Durable chew toys are a must for those “power chewers”—the dogs with jaws of steel that can demolish a stuffed toy in mere moments. In an attempt to avoid blowing your pet budget on flimsy toys, you turn to antlers, bones, and hooves to provide hours of entertainment to your strong-jawed pooch. But, are these safe for your dog?
All too often, we see dogs come in with fractured teeth. Although not quite as common, cats can also experience broken teeth. Even if your pet has broken a tooth, you may not be aware of it until it’s discovered during an annual wellness examination, because animals are masters at hiding signs of pain. We recommend periodically checking your pet’s mouth at home—ideally during tooth brushing sessions—so you can catch a potential dental problem early.
How do pets fracture their teeth?
Pets can break their teeth in a variety of ways. In dogs, fractured teeth are usually related to chewing incidents. The large upper premolar, or carnassial tooth, and the back molars suffer the most damage from chewing. Most often, dogs fracture their teeth when chewing on objects that are too hard, such as bones and antlers.
Chewing on wire kennels can also cause teeth to break. If your pet experiences anxiety in her kennel, employ a behavior modification plan armed with appropriate treats and toys, training, and possibly medication, to turn her crate into a positive place.
A dog’s teeth can also be broken due to blunt trauma—a game of frisbee, fetching sticks, hit by a car, etc.
Trauma is also a common root cause of broken teeth (no pun intended) in cats. The upper canines are the most susceptible to fractures. When a cat jumps down from a high object, she may hit her head even if she lands on her feet. Absorbing the shock from landing, the front legs crouch down significantly, thus lowering the head, which may strike the ground, shattering the tips of the canines upon impact.
In addition to trauma, cats can suffer broken teeth due to a feline-specific dental disease called feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs). Not entirely understood, this disease creates painful craters in the enamel, weakening the teeth. Beginning with the lower premolars and molars, these lesions spread to the canines and upper premolars. Extraction of these damaged teeth is usually required, since they will continue to resorb and cause fractures and chronic pain.
Will my pet show signs of pain with a fractured tooth?
At the time of the break, your pet may yelp in pain, especially if the tooth pulp and nerve are exposed. This exposed pulp attracts bacteria, and the subsequent infection will kill off the pulp, which decreases the pain. But, the infection spreads to your pet’s jawbone and organs, creating widespread damage. At this point, your pet may not show signs of pain. Instead, you may notice your pet:
- Refusing dry kibble or crunchy treats
- Chewing on one side of the mouth
- Eating less
- Having a swollen lump under the eye (indicates an oral abscess)
How are fractured teeth treated?
To determine the extent of the fracture and the degree of severity, dental X-rays must be taken. X-rays allow us to see just how far the break extends down the tooth, and whether the roots or jawbone are affected. Depending on the type of fracture and the age of your pet, treatment will vary. Sometimes, the tooth can be smoothed and coated with resin to prevent further damage or infection. On other occasions, extraction may be necessary.
Treatment options include:
- Root canal
- Vital pulpotomy therapy with pulp capping
- Resin bonding
How are fractured teeth prevented?
Most fractures can be prevented, except for those caused by resorptive disease in cats. Some tips:
- Avoid toys and treats that are too tough for you to bend. Find safe dental chews and products for dogs and cats that have been approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) at org.
- Limit games of fetch with sticks and frisbees.
- Always keep your pet well away from moving vehicles.
- Sneak a peek in your pet’s mouth regularly and check for any signs of discolored or oddly-shaped teeth.
- Be sure your pet has a veterinary oral exam at least annually.
Think your pet may have a broken tooth? Is she showing signs of dental pain? Schedule an appointment with us.