Poppy is a 3-year-old golden retriever living a happy and carefree life according to caretakers Rod and Carla. She spends her days in a large back yard and especially enjoys her swimming pool. Another favorite activity is fetching. She is especially fond of tennis balls and sticks of various sizes. Recently, Rod and Carla noticed that Poppy has a broken tooth.
A few hours after some stick fetching, Rod noticed that Poppy was missing part of a tooth. He described a broken fang on the upper left side of her mouth. When comparing with the right side, it appeared as if about a quarter of an inch had broken off the tip of the tooth. Poppy seems to be oblivious to the break, showing no signs of problems. Carla and Rod question whether they need to be concerned since Poppy does not to be.
The tooth Poppy has broken is called a canine tooth, part of group called incisors. To understand the implications of a fractured canine tooth, it is important to first understand the structure.
The canine tooth, like all of Poppy’s teeth, has three main sections: the crown which is the area visible above the gum line and covered by enamel, the neck which is the area at the gum line and without enamel and the root which is anchored in the jaw bone. The protective layer of the tooth is the enamel covering over the crown. If the enamel layer is compromised, the tooth can be at risk for developing disease. This is precisely my concern in Poppy’s case.
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Since Poppy has fractured off about a quarter inch of the canine tooth, the protection for the inner portion of the tooth, the pulp, is gone. This exposes the pulp cavity and puts the tooth in danger of developing an abscess in its root. An abscess results from the spread of bacteria into the pulp cavity. Once the process starts, it is not curable with antibiotics. Something must be done to the tooth itself.
If the root cavity is intact, the tooth may be saved by performing a root canal. With this procedure, the pulp cavity is eliminated and replaced with a synthetic paste and then the tooth is sealed. We can take the further step of capping the tooth as well, if desired.
If a root canal is not possible because of root fracture or other reasons, the next available treatment is tooth extraction. Like a root canal, this requires general anesthetic for the patient along with pain control. Once the tooth is removed, the body will heal the cavity left behind and the problem is cured.
In Poppy’s case, the best course of treatment begins with a visit to her veterinarian. A diagnostic and therapeutic plan can be outlined.
I did want to address one other point brought up by Rod and Carla. In their letter, they mentioned that Poppy likes to fetch tennis balls. This is not something I would recommend. The outer covering of tennis balls is very abrasive to a dog’s teeth and over time with chewing, this abrasive material will actually wear off the tooth enamel, exposing the pulp cavities and risking root abscesses. A better alternative is a rubber ball or something similar. I use racket balls for my dog, which is much less abrasive on the teeth and equally fun for fetching.
Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.