Can Pets Live Without Teeth?

We took our dog Toby (mixed Yorkie) to the vet today to have his teeth cleaned. We had to leave him for the day. They...


Dear Dr. Barchas,

We took our dog Toby (a Yorkie mix) to the vet today to have his teeth cleaned. We had to leave him for the day. They pulled 11 teeth; mostly the front ones. I am concerned that he will have problems eating or playing ball, which he loves to do. Have we shortened our dog’s life by having that many teeth pulled?

Winder, PA

I certainly realize how shocking it can be to learn that your pet has lost such a large number of teeth. However, it is extremely unlikely that you have shortened Toby’s life through such extensive dental work. In fact, it is very likely that the opposite is true–he almost certainly will live longer as a result of the dental work.

That seems counterintuitive. After all, pets use their teeth and mouth for many functions that humans perform with our hands. So how can it be beneficial to lose teeth?

Of course, it is not beneficial to lose healthy teeth. However, vets don’t pull healthy teeth. In most cases, teeth that are extracted are so severely diseased that they no longer are functional. They may be too loose to be useful. They may be infected or have exposed nerves that cause intense pain. There is very little chance that Toby was using any of the teeth that were pulled. Therefore, the loss of the teeth should not interfere with his ability to eat or play ball.

Although Toby most certainly would have been better off keeping 11 healthy teeth, the extraction of 11 severely diseased teeth will benefit his health dramatically in the long run.

The key for the future is to try to prevent such serious disease from developing on other teeth. The best way to prevent dental disease in pets is to brush their teeth daily with a soft-bristled toothbrush and veterinary toothpaste (don’t ever use human toothpaste). However, remember that heredity plays a role in dental disease. There is a chance that no matter how careful you are, Toby will need more dental work in the future.

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