Dental Emergencies—What Pet Owners Need to Know

Dental Emergencies—What Pet Owners Need to Know

Your pet can experience extreme pain and may have difficulty eating and drinking properly if they are affected by a dental emergency. Our team at Animal Emergency Care explains common veterinary dental emergencies and provides tips to help you protect your pet from these situations.

Fractured teeth constitute a dental emergency in pets

Your pet can sustain a fractured tooth during a traumatic event or by biting a hard object. Your pet’s teeth have a hard mineralized surface area called the enamel and bony tissue below the enamel called the dentin. These tissues protect the sensitive pulp in the tooth’s center. A fractured tooth can involve any of these areas. When the enamel is chipped, exposing the dentin, your pet’s affected tooth will be sensitive to heat, cold, and pressure, and when the pulp is exposed, the tooth can be extremely painful. Any fracture makes the affected tooth susceptible to infection as bacteria from your pet’s mouth invade the area. Signs your pet has a fractured tooth include excessive drooling, chewing only on one side of their mouth, pawing at their mouth, refusing to eat or dropping food when they try to eat, and facial swelling. Fractured teeth can be treated in several ways depending on the pet and the extent of the fracture. Treatment options include:

  • Root canal therapy — This procedure involves removing the dead tissue inside the tooth, disinfecting the area, and filling the root canal to prevent bacterial infection.
  • Vital pulp therapy — This procedure can be performed only on recently fractured teeth in pets under 18 months of age. A layer of the pulp is removed and a medicated dressing is placed on the exposed pulp to allow healing. A protective dental composite is then placed over the dressing. 
  • Removal — In some cases, the tooth is damaged beyond repair and must be removed.

Tooth root abscesses constitute a dental emergency in pets

An abscess occurs when infection develops around the tooth’s root, usually resulting from periodontal disease, trauma to the tooth, or a broken tooth. The enamel is basically impervious and acts as a barrier, preventing bacteria from invading the tooth, but infection can easily occur if this layer is compromised. The dentin contains about 300 to 400,000 small openings that lead to the center of the tooth and the bacteria can use these tubules to cause infection of the root. A tooth root abscess can also develop if your pet is suffering from periodontal disease. In this case, the bacteria invade under your pet’s gum line and through the supportive tissues that surround the tooth root. Signs your pet has a tooth root abscess include bad breath, facial swelling, an inability to chew, not wanting their face petted, and a discolored tooth. Root canal therapy or extraction is used to treat abscesses and systemic antibiotics likely will be needed to help clear up the infection. 

Fractured jaws constitute a dental emergency in pets

Pets can suffer maxilla (i.e., upper jaw) and mandible (i.e., lower jaw) fractures when they experience traumatic events such as being hit by a car or accidents involving sports equipment. In addition, toy breed dogs and cats can experience jaw fractures if they have severe periodontal disease in which the bacteria invade the bony structures supporting the tooth, causing bone weakness. Signs your pet has a fractured jaw include a misaligned jaw, a persistently open mouth, excessive salivation that may be blood-tinged, and an inability to eat. Depending on the fracture’s extent, treatment may involve external immobilization or surgical correction.

Some dental emergencies in pets can be prevented

While not all dental emergencies can be prevented, you can take steps to decrease your pet’s risk. 

  • Choose appropriate chew toys — Chew toys such as antlers, cow hooves, and natural or nylon bones are extremely hard and can cause tooth fractures if your pet chews on them. Also do not allow your pet to chew on sticks or rocks when playing outside. 
  • Keep your pet on a leash — Keep your pet on a leash when outside your home to prevent them from being hit by a car, and ensure you know their whereabouts when you play games involving sports equipment such as baseball bats and golf clubs.
  • Take your pet in for routine dental care — Most pets are affected by some degree of periodontal disease by the time they are 3 years old, and providing routine dental care is the best way to prevent poor oral hygiene from causing health issues including dental emergencies. Your family veterinarian can perform regular professional dental cleanings to keep your pet’s mouth healthy and fresh. This procedure is the only way to effectively remove the bacteria from under their gum line.
  • Brush your pet’s teeth — Bacteria can start to accumulate on your pet’s teeth in as little as six hours which makes brushing an important part of their dental health program. Use pet-specific toothpaste since human toothpaste can be toxic for pets, and go slowly to allow your pet time to get used to the procedure.

Dental emergencies can be distressing for you and your pet but you can take steps to protect them against some problems. If your pet has suffered a dental emergency, contact our team at Animal Emergency Care so we can fix their smile.