James has owned Ruby since she was a pup, and she’s been a healthy little dog, with no need to visit the vet. A few weeks ago, she became quieter than normal, not wanting to go for walks with her usual enthusiasm. She normally enjoyed playing with toys, especially squeaky ones, but she lost interest in these. She was still eating, but with less gusto.
James watched her closely, and it now seemed obvious that she had some type of toothache, just like a human. She began to press the side of her head along the ground, as if she was trying to rub a sore area. And, as if to make it very clear, she started lifting her paw to the left side of her face, whining.
When James brought her in to see me, it was easy to make a diagnosis of her problem. When I lifted up her upper lip, I could see at once that she’d fractured one of her teeth. There was now an open channel up the middle of the broken tooth into the pain sensitive nerves of the tooth root.
If the tooth had been a permanent, adult one, we might have discussed carrying out some type of root canal treatment, although this is rarely done in dogs. As it happened, there was a simpler answer: the broken tooth was a temporary, “baby” tooth. It was not meant to be present in an adult dog’s mouth anyway, and it had broken because it was weaker than the permanent teeth. Complete extraction of the damaged tooth was needed.
Dogs – and cats – have deciduous “baby” teeth, just like humans. These teeth are smaller and sharper than adult teeth, and they normally fall out on their own when the animal reaches four or five months of age. They’re pushed out as the adult teeth erupt from the gums beneath them.
In some dogs, especially smaller breeds, the deciduous teeth don’t fall out as they’re meant to. As in Ruby’s case, the upper canine teeth are the ones that are most typically retained. The adult canine teeth erupt from the gums just in front of them, so that they’re not pushed out as they’re meant to be.
It’s worth checking a dog’s teeth when they’re around six months of age, to make sure that all the deciduous teeth have fallen out. Retained teeth should be extracted to prevent problems later in life.
A painful broken tooth, as in Ruby’s case, is just one example of what can go wrong. More commonly, the retained tooth just gets in the way, forcing the permanent tooth out of place, and leading to other dental problems as the dog matures. Pets don’t need the same level of orthodontic care as humans, but it’s important that all the deciduous teeth fall out so that the adult teeth can to grow into place with a normal, healthy alignment.
There’s often only a minimal cost involved in sorting this type of problem. Most pets are spayed or neutered at around six months of age, and if there are any deciduous teeth still present at this time, they can be extracted whilst the animal is under the same anaesthetic.
Ruby has not yet been spayed, because James thinks that he may breed from her at some stage. She was given a short anaesthetic, and the broken tooth was swiftly extracted. The toothache was cured immediately and within days, her normal bouncy enthusiasm returned.
- Puppies should have their teeth briefly checked by a vet at around six months of age
- If they have retained “baby” teeth, these can often be removed at the same time as spaying or neutering