Fractured teeth are one of the most common dental problems pets can experience. Broken teeth can be painful for your pet and may expose pulp tissues that can subsequently become infected.
In both cats and dogs, the most commonly broken teeth are the canine teeth or the “fangs.” In dogs, fractures of the large upper pointy cheek teeth in the back of the mouth often occur as well, often because of over-aggressive chewing behavior.
But when is a broken tooth an emergency? And how can we treat it?
What Causes a Broken Tooth?
In most cases, fractured teeth result from pets chewing on objects that are just too hard for their teeth. Cats and dogs evolved as meat eaters, using their teeth to grasp, pull, and hold prey, followed by tearing and chewing meat. They weren’t used to chew bones or hard substances.
Pets can also break teeth as a result of trauma, such as fights with other pets, motor vehicle accidents, or being accidentally hit in the mouth with a hard object.
Signs of a broken tooth include:
- Facial swelling
- Pawing at the mouth
- Chewing on one side
- Excessive drooling
- Shying away when face or muzzle are touched
- Dropping food from the mouth while eating
Are Broken Teeth an Emergency?
In a word, yes. There are varying degrees of broken teeth, some being more urgent than others, but if you notice a fracture, it’s important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. It’s often hard to tell without a thorough exam how extensive the damage is, and it’s best to address the pain and risk of infection immediately. Broken teeth are extremely susceptible to infection because they can fill with bacteria that can spread into the jaw. The body has difficulty clearing these infections, even with antibiotic treatment, since the bacteria have a secure hiding place in the root canal. What’s worse, tooth root infections have the potential to spread to other parts of your pet’s body.
If only the enamel is chipped, your pet might not show any pain due to their ability to hide signs of discomfort. Make no mistake, though, your pet should still be seen as soon as possible, as it’s always better to treat minor issues rather than allow them to progress and worsen.
How Are Broken Teeth Treated?
If your pet has fractured a tooth, please call your primary veterinarian or the team at The COVE right away so the fracture can be assessed and treatment can begin as soon as possible. A consultation with Colleen Fox, DVM, CSAVP Dentistry, can help determine the best course of treatment for your pet.
There are generally three treatment options:
- Root canal therapy: The inside of the tooth is cleaned and filled to prevent future bacterial infection and save the tooth function.
- Vital pulpotomy: This treatment is reserved for patients under 18 months to keep a developing tooth alive.
- Extraction: If saving the tooth is not an option, extraction is recommended to prevent future problems.
All broken teeth need to be treated; a wait-and-see approach is not an option due to the infection risks we mentioned earlier.
How to Prevent Broken Teeth in Pets
The best way to prevent broken teeth in pets is to carefully select soft chew toys that won’t damage teeth. Avoid antlers, cow hooves, bones, nylon bones, and any hard chew toys that don’t bend. If your fingernail doesn’t indent the toy, it’s too hard for your pet. Also, don’t let your pet chew on ice cubes and rocks (yes, it happens!).
When possible, purchase dental chews with the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval, which are safe and effective at removing plaque and tartar from your pet’s teeth.
Our dentistry team at The COVE has extensive experience and specific training in treating tooth fractures in pets. If you have any questions about your pet’s broken tooth, or if you would like to schedule a dental evaluation, please give us a call.