crowded their mouth is,” Dr. Attas explains. Some breeds like the Pug, Pekingese, and Bulldog have shorter snouts, which can make it harder to recognize loose teeth. “Because of that crowding, sometimes a tooth is diseased and wiggling, but you’ll miss it,” she says.

Like us, dogs can bite down the wrong way and fracture their teeth. It’s easier to see a stub or sharp edge if a tooth breaks in half. But when the fracture is close to the gum line, it can be more difficult to detect.

In such cases, you can keep an eye out for the following signs of a loose or wiggly tooth:

  • Tilting their head to one side when eating
  • Only chewing on one side of the mouth
  • Reluctant to play tug-of-war games
  • Not picking up toys with their mouth
  • Preferring canned or home-cooked food to dry food
  • Only eating kibble once it’s softened
Miniature Poodle puppy chewing on a pink ball.
©duncanandison -

“Your dog might think that they’re supposed to feel this way and don’t realize something is wrong,” Dr. Attas says. “Sometimes we don’t even know how uncomfortable they were until we take care of their mouths and find out how much better they feel.”

What Causes Tooth Loss in Dogs?

There are two main reasons that adult dogs lose their teeth. The first is any injury that results from being struck with something hard or chewing something hard, such as sticks and rocks or furniture, Dr. Attas says. The second (and most common) reason for tooth loss in adult dogs is dental disease.

Even though a canine diet contains less sugar than a human diet, dogs can still develop dental tartar and decay. As tartar accumulates and hardens, “this is a perfect environment for bacteria,” she says. Their gums can become inflamed along with the root. Once this happens, the root can decay and cause the tooth to wiggle.

How Can You Prevent Tooth Loss in Dogs?

“Whereas a dog can break a tooth in a millisecond, dental disease takes a very long time to develop,” Dr. Attas says. “If we’re brushing right from the beginning, their teeth are less likely to develop decay. It will happen more slowly and be a less serious case.” Getting your dog comfortable with tooth brushing takes time and patience. Here are some steps to make brushing your dog’s teeth a positive experience:

  1. Start by touching the outside of your dog’s mouth. Praise and reward them with a treat.
  2. Lift the top lip and hold it while you touch the dog’s top teeth and gums without a toothbrush. Then, do the same for the bottom lip, teeth, and gums. Reward them with praise and a treat.
  3. Choose a toothbrush designed for dogs that fits over your index finger, so you can feel how much pressure you’re applying. Touch the brush to your dog’s teeth (front, side, and back) on the bottom and top of their mouths. Make sure they’re comfortable with this step before introducing toothpaste.
  4. Apply a small amount of dog toothpaste on your finger and let your dog sniff and taste it.
  5. Try brushing their top teeth with toothpaste while holding up the upper lip. Praise and reward.
  6. Repeat Step 5, going further back into your pet’s mouth (to the side and the back on the top of the mouth).
  7. Repeat Steps 5 and 6 with the bottom teeth.
Rottweiler getting its teeth brushed outdoors.
©Dogs -

Keep sessions short and frequent. All you need is 30 to 60 seconds. You can brush the right side one day and the left side the next.

Most importantly, your dog must be willing to participate. “If they start to growl or act like they want to bite, it’s inappropriate for you to continue,” Dr. Attas says. You can teach your dog to tolerate or even enjoy tooth brushing, but “you shouldn’t do anything around your dog’s mouth that could lead to you becoming injured,” she adds.

Along with brushing, be careful with toys or chews that can damage your dog’s teeth. While tennis balls are a favorite toy to many dogs, they aren’t the best for theri teeth. “When dogs chew on tennis balls, the nylon fiber files down the dog’s teeth,” Dr. Attas emphasizes. “With harder chews like bones or antlers, there’s always a risk of breaking a tooth.”

How Do You Treat a Wiggly Tooth?

Dental disease is a serious health issue. It’s important to consult your veterinarian if your dog has a loose tooth or any pain or discomfort in their mouth. “If a tooth is diseased, the best way to treat that is to extract it,” Dr. Attas explains. “Adult dogs have 42 teeth. If they’re missing 10 of them, they’re still going to be fine.”

Extracting teeth is not a cosmetic procedure. “If dogs have a mouthful of bacteria and infections present, that bacteria have the potential to go to other parts of the body,” she says. “It doesn’t matter how many teeth need to be extracted. If it’s an unhealthy tooth, we need to get it out of the mouth.” Antibiotics can help treat the infection, but you still need to address the underlying cause, which could be a diseased root or tooth.

One exception to this is working dogs that need to keep their full complement of teeth. If, for example, a police dog fractures their canine tooth, the vet may recommend doing a root canal to save the tooth instead of removing it. “We can do root canals on dogs, but they take much more anesthesia and they’re much more expensive,” she adds.

Are Professional Dental Cleanings Necessary For Dogs?

Mixed breed getting its teeth checked at the vet.
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Even if you brush your dog’s teeth regularly, they still need a professional dental cleaning. “Sometimes people say they can do an anesthesia-free tooth cleaning,” Dr. Attas says. “The only way to do this properly is under general anesthesia.” Your vet will need to X-ray your dog’s mouth to examine the status of the roots. With regular tooth brushing, there will be less buildup of dental tartar (also known as calculus) and your dog won’t need to go to the vet for tooth problems as often. In addition, they’ll spend less time under anesthesia and the procedure will be less expensive.

Dr. Attas says that dogs’ teeth are rarely perfectly white. “The part of the tooth that is closer to the gum line will be a slightly different color because of the accumulation of calculus,” she says. If a tooth is diseased or decayed, blood may pool in the canal underneath and discolor the tooth, making it look grayish or blue in color. “What you see of a tooth is like the tip of the iceberg,” Dr. Attas adds.

If your dog is normally good at having their teeth brushed and now seems uncomfortable, “you can address the problem long before it becomes a wiggly tooth,” she says. She recommends purchasing dental products that have the Veterinary Oral Health Council label to promote good dental health.
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