Obviously, "fractured teeth" are teeth that are broken in some part or fashion. Fractured teeth are not uncommon in domestic dogs. Teeth are tough, but rock chewing and trauma can chip or otherwise fracture canine teeth.
How Fractured Teeth Affect Dogs
A dog's canine tooth has a very long root below the gum line. Infections of the teeth of the upper arcade can extend deep into underlying tissues, and can even infect the nasal cavities that lie directly above. Nasal discharge, sneezing and even a "bloody nose" can occur. Affected teeth, whether in the upper or lower arcade, may fall out or need to be extracted after being fractured. Fractured teeth normally cause significant pain in dogs. They may drool excessively, chew on the side of their mouth away from the fractured tooth, shake their head, rub their face with their paws, and perhaps have a reduced appetite or change in general attitude. Not all dogs show obvious signs of discomfort from a fractured tooth.
Causes of Fractured Teeth in Dogs
Tooth fractures are caused either by trauma or by chewing rocks, wire fences, cages or other hard objects. Inside each tooth is a passage-way called the "pulp canal." A tooth fracture may only involve the outer tooth layers (enamel and dentin), but if a break results in loss of the crown of the tooth or goes deeper, the pulp canal can be left open to the mouth and provide an entry point for bacteria. Bacteria from the oral cavity can travel through the opened pulp canal to the tooth root, and from there can gain entry into the surrounding tissues and blood vessels. Through circulation, bacteria can travel throughout the body and cause systemic infection. Usually, however, they remain locally and cause infection in and abscess of the tooth root. If a local infection occurs, or if a heavy impact led to the tooth fracture, the tooth often will lose vitality and die. When a tooth "dies", its normal white color will turn a dull grayish-brown. Once this happens, the tooth normally is no longer painful for the dog.
Preventing Fractured Teeth in Dogs
Dogs normally only fracture their teeth by chewing on something hard or having trauma to their face. Prevention of fractured teeth requires preventing these predisposing causes.
If you notice a fractured tooth in your dog's mouth, please seek veterinary advice. If only a small tooth tip is lost, sometimes a filling of amalgam or acrylic can be used to restore or cap the tooth crown. Metal may be chosen since it withstands canine wear and tear. Sometimes, the tooth can be saved by a root canal. If the tooth is just chipped on the outer surface, your veterinarian may use a dental bur or sander to smooth the sharp margins so that the ragged tooth edges do not cut the dog's tongue.
Dogs handle pain much differently than humans do, so often times fractured teeth will go unnoticed for years. Symptoms of a fractured tooth may not be obvious until the tooth is causing severe pain or infections throughout the body. This is yet another reason why it is so important to periodically check the health of your dog's teeth and gums.
A fractured tooth in dogs can occur after a traumatic injury to the head, or a tooth can fracture if the dog is chewing on something particularly hard, or if the tooth has just decayed over time and has finally reached the breaking point. Once a tooth is fractured, the break in the tooth paves the way for bacteria to enter the tooth, the gums, and even the rest of the dog's body, causing serious infections.
Symptoms of Fracture Teeth
The most commonly fractured tooth in dogs is the canine tooth followed by the upper fourth molar; the upper fourth molar is the largest tooth in the back on the top of the dog's mouth. Symptoms that may appear include a swollen jaw, an obvious fracture in the tooth that can be seen, or an abscess on the gums that noticeably swells. Infections caused by fractured teeth can lead to lethargy, the inability to eat, overall feelings of malaise, and irritability.
Fractured teeth need to removed or repaired as quickly as possible to prevent further infections from developing. As part of your dog's yearly check-up, ask the veterinarian to check the dog's teeth. At home, periodically lift the lips and look around the dog's teeth and gums to ensure that you do not miss an impending infection, or abscess, caused by a fractured tooth.
Dogs can fracture their teeth in a multitude of ways from a variety of different situations: chewing bones or other hard items, car accidents, face trauma from a Frisbee, baseball bat, or other structure. Though your dog may not be exhibiting signs of distress, a fractured tooth can be quite painful and should be treated to relieve your dog's suffering and prevent abscesses or improper nutrition due to pain while eating.
Treatment Depends on the Severity of the Fracture
Treatment depends on the type and scope of the fracture. The determining factor is if the fracture has cut into the pulp canal, which is the chamber that houses the pulp tissue, blood vessels and nerves. If just the enamel is fractured, and the dentin is only exposed treatment is less extensive. In these cases, since the fracture does not reach into the pulp canal, smoothing rough enamel edges and applying a bonding agent to seal the tooth should be sufficient.
A fracture that cuts through the enamel and dentin, down to the pulp is an emergency situation. This is because the nerves are exposed, meaning your pet is in intense pain, and also at risk for a serious infection. Baby teeth (primary teeth) will usually be extracted. Permanent teeth will probably require a root canal. Just like humans, dogs can get metal crowns or caps following the root canal procedure.
A fractured tooth can lead to more serious problems if left untreated. Please consult your veterinarian if your dog has any injuries to the mouth to determine what actions should be taken.