It's common for dogs to get minor tooth fractures as they like to chew hard, random objects. Often owners won't notice the fractures until they take their dog in for an oral exam. There are different kinds of fractures. Those that expose the underlying dentin are more severe than a surface level chip in the tooth and require more immediate care.
A slab fracture happens when a dog bites down on something hard at just the right angle and with just the right amount of force that it breaks a flake or slab off of the tooth. It could break off a large or small piece. There are six teeth that most commonly get fractured, and that is the four canine teeth and the upper fourth premolars. Unfortunately, these six belong to the eight most important teeth for a dog.
If a tooth is fractured deeply, it could create an entrance for bacteria to gain access to the root canal and thus infect the tooth. If severe enough, the tooth can die and become a haven for bacteria to fester. Sometimes it will leak through the base of the tooth and begin to infect the actual bone around that area of the jaw. Eventually blood cells can carry the bacteria and spread it to other areas of the body like the liver and kidneys, slowing down the vital organs.
Dogs with tooth fractures should be taken in for a physical and radiographic evaluation immediately to determine the best treatment. While the dog is anesthetized, a dental explorer is used to probe loose fragments and cracks to see if the underlying dentin or pulp chamber has been exposed. Next, a periodontal probe assesses whether or not the fracture goes below the gingival margin. Transillumination reveals fractures and evaluates the vitality of the tooth. Dental examinations should be performed by the vet every six months, whether or not a fractured tooth is detected or suspected.
The best treatment option for a slab fracture may be a root canal. With root canals they remove infected underlying pulp and fill the canal to stop further infection. This procedure is most commonly performed on the canine teeth, the upper fourth premolars and the lower first molars. Whether a root canal can save the tooth depends on the condition of the tooth and the surrounding tissue. If the fracture is recent and not yet infected, a vital pulpotomy may be the best option. This can be effective for fractures in immature teeth, such as those of dogs who are younger than 18 months old. Finally, tooth extraction may be considered as a last resort. This is the least desirable because the dog loses the utility of the tooth for chewing and it is difficult to remove the long root of the tooth.
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