Just as in humans, teeth are an important part of the Labrador puppy's anatomy. Not only necessary for eating and digestion, they are also a form of protection and can keep the tongue moist. The condition of a puppy's baby or "deciduous" teeth may indicate the overall health of the puppy. Healthy, well-placed teeth often mean a healthy puppy.
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Most veterinarians will check a puppy's teeth every time they examine the puppy. A Labrador puppy will usually develop what is called a "scissors" bite -- the top teeth will closely overlap the bottom teeth. If for some reason the bite is disturbed, the puppy may not be able to chew and digest his food properly. Brown, discoloured teeth may mean that the puppy has had distemper and been treated with antibiotics. Vets will also look for tartar and gingivitis. The early development of these diseases can lead to systemic bacterial infection and even heart disease in the Lab puppy. As the permanent teeth emerge, the vet should also check for retained deciduous teeth -- baby teeth whose roots do not reabsorb and remain in place. These retained teeth can change the conformation of the adolescent Lab mouth and lead to bite disruption and periodontal disease.
Types and Functions
Lab puppies will begin to show their 28 deciduous, or baby, teeth three to four weeks before weaning begins. They have six incisors, two canines and six premolars on both the upper (maxilla) and lower (mandible) jaw. Incisors are found in the middle of the upper and lower jaw and are used for fine gnawing. The canines are the long, pointed teeth on either side of the incisors. They are used for tearing and pulling flesh. The three premolars are behind the canines on all four corners of the mouth and are used for chewing. Labrador puppies will not develop molars until the adult, or permanent, teeth begin to emerge.
The deciduous teeth in a puppy have shorter roots that resorb as the puppy ages and the permanent teeth begin to erupt. A Labrador's incisors and canine teeth are single rooted, and the canine roots are much longer than any others in the mouth. Pre-molars have one to three roots, and the emerging molar teeth will have three roots and be much larger in size.
Puppies are born without teeth, mainly to protect the mother's nipples from nips and bites. Within three to four weeks of birth, the deciduous teeth will start to show. During this time, the Labrador puppy will begin to chew and mouth on his littermates. At about 13 to 16 weeks of age, the mature teeth will begin to erupt, pushing the deciduous teeth out of the mouth. Owners may find these baby teeth on the floor or in dog bedding, but, most often, the puppy simply swallows them. This is no cause for alarm because they easily pass through the digestive system. All 42 adult teeth should be fully erupted by seven to nine months of age.
It is important to remember that, during the teething period, the puppy will chew and mouth on anything they find comfortable to relieve the soreness in their gums. This is particularly true of Labradors, because, as birding dogs, they are bred to have especially sensitive mouths for carrying game without harming the flesh. Vets often recommend that owners provide the growing puppy with a soft, synthetic bone or chew toy to discourage chewing on furniture or shoes. Animal bones are not recommended because beef bones can break the newly emerging adult teeth and chicken or turkey bones will often split apart and send shards into the stomach and intestinal tract.
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