Whilst Periodontal Disease (gum disease) is the most common dental problem in dogs, there are many other tooth problems that dogs can get.
It’s important to check your pooch’s teeth regularly, and report any concerns to your vet
Some common problems include broken, discoloured, or loose teeth
Some dogs may still have some deciduous (baby) teeth that do not fall out at the right time and cause problems for the adult teeth coming through
Dogs can also get caries (tooth decay)
This article will help you to learn the signs to look out for, and understand what can be done .
Fractured (broken) teeth are fairly common in dogs as they are constantly using their mouths to bite, chew, carry and catch objects. Tooth fractures can often occur from chewing very hard objects eg. bones or sticks, from trauma such as road traffic accidents, rough playing and from carrying hard objects such as stones or hard balls. If the fracture (break) exposes the pulp (the nerve) this can be extremely painful, and your dog will need veterinary attention. Pulp exposure can often be seen as a pink or brown spot on the tooth.
Bacteria can enter through the fracture site and travel down the tooth causing an infection. The tooth may die and become non-painful. However, if the infection spreads to the bone supporting the tooth this can become very painful and may even cause an abscess. You may see this as a swelling inside the mouth or on the outside of your dog’s face. Your dog may start eating on one side, play less with their toys and stop carrying or holding things in their mouth.
Treatment usually involves removal of the fractured tooth and with it the site of the infection and the pain that goes with it.
There are other treatment options available which include root canal treatment. This will most typically involve referral to a dental specialist but will enable the tooth to be saved.
This is not normal and should never be ignored. Discoloured teeth can occur for a variety of reasons including abnormal development of the tooth as a puppy or most commonly, from trauma eg. a knock or impact to the tooth.
Initially, the pulp (the innermost layer of a tooth which contains nerves and blood vessels) becomes inflamed or bleeds. This is known as “pulpitis” or inflammation of the pulp. The tooth will change to a pink colour. Sometimes this corrects itself and the tooth goes back to its normal colour. More commonly however, the pink colour changes to a purple, brown, tan or black as the tooth starts to die. 90% of discoloured teeth are either dead or dying. These dead teeth can become a source for bacterial infections spreading elsewhere in the mouth and even around the rest of the body. Your vet will identify the cause for the discoloured tooth – usually through dental x-rays, and will either remove the dead tooth or refer your dog to a dental specialist for root canal treatment.
Tooth Luxation -Wobbly Tooth
This usually occurs after a traumatic event, which loosens the tooth in its socket. We often see this after a sideways force on the tooth such as tugging at a toy or getting their tooth stuck in another dog’s collar. You may also see a tear in the gum or damage to the bone beneath. This can damage the blood supply to the tooth and lead to a colour change as the tooth starts to die (see “Discoloured Teeth” above).
Your vet needs to see and properly assess the tooth, which may require extraction.
Caries – Tooth Decay
Although this is the most common type of dental problem seen in humans, only about 5% of the dog population is affected by it. Tooth decay usually starts in the pits of molar (cheek) teeth. Here, food particles and bacteria rot away at the tooth surface and lead to cavities forming inside the tooth.
This type of dental disease is seen more commonly in large breed dogs, especially Labradors, Rottweilers and Weimaraners.
In some cases, the cavity can be filled. However, if the cavity is large it is usually treated by extraction, and this is the most common treatment in any case, as fillings are usually only performed on referral to a specialist.
Retained baby teeth
Like us, dogs have two sets of teeth throughout their life-time; deciduous (baby) teeth and permanent (adult) teeth. Dogs usually have 28 baby teeth that start to erupt by about 3 weeks of age. These are replaced by their adult teeth at about three and half to four months of age - known as “teething” . Usually, they will have all their adult teeth by about 7 months of age.
Problems start to occur when a baby tooth is still in place as an adult tooth erupts next to it. This tooth is often referred to as a “persistent tooth” and causes problems because it is still in the position which the adult tooth should be taking. The adult tooth will therefore come through into an abnormal position. This can lead to an abnormal bite (“malocclusion”) and overcrowding. It can also cause food to become trapped between the teeth. This trapped food starts to rot and cause bacterial infections leading to Periodontal Disease .
The most common retained baby (“persistent”) teeth are the upper canines (pointed teeth on the side which look like fangs), followed by the lower canines and then the incisors (front teeth). We see retained baby teeth occurring more commonly in small breed dogs and those with short noses or flat faces (brachycephalic breeds) eg. Pugs, Bulldogs, Boxers etc. Sometimes entire rows of teeth are retained!
Your vet will be on the lookout for any retained baby teeth when they examine your pup but if you notice them yourself, it is best to point them out so the retained baby tooth can be extracted early enough to allow the adult tooth to grow into its correct position.
It can be tricky sometimes to know if your dog’s dental problem warrants a trip to the vets. Here at MyDogDoc we can take a look from the comfort of your own home, and give you the reassurance you need.