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Poppy's chipped tooth needs care

Poppy has a broken tooth.

According to Rod, it's the fang on the upper left side of Poppy's mouth. It appears as if about one-quarter inch has broken off the tip of the tooth.

Poppy seems oblivious to the break. The 3-plus-year-old golden retriever is happy and carefree, spending her days in a large back yard and swimming in her pool. One of her favorite activities, along with swimming, is fetching. She is especially fond of tennis balls and sticks of various sizes. But Carla and Rod wonder if they need to be concerned. It certainly appears, according to them, that Poppy does not want them to be concerned.

The tooth Poppy has broken is called a canine tooth, and it is part of the group of teeth called incisors. In humans, these teeth are referred to as eye teeth. To understand the implications of a fractured canine tooth, it is important to first understand the structure of the tooth.

Canine teeth have three main sections: The crown is the area visible above the gum line and covered by enamel, the neck is the area at the gum line and without enamel, and the root is anchored in the jaw bone. The protective layer of the tooth is the enamel, which covers 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.

Because about a quarter inch of the canine tooth is fractured, the protection for the inner portion of the tooth, the pulp, is gone. This exposes the pulp cavity and thus puts the tooth in danger of developing an abscess in the tooth root. This abscess results from the spread of bacteria into the pulp cavity. Once this process starts, it is not curable simply by using antibiotics for the bacterial infection. Something must be done to the tooth.

If the root cavity is intact, in other words, there has been no fracture of the root portion of the tooth, the tooth may be saved by performing a root canal procedure. With this procedure, the pulp cavity is eliminated and replaced with a synthetic paste and then the tooth is sealed. We can further cap the tooth if desired.

If a root canal is not considered possible because of root fracture or for a number of other reasons, the next available treatment becomes tooth extraction. This requires general anesthetic and pain control. Once the tooth is removed, the body will heal the resulting cavity, and the problem is cured.

In Poppy's case, the best course of treatment begins with a visit to her veterinarian, who will outline a diagnostic and therapeutic plan.

I wanted to address one other point. Rod and Carla mentioned Poppy likes to fetch tennis balls. This is something I would not recommend. The outer covering of these balls is very abrasive to a dog's teeth and, over time with chewing, this abrasive material will actually wear off the enamel of the teeth, exposing the pulp cavities and risking tooth root abscesses.

A much better alternative is a ball that is rubber or a reasonable substitute for rubber. I use racquetballs for my dog. These balls are much less abrasive on the teeth and equally fun for you dog to fetch.

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.