Enamel, the strongest substance in the body, normally develops on a puppy's permanent teeth when he's between the ages of 2 and 3 months. That's before the teeth have erupted, which doesn't start happening until the puppy is 3 months old. Those permanent teeth should be sparkling white -- if they're not, your puppy might be suffering from enamel hypocalcification, or areas without enamel.
If your puppy's suffering from enamel hypocalcification, the evidence is in his mouth. His permanent teeth exhibit irregular enamel, with the teeth appearing pitted and discolored. You might see the the light brown, underlying dentin. Besides the discoloration, you might notice food particles, tartar buildup and calcium deposits on the teeth. Hypocalcification doesn't necessarily affect all of his teeth.
Puppies with no or little dental enamel were once described as having "distemper teeth," since suffering from the disease before the permanent teeth erupted results in this condition. Distemper isn't the only cause -- any high fever before the permanent teeth come in will affect the enamel. Certain hereditary disorders, such as dentinogenesis imperfecta, affect the enamel on the baby and permanent teeth.
Your vet might refer your puppy to a veterinary dentistry specialist for treatment. Your puppy's teeth will be cleaned and X-rays will be taken, and each tooth evaluated. "Shell" teeth, those with little root structure, might be extracted. The vet likely will remove the stains and calcification on each tooth, then smooth out rough areas with bonding or crowns. Your vet likely will instruct you on regular tooth care for your dog, including regular brushing. Your puppy must avoid hard chewing toys, as these can damage teeth with any missing enamel.
Make sure your female dog is up-to-date on vaccinations before she is bred. Puppies receive their first shots at the age of 6 weeks, including one for the distemper virus. They'll need a two more booster shots by the age of 4 months. If your puppy does contract distemper, tooth enamel is among the least of your worries. Puppies who survive a bout of distemper might suffer permanent brain damage.
By Jane Meggitt
About the Author
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.