If you are able to recognize the telltale signs of dental or oral problems, you can get your pet the treatment he needs quickly, before complications arise.
Retained deciduous teeth
Just like humans, dogs have deciduous “baby” teeth. Ordinarily, the baby teeth are shed when the dog is between four and six months old, allowing the permanent adult teeth to erupt. However, in some dogs, the deciduous teeth are retained and do not fall out normally.
Unfortunately, retained baby teeth are quite common in dogs, especially in small breeds such as Pomeranians, Yorkshire terriers, and poodles. If the baby teeth are left in situ, they can cause overcrowding. Overcrowded teeth can predispose your dog to developing periodontal disease and other “bite” issues.
Dogs with overcrowded teeth often develop “doggy breath” and localized gingivitis caused by bacteria that readily gather and grow between the teeth. In addition, look out for permanent teeth that have come through as crooked, “double” rows of teeth, and bleeding, reddened gums around some of the baby teeth.
Along with canine periodontal disease, broken or cracked teeth are a common dental problem in pet dogs.
The crown of the tooth comprises three separate parts: enamel, dentin, and pulp.
The tooth enamel forms a hard outer layer, protecting the other structures within the tooth. Dentin lies directly beneath the enamel tooth shell and consists of tubules with nerve endings that radiate outward from the tooth pulp. The pulp itself is a highly sensitive area of living tissue, which contains nerves and blood vessels.
Any form of trauma can damage the tooth; clashing teeth with another dog during play, gnawing on very hard bones or rocks, continually chewing on tennis balls, and chewing at the bars of a kennel are all common causes of tooth damage. If the outer enamel is cracked and the sensitive pulp exposed, your dog will suffer extreme pain, and urgent veterinary treatment is always required.
It is not always easy for owners to recognize that their dog has broken a tooth. Sometimes purple, gray, or pink staining on the tooth surface will indicate that the tooth pulp has bled, causing the dentin to become stained. Black spots on the surface of the affected tooth indicate that the pulp is actually dying. Your dog may appear miserable and sensitive around his mouth, and he may show reluctance to eat or struggle to chew his food.
Your vet will make a definitive diagnosis of a tooth fracture by taking dental radiographs and probing the tooth (under general anesthetic) to establish whether the pulp cavity has been exposed.
There are two primary treatment options for tooth fractures: extraction and (endodontic) root canal treatment.
Tooth root abscess
A tooth root abscess is a severe infection around the base of a tooth root, usually following damage or trauma to the tooth. Bacteria enter the injury site, attacking the tissue and causing inflammation and pain. Tooth root abscesses can also occur as a complication of periodontal disease.
Your dog may have difficulty eating and may begin tipping his head to one side in an attempt to avoid the pain caused by the abscess. As the abscess grows, facial swelling may appear, often around the eye, depending on the proximity of the tooth roots. If your dog will allow you to look inside his mouth, you may see a swelling or red, angry-looking area of the gum.
Your vet will prescribe antibiotics to control the infection, together with analgesics and/or anti-inflammatory drugs to make your dog more comfortable. Treatment will involve either root canal therapy or extraction of the affected tooth root if the surrounding structures are too severely damaged to be saved.
Similar to people, dogs can develop cavities or caries in their teeth. Caries most commonly occur in the flat molar teeth at the back of the dog’s mouth, and are caused by tooth decay. Caries can occur as a complication of long-standing periodontal disease or following trauma where the tooth surface has sustained damage. All breeds can be affected.
As it is mainly the teeth at the back of the dog’s mouth that develop caries, it is difficult for owners to realize that there is a problem. The early signs to look out for include the following:
- foul breath
- tooth discoloration
- behavioral changes such as reluctance to eat and sensitivity around the mouth
If your dog shows any of these signs, consult your vet. Sometimes, the only way to diagnose caries is via veterinary examination under anesthetic.
Where the condition has been left undetected for a long period of time and advanced lesions have developed, root canal treatment or extraction will be required.
However, where decay is superficial, it may be possible to fill or cap the tooth in order to save it.
You can prevent your dog from developing tooth decay by brushing his teeth every day and having his oral health checked regularly by your vet. Also, a proper diet is critically important because caries are caused by excess carbohydrates.
A dog should be able to close his mouth without any tooth causing damage or trauma to the adjacent tissues or teeth. Dogs have a “scissor bite,” where the lower incisor teeth bite just behind the upper ones. In most breeds, the lower row of canine teeth occlude between the corner incisor and the upper canine, and the premolars interdigitate.
In severe cases, tooth extraction may be the only option, but it is preferable not to do this, as it can complicate matters if the teeth are healthy. The ultimate aim of the specialist dental vet is to move the dog’s teeth to a comfortable, functional position. Orthodontic treatment can sometimes involve fitting a brace to the teeth to move them into a more correct and comfortable position.
In pedigree dogs, your vet will probably recommend neutering so that the genetic dental occlusal problems are not passed on to the animal’s offspring.
Canine dental problems
- Many canine dental problems are caused by canine periodontal disease.
- Look out for warning signs of dental problems in your pet, including foul breath, eating problems, and pain.
- Consult your vet right away if you think your dog has dental problems.