You might think your dog’s teeth are a lot stronger than yours, but cracked and fractured teeth in canines is not uncommon. Know what signs to watch out for, and how to prevent problems.
Many people tend to take their dogs’ dental health for granted until a problem arises, such as cracked or fractured teeth. Adult dogs have around 42 permanent teeth, so there are a lot of sites in the mouth where trauma can occur from the actions of chewing, playing or navigating the environment. Let’s start with some dental health basics.
A dog’s tooth has many parts:
Crown — the part of the tooth that is visible above the gumline is called the crown and is the most susceptible to fracture. The crown is coated by a thin layer of enamel, a very hard substance that protects the deeper layers of the tooth.
Dentin — the dentin is comparably as strong as bone, can sense cold, heat and touch, and lies deep under the protective enamel.
Pulp — The central part of the tooth is the pulp, which is composed of blood vessels, connective tissue and nerves. The pulp is the most sensitive component of each tooth.
Root — The root serves to anchor the tooth to the supportive alveolar bone via the periodontal ligament, and is not visible to the naked eye unless there’s been severe trauma or recession of the gingiva (“gums”).
Periodontal ligament – This ligament firmly attaches teeth in their sockets to the underlying alveolar bone (mandible and maxilla).
Gingiva (gums) — The oral cavity is lined by a thin layer of vascular tissue that protects the bone. It’s called the gingiva, and is seen immediately adjacent to all teeth unless disease has caused recession (movement away from the teeth or bone) or trauma has torn it free.
Cusps — The tips of each tooth, which come to a rounded or sharp point, are called the cusps.
Common causes of tooth fracture
Dogs like to explore the world with their mouths, and use their tongues and teeth to pick up various objects. Common tooth fracture causes include:
Chewing on hard objects: Almost any hard object can lead to fractured teeth.
Aggressive chewing and tugging: Dogs with aggressive chewing habits and those that tug on toys are more prone to tooth trauma.
Blunt trauma — Most dogs like to run and play and can incur blunt trauma to their teeth from slamming into stationary objects or catching toys. Being hit by a car, kicked by a horse and other injuries can also result in tooth damage.
What to Expect – Dog Tooth Extraction
The stars of Pet of the Month for June are Rolo and Loki. These two rambunctious chocolate Labrador puppies were born in March 5 days apart, and as puppies do, they are into mischief and shenanigans. Both of them broke upper deciduous (baby) canine teeth and needed to have them extracted.
At one of Rolo’s first puppy visits, his owners described him as being a ‘land shark’ as he was getting into everything and chewing on items in the house. Dr. Robin Riedinger discussed normal puppy behavior and trying to ensure that he had puppy appropriate items to chew on. However, puppies explore their world by picking up items, and let’s be honest, some of what they get into is fun and or tasty! It can be challenging to monitor them and it takes lots of practice to teach them what is off limits. Late in May the family noticed that Rolo had broken his upper left canine tooth.
Loki was first seen by Dr. Adrian Nevill at Hawthorne Hills Veterinary Hospital when he was just about 11 weeks of age. During the exam she noticed Loki had already broken an upper canine tooth. His owner mentioned that he like eating rocks in the back yard and she thought the tooth broke a week before. Besides, being too hard to chew on, rocks present a much bigger concern if they are swallowed as some will get trapped in the intestinal tract and lead to obstructions requiring surgery to remove.
Teeth can be damaged, worn, cracked or broken in a variety of ways. Dental specialists advise that anything harder than what you can indent with your fingernail is too hard for your dog to be chewing on. That means rocks, cow hooves, bones, antlers, patio furniture and hard dog chew toys among others, can be problematic. The fact is, a lot of dogs, especially young puppies enjoy chewing on those items and certainly don’t take into consideration the risks of breaking a tooth! Teeth can also be damaged during rough play with another dog, catching a hard object/ball in their mouth, and different types of blunt force injuries.
If a tooth is broken, does it always need to be extracted? Depends. Veterinarians take into consideration a number of factors – which tooth, where is the damage on the tooth, is the pulp exposed, is there risk for infection, can the tooth be repaired with a root canal procedure? A small chip at the end of the tooth crown might pose cosmetic issues for a person, but that type of injury may not be an issue for a dog. However, anytime the pulp cavity, the internal structure of the tooth, is exposed, the tooth either needs to be repaired or extracted. This type of injury is very painful and will eventually lead to infection up in the bone.
Dental radiographs are needed to determine the best treatment plan. Age also can be a factor in deciding what to do; in puppies, they will be losing their deciduous teeth. So sometimes, if the injury is close to the time that the baby tooth is going to be shed normally (adult canine teeth come in about 5-6 months of age), then we might wait for the baby tooth to fall out normally. However, for Loki & Rolo, because their damaged teeth had open pulp canals and because of their young age, we elected to proceed with extractions.
In early June, both Loki & Rolo came in on the same day for their procedures. Surprisingly, Rolo had broken his other upper canine tooth so he had two teeth extracted that day! Both puppies did well with their anesthesia and recovered quickly. Extracting the damaged teeth removed a source of pain, potential infection affecting the developing adult teeth and ensured they were back able to lead happy puppy lives.