Poppy is a three-year-old dog living a happy and carefree life, according to her caretakers, Rod and Carla. The Golden Retriever spends her days in a large back yard and especially enjoys her swimming pool. Another favourite activity is fetching. The playful dog is especially fond of tennis balls and sticks of various sizes. Recently, Rod and Carla noticed that Poppy has a broken tooth.

A few hours after some stick-fetching, Rod noticed that Poppy is missing part of a tooth. There is a broken fang on the upper left side of her mouth. Compared with the right side, it appears as if a quarter of an inch has broken off the tip of the tooth. Poppy seems oblivious to it, showing no signs of problems. Carla and Rod question whether they need to be concerned since Poppy did not seem to be.

The tooth Poppy has broken is called a canine tooth, part of the group called incisors. To understand the implications of a fractured canine tooth, it is important to first understand the structure.

The canine tooth, like all of Poppy’s or any other dog’s teeth, has three main sections: the crown, which is the area visible above the gum line and covered by enamel; the neck, which is the area at the gum line and without enamel; and the root, which is anchored in the jaw bone. The protective layer of the tooth is the enamel covering over the crown. If the enamel layer is compromised, the tooth can be at risk for developing disease. This is precisely the concern in Poppy’s case.

Dog Playing GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Since Poppy has fractured 0.6cm of the canine tooth, the protection for the inner portion of the tooth, the pulp, is gone. This exposes the pulp cavity and puts the tooth in danger of developing an abscess in its root. An abscess results from the spread of bacteria into the pulp cavity. Once the process starts, it is not curable with antibiotics. Something must be done to the tooth itself.

Saving a broken tooth

If the root cavity is intact, the tooth may be saved by performing a root canal. With this procedure, the pulp cavity is eliminated and replaced with a synthetic paste and then the tooth is sealed. We can take the further step of capping the tooth as well, if desired.

If a root canal is not possible because of root fracture or other reasons, the next available treatment is tooth extraction. Like a root canal, this requires general anesthetic for the patient, along with pain control. Once the tooth is removed, the body will heal the cavity left behind and the problem is cured.

In Poppy’s case, the best course of treatment begins with a visit to her veterinarian. A diagnostic and therapeutic plan can be outlined.

Another observation by Rod and Carla is that Poppy likes to fetch tennis balls. This is not recommended. The outer covering of tennis balls is very abrasive to a dog’s teeth and, over time with chewing, this abrasive material will actually wear off the tooth enamel, exposing the pulp cavities, and risking root abscesses. A better alternative is a rubber ball or something similar, such as a racket ball (squash ball), which is much less abrasive on the teeth yet equally fun for fetching. – Tribune News Service/The Modesto Bee/Jeff Kahler