Retained puppy teeth are baby teeth which are still hanging on after the adult tooth has erupted. If the adult tooth has pushed the baby tooth out of the way and is in the correct position, it is of little concern. However, sometimes a stubborn baby tooth causes the adult tooth to come in in the wrong position, and these baby teeth need to be pulled by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
I hope with this post to save at least one person a future $1000-$2000 vet bill.
Charlies' adult canines came in around 5 months and the baby teeth were not at all lose. Though I had read that I should have them pulled, I called my vet for advice. I explained that the lower canines were coming in "under his tongue" instead of in the correct place (occupied by the baby canines). The vet's office reassured me, "Don't worry about it. If he still has any baby teeth at 7 months we'll want to pull them." Charlie's 7 month birthday was about 6-7 weeks away.
I checked his mouth every day, and within a couple of weeks the upper canines came out. The lower baby teeth were not budging, and the adult teeth were starting to get pretty big. I called the vet back and said that even though they had told me to wait for 7 months of age, that I wanted the lower canines pulled as soon as they could schedule me. It looked like the adult teeth were going to grow into the roof of his mouth. One week later, I had the teeth pulled. This was 2 days before Charlie's 6 month birthday.
When I picked Charlie up, I was told that his adult teeth were pretty far in and that they should have pulled the puppy teeth a couple of weeks earlier. Now they said that if the permanent adult teeth did not move into the right place, they would need to pull them too. I asked if they did any specialty dentistry, or could refer me to a specialist who could do something other than pull the adult teeth. There is fortunately a specialist in my area.
Technically, Charlie has a Class I Malocclusion called base narrow canines. Untreated the teeth dig into the roof of the mouth and make eating painful. Worst case they bore a whole through the thin upper palate into the sinus cavity causing major problems.
Three treatment options exist. 1) Pull the adult teeth. Pros: Inexpensive Cons: the canine teeth have such large roots that they play an important role in the strength of the jaw bone. There is a risk of breaking the jaw while having the extracted or permanently weakening the jaw. 2) Having the teeth ground down and capped so they don't contact the palate (roof of the mouth) Pros: Dog keeps the bone structure in its jaw Cons: $1000-$1200 cost with a 25% failure rate. "Failures" require later pulling the teeth anyway 3) Orthodontics (doggie braces) Pros: High (almost 100%) success rate, dog keeps all his natural teeth Cons: $1500-$2000, only about 100 dog dental specialists in the country
Had I followed my instincts and had these teeth pulled when the adult teeth started coming in, instead of waiting 2-3 more weeks, the adult teeth would have moved into the proper position.
A dog's skeletal system including the jaw grows at a rapid pace between 6-7 months of age. The dental specialist did indicate that the teeth "could" still move outward. I have been trying to "encourage" the teeth to move by having Charlie bite down on rubber toys, towels tied in a knot, and socks stuffed with little rubber balls to put outward pressure on his lower canines. Good news: this week his lower left tooth appears to be moving into the right place. Bad news: the lower right tooth has moved slightly, but is still pressing into his upper gumline. If it doesn't not move out in the next week (7th month birthday) we will be going for an appointment to discuss "doggie braces". Dogs teeth are completely set in the jawbone by 10 months of age.
Sorry this is long-winded, but hopefully I can save someone a very high vet bill and lots of worry by urging you to spend the $80-$100 to pull stubborn baby teeth early.
(Photos with retained teeth taken on Dec 5. Photo after having teeth pulled taken on Dec 26.)