What Do Dogs Use Their Front Teeth For?

A dog’s mouth is typically composed of four types of teeth: incisor, canine, premolar and molar, for a total of 42 teeth. In certain breeds, however, there may be a slight variation in the number of teeth. The front teeth include a total of 12 incisors and four large canine teeth. In a normal scissor bite, the upper incisors overlap the lower incisors, while the lower canines lie comfortably between the upper lateral incisors and upper canines. Incisor and canine teeth are generally present in all dogs regardless of the breed because they help carry out a vast array of tasks and are necessary for survival.

Front Teeth For Dogs Are Necessary


The incisor teeth are often used to help a dog groom himself and groom other dogs. In the wild, canines tend to groom each other as a part of their normal social interactions. The incisors may be used in the same manner as a comb to remove burrs and fleas from the fur or for scratching should there be an itch. The small nibbles that dogs give one another when grooming also help stimulate the skin and have a calming effect, according to Dee Ganley, a canine behaviour consultant in East Andover, New Hampshire.


A dog’s incisor and canine teeth come in handy in getting a hold of items. Both incisors and canine teeth indeed are often used together for grasping food and toys, explains Stephen Juriga, a board-certified veterinary dentist practising in Oswego, Illinois. A mother dog also uses these front teeth to delicately transport a puppy by its scruff from place to another.


Incisors are often used for the delicate task of tearing small bits of meat from a bone. One of the primary functions of the four canine teeth, on the other hand, is to puncture the flesh of prey; indeed, their overlapping structure combined with jaw strength, helps prevent prey animals from pulling free, according to C.A. Sharp, a science writer and an internationally recognized expert on canine genetics and hereditary diseases.

Maternal Care

The front teeth may play an important role in the successful whelping of puppies. Because mother dogs use the incisors to tear open the placenta and their canine teeth to sever the umbilical cord, it is important for them to have correct tooth placement, according to the Federacion Cynologica Internacional’s 1993 breed Standard for the Saint Bernard Dog.


Upon feeling threatened, many dogs will lift their lips and expose their front teeth to manifest their intent to use aggression possibly. This manifestation is known as a snarl and should not be confused with a submissive grin. If threatened enough, some dogs will also deliver a bite, which will involve for the most part the front teeth. However, this is not always the case; indeed, dogs trained in K9 units or in Schutzhund tend to use a “full mouth bite,” which includes the molars and premolars behind the canine teeth, further explains C.A. Sharp.

Types of Dog Teeth

Dogs, like humans, have two sets of teeth during their lifetimes: a deciduous set of 28 teeth and a permanent set of 42 teeth. The deciduous set of teeth – also known as baby teeth, puppy teeth, or milk teeth – are replaced by the permanent set at about seven months of age for most dogs. Dogs have four types of teeth: incisors, canines, premolars and molars. Only the permanent set of teeth includes molars.


Incisors are the small, spade-shaped front teeth in the front of the upper and lower jaws. Both the deciduous and permanent teeth include a total of 12 incisors, six per jaw. Dogs use their incisors for nibbling and pulling.


Perhaps the most recognizable type of dog’s teeth are the appropriately-named canines. Canines are the long, pointed fangs on the outsides of the incisors. Both the deciduous and permanent teeth include a total of four canines, two per jaw. Dogs use their canines for puncturing, clamping and ripping.


Premolars are slightly flattened, pointed teeth behind the canines. The tops of premolars have two or three points. The deciduous teeth include a total of 12 premolars, six per jaw. The permanent teeth include a total of 16 premolars, eight per jaw. Dogs use their premolars for tearing and shearing.


Molars are larger, thicker versions of premolars with slightly crowned tops. There are no deciduous molars. There are 10 permanent molars, four in the upper jaw and six in the lower jaw. Dogs use their molars for crushing and cracking bones.

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