Treatment of Broken Teeth
Broken teeth are commonly encountered in the dogs and cats we see. They are usually the result of trauma or chewing on hard objects such as bones, rocks, ice, or cow hooves (commonly sold as pet chew toys). The teeth are easily broken due to the tremendous force these pets can generate with their jaws. Initially, a broken tooth is very painful, as most humans that have had a broken tooth can attest. Unlike humans, these teeth usually go unnoticed and untreated because dogs and cats rarely show signs of obvious pain. Observant owners may notice an abrupt reluctance to play with or chew on a once favorite toy, decrease in appetite, chattering of teeth when biting, or simply chewing food on one side of the mouth (usually opposite the broken tooth). After about two to six weeks, the nerve in the broken tooth dies and the pain is somewhat relieved. However, the broken tooth has an opening, the pulp canal, which is invaded by food, saliva, and bacteria. This opening is a constant source or route of infection to the tip of the tooth root. Tooth root infections or abscesses are extremely painful and can lead to systemic illness, i.e. fever, anorexia, dehydration, etc.
A broken tooth can be treated one of two ways, either by extraction or with endodontic therapy. Extractions may be slightly cheaper and can remove the source of infection, but many times these are difficult, painful to the patient, and result in the loss of structure and function of the affected tooth. Endodontic therapy usually (but not always) costs a little more than extraction, removes the source of infection, and is not as painful because in most cases involving dogs and cats the nerve has died. The most significant benefit of endodontic therapy over extraction is that it saves the structure and function of the tooth. Broken teeth should be addressed and evaluated by a veterinarian to eliminate a constant source of infection, illness, and pain in our companion animals.