My Dog Has A Broken Tooth. What Should I Do?
A broken or injured tooth is very common in dogs. It could be a result of trauma or from chewing on hard items. If your dog breaks a tooth, seeking medical care quickly is very important. There may still be a chance to save the tooth or at least have the tooth extracted without causing additional stress and pain to your pet. Continue reading to learn more about caring for your dog’s broken tooth.
Quick Facts About Broken Teeth in Dogs
In dogs, the maxillary fourth premolars (the large upper cheek teeth in the back) and the canines (fangs) are the most common teeth to break. Chewing on hard toys such as nylon bones, antlers, or even ice can break premolars. As a rule of thumb, if your dog’s toy is harder than your fingernail, it is generally too hard for your dog’s teeth. Before offering a chew toy to your dog, make sure it’s ‘teeth-friendly’.
Fractured teeth in dogs should not be taken lightly. When the enamel is chipped, the dentin is exposed, making the tooth extra sensitive to heat, cold, and pressure. The problem is more serious when it’s the pulp that’s exposed. The pulp of a tooth is composed of tissues including the nerves and blood vessels that supply the tooth. When it’s exposed to the immediate environment of the mouth, the pulp can easily become infected. Bacteria from the mouth can enter the pulp cavity. As the bacteria invade the root canal, they have found a hiding place where they remain undetected by the body’s immune system. Sometimes, bacteria in the root canal cannot be cleared by the immune system or even with a round of antibiotics.
Affected dogs suffer from tooth pain when chewing. Bacterial pathogens responsible for tooth infection can enter the bloodstream and reach other parts of the body where they can also establish infection.
Repairing A Broken Tooth: What are the options?
When your dog has a broken tooth, you should make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. Before any dental procedure is performed, your vet will thoroughly examine your dog’s mouth to determine what treatment options are best.
Even when the primary concern is a broken tooth, your dog’s history - medications that your pet is taking, dental history, and details about when/how the fracture occurred - will be obtained. Your pet’s vitals - temperature, pulse, respiratory rate - will also be evaluated before a mouth exam is performed.
When a dog is brought in for a broken tooth or other forms of dental problems, the primary goal is to save the tooth and its function, as much as possible. There are three dental procedures that can be performed to repair a fractured tooth with exposed pulp.
1. Root Canal Therapy
After assessing your pet’s dental condition, your vet will decide if a root canal is the best option. This is a procedure that will preserve root function by removing the blood and nerve supply in the pulp cavity and replacing these tissues with an inert dental material. To seal the pulp chamber, a sealant is placed over the tooth to prevent the entry of bacteria.
Your dog will be placed under general anesthesia for root canal therapy. If you have any concerns or questions about the potential risks and effects of anesthesia, don’t hesitate to discuss them with your vet.
If the same tooth has a higher risk of being fractured again, there may be a need to place a crown. Your vet will discuss this option along with the main procedure. The placement of the crown will require another session with general anesthesia because it will be placed over the tooth about 3-4 weeks after root canal therapy.
After the procedure, your dog can go home and engage in normal activities the day after. One year after root canal therapy, your vet may schedule a follow-up so dental x-rays can be done to make sure the procedure was successful. The success rate of root canal therapy is very high at 90-95%!
2. Vital Pulpotomy (Vital Pulp Therapy)
A vital pulpotomy is often indicated in puppies under 18 months of age instead of a root canal. The teeth of puppies are still developing and not fully formed, making them unfit to undergo a root canal procedure.
Just like root canal therapy, a vital pulpotomy is aimed at preserving tooth function while allowing the tooth to become fully developed and mature so it will be stronger.
A vital pulpotomy involves removing the part of the pulp that’s infected, followed by inserting a sterile medicated dressing on the exposed pulp to promote healing. A dental composite is placed on top of the medicated dressing to serve as a protective barrier.
Follow-up dental x-rays are very important to ensure that the procedure was a success and the tooth is developing as it should. Compared to a root canal procedure, the success rate of a vital pulpotomy is slightly lower at 75%.
Teeth that have undergone vital pulpotomy may require root canal treatment in the future when the dog is older.
3. Tooth Extraction
If the fractured tooth has exposed pulp, extraction is almost always the last option. Extractions on fractured teeth are usually performed if dental x-rays show signs that a root canal procedure may not be successful. This is especially true when the root has been broken or there is tooth resorption.
Extracting the tooth takes a lesser amount of time compared to a root canal or vital pulpotomy. With extraction, the entire tooth is removed. After tooth extraction, your pet will have to be placed on a soft food diet for at least two weeks to give time for the mouth and the associated tissues to heal. But dogs that underwent a root canal or vital pulpotomy can go back to eating kibble immediately after any of these procedures.
Most veterinarians don’t require your dog to come back for follow-up dental x-rays, but you should not skip or keep on postponing your pet’s annual dental visits to keep your pet’s pearly whites and mouth healthy.
General Anesthesia for Your Dog’s Dental Procedure
In order to perform any of the three dental procedures, your pet has to be placed under general anesthesia. It will also allow your vet to perform a thorough oral exam and take dental x-rays without causing undue stress and pain to your pet.
If you have any apprehensions about your dog while he’s under anesthesia, take note that there will be close monitoring of the patient throughout the procedure. All your pet’s vital signs, such as the heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, body temperature, oxygen saturation, and end-tidal CO2 are always monitored by members of the veterinary team.
If you still have other questions about the procedure, effects of anesthesia, and aftercare, don’t hesitate to discuss these concerns with your vet.
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