Sometimes, dogs can chew something so hard, or suffer a traumatic injury, that one of their teeth breaks. Today, our Santa Cruz County vets will discuss fractured teeth in dogs, how they happen, and what you can do to help.
How can dogs break their teeth?
Fractured teeth are frequent in dogs and can be caused by external trauma (for example, being hit by a car or an item) or chewing on hard objects such as antlers, bones, or other hard, non-bending chew toys. The canine (fang) teeth and the massive upper pointed cheek teeth in the back of the mouth are the most commonly broken in a dog.
Are broken teeth a problem for dogs?
Yes, it is. Infected material fills the inside of the tooth, eventually trickling into the jaw through the holes in the tip of the root. Because the bacteria have a haven inside the root canal, the body's immune system, even with antibiotic treatment, is unable to eliminate the infection. Bacteria escaping the apex of the tooth can spread over time, producing local dental pain every time the dog chews and infection in other parts of the body.
What are the signs of a fractured tooth?
Signs to look for include:
- Chewing on one side
- Dropping food from the mouth when eating
- Excessive drooling
- Grinding of teeth
- Pawing at the mouth
- Facial swelling
- Lymph node enlargement
- Shying away when the face is petted
- Refusing to eat hard food
- Refusing to chew on hard treats or toys
If you notice any of these, a trip to the vet for a dental examination might be necessary.
Further, you can examine your dog's teeth (if they allow you) to see if there is a chip or fracture. There are six classifications of tooth fractures in dogs:
- Enamel fracture: A fracture with loss of crown substance confined to the enamel.
- Uncomplicated crown fracture: A fracture of the crown that does not expose the pulp.
- Complicated crown fracture: A fracture of the crown that exposes the pulp.
- Uncomplicated crown-root fracture: A fracture of the crown and root that does not expose the pulp.
- Complicated crown-root fracture: A fracture of the crown and root that exposes the pulp.
- Root fracture: A fracture involving the root of the tooth.
What are some treatment options for fixing broken teeth?
Most broken teeth require treatment to function painlessly. Ignoring the situation will result in the tooth being sensitive and painful. If the nerve is exposed, there are usually two options: root canal therapy or extraction. If the nerve was not exposed, the tooth can be repaired without the need for root canal therapy.
Root Canal: An X-ray of the tooth assesses the surrounding bone and validates the root's integrity. The unhealthy tissue inside the root canal is removed during a root canal. To prevent further bacterial infection and save the tooth, instruments are used to clean, disinfect, and fill the root canal. The long-term outcomes of root canal therapy are generally excellent.
Vital Pulp Therapy: In younger dogs (under 18 months), vital pulp therapy may be used on freshly broken teeth. To eliminate surface microorganisms and inflammatory tissue, a layer of pulp is removed. To promote healing, a medicated dressing is applied to the newly exposed pulp. Teeth treated with this method may require root canal therapy in the future.
Tooth Extraction: The other option is to extract damaged teeth. However, most veterinarians attempt to avoid extracting cracked but otherwise healthy teeth. The removal of huge canine and chewing teeth requires oral surgery, similar to the removal of impacted wisdom teeth in human patients.
How can I prevent my dog from fracturing teeth?
Examine your dog's chew toys and snacks. Remove all bones, antlers, cow hoofs, nylon chews, and pizzle sticks from the house. Throw away any chews or toys that are difficult to bend. Inquire with your veterinarian or check for items bearing the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC.org) seal of approval.