When our pets are little, their mouths are little, and they require a little set of teeth. These are the deciduous teeth – sometimes called the primary, baby or milk teeth. They are not designed to last a long time, but they are designed to be used much like their replacement permanent or adult teeth. So, our puppies and kittens have a set of small very sharp deciduous teeth!
As our pets develop and increase in size they will effectively outgrow this set of teeth and the deciduous teeth should predictably lose their roots and fall out. For our pets this happens between 4 and 6 months of age. When this happens, they are quickly replaced by permanent teeth, that are designed to see your pet through the rest of their life. Sometimes however the deciduous teeth won’t budge, and they remain, causing problems.
If the deciduous tooth is present whilst the permanent tooth has erupted we then describe it as persistent or retained. These persistent deciduous teeth can lead to a couple of issues.
- A malocclusion – teeth being in the wrong position. This can lead to trauma in the mouth which is painful.
- Periodontal disease – due to the permanent and persistent deciduous tooth being too close together.
When deciduous teeth become persistent, we may need to extract these “little” teeth to prevent big problems. Surprisingly, they are not necessarily very small once you start dealing with their roots. A precise and careful approach is required when removing these teeth so as not to damage the still developing adult teeth within the jaw.
If puppies or kittens experience persistent deciduous teeth (especially the canine teeth) it is prudent to intervene as soon as this is detected, watching and waiting is not generally recommended. Failure to act in a timely manner can have a dramatic impact on the position of the permanent teeth and result in the need for far more invasive and costly interventions later. Even a delay of 2 weeks can be the difference between no problem and ongoing problems.