A broken tooth is a very common occurrence in dogs and cats. A fracture of a tooth is most common in the canine (fang) and upper fourth premolars of dogs and the canine of cats. A fractured tooth can occur due to acute trauma from being hit by a car or baseball ball bat or chronic trauma from chewing on bones or hard objects. The fracture can often be visible on direct examination, but also can be covered by tartar and calculus and only become evident when the teeth are cleaned.
A fractured tooth can invade the endodontic structures of the tooth that contain the blood vessels and nerves of the tooth. This is a very painful condition for dogs and cats. Dogs and cats will often hide their pain and owners may ignore the problem because “it doesn’t seem to bother him.” Many times an owner will not realize their pet is in pain until the problem is fixed and the pet acts years younger.
Besides being painful, the exposed root is also vulnerable to bacteria from the mouth, which can leak and infect the bone and surrounding tissues. This infection can cause an abscess that is visible as a draining tract outside the mouth. The bacteria can securely hide inside the root and the body’s immune system is unable to clear it up even with antibiotic treatment. The bacteria can also spread throughout other parts of the body, especially the liver and kidneys.
There are only two options to treat a broken tooth. The first is endodontic therapy. Endodontic therapy has the advantage of being less painful and keeps the chewing function of the tooth. The infected pulp is removed and the canal is filled with medication to discourage future bacterial contamination. A vital pulpotomyis a related endodontic procedure that is performed in animals younger than 18 months and keeps the tooth alive. Overall, the results of endodontic treatment are excellent when performed by an experienced dental specialist.
The other option for a broken tooth is extraction of the tooth. There are occasions when this is the best treatment option. However, a veterinarian will often try to avoid this procedure due to the loss of tooth function and unnecessary risks. An extraction is also a very painful treatment, similar to an extraction of wisdom teeth in people.
Most importantly, ignoring the problem is not a good solution when dealing with a broken tooth. This is a painful condition that can cause infection to spread throughout the body. Correcting the broken tooth, by either endodontic treatment or extraction, will allow your pet to be more comfortable and have a healthier life.