A dog tooth color change is something that may concern dog owners and warrants investigation by a veterinarian. Just as in humans, dog teeth are made of various types of tissues and the one responsible for giving teeth their sparkly white color is a tissue known as enamel. When a dog's tooth changes color, there may therefore be some disease processes going on or a history of injury that may be impacting the dog's natural tooth color. A dog tooth color change therefore should be addressed by a vet and treated with the most appropriate treatment.
Dog Tooth Color Change
Your dog's teeth are made of four tissues: enamel, dentine, pulp, and cementum. As mentioned, enamel is what gives teeth their pearly white color. On top of making teeth appear as white, the enamel of a tooth has a protective function: being a very hard material, it prevents the tooth from easily breaking (think your dog chewing toys and bones) and insulates the nerves from hot and cold foods.
Enamel is made of minerals and the main mineral found is hydroxyapatite which is calcium phosphate.
In puppies, enamel formation takes place between 2 weeks and 3 months of age. Any type of trauma (falls, altercations with other dogs) taking place during enamel development can lead to enamel defects along with potential discoloration.
It's unfortunate that the body stops producing enamel once a tooth has erupted from the gums. Therefore, if the enamel happens to wear away, it will not be replaced.
In humans, enamel is destroyed mostly from exposure to sweets and acidic foods. When the enamel wears off, teeth turn yellow because once the layer or enamel thins and wears off, it exposes the layer of tissue underneath which is dentin.
Dogs are not predisposed to cavities to the extent as seen in humans, but there are several conditions and predisposing factors that may cause discolored teeth in dogs. Dogs may have gray teeth, pink teeth, black teeth and even purple teeth at times. These discolored teeth are typically more than a cosmetic issue and therefore require attention.
My Dog Has Brown Teeth
Dogs may not be prone to developing cavities as much as humans do, but they do develop tartar which may cause a dog's teeth to appear brown.
After eating, dogs get a film of sticky plaque that adheres on their teeth just as it happens in humans. This plaque contains millions of bacteria. Over time, unless routinely brushed off, this plaque will harden due to minerals found in the saliva and transforms into tartar which is very difficult to remove.
Tartar gives teeth a yellow-brown discoloration as it accumulates on the tooth as seen in the picture. It also causes bad breath, irritates the gums, causing them to become red and swollen and leads to gum disease, medically known as periodontal disease. It is estimated that by the age of 3, about 85 percent of dogs have some level of periodontal disease.
If your dog's teeth are starting to get brown, chances are, tartar is building up and it's time to see the vet for some good "dental prophylaxis" under the form of scaling to chip off the tartar and polishing. And don't forget to start brushing your dog's teeth afterward!
In younger dogs, developmental enamel defects may cause a brown-to-tan discoloration potentially indicating that the underlying dentin has become exposed to the oral environment, explains Dr. Brett Beckman, a diplomate of the American Veterinary Dental College.
My Dog Has a Pink/ Blue/Purple Tooth
In some cases, dogs may have a tooth that appears pink, blue or purple-like in color. In this case, there may be chances that the tooth is dying, meaning that there is little blood supply to the roots of the tooth. This happens when the tooth is affected by a condition known as active pulpitis.
Pulpitis, is the inflammation of the tissue of the dental pulp. The pulp encases all the blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue of a tooth.
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Inflammation often happen as a result of some type of impact (being knocked in the face by another dog) or from inflammation caused by overzealous chewing on something really hard (certain types of bones, tennis ball, chain, wire kennel).
The dog's front teeth (called incisors) are more prone to being injured this way as they are not as deeply rooted. If not treated soon, the affected tooth may become painful, decay and turn into a dog tooth abscess which is an emergency situation. Generally, a wait- and- see approach is not in the dog's best interested in these cases.
X-rays may help determine the best course of action between doing nothing, keeping an eye on things or treating the tooth. Treatment entails removal of the pulp, in which case the options are two: extraction of the tooth or an endodontic (root canal) treatment, which preserves the tooth.
If the tooth has reversible pulpitis, caused by inflammation or trauma, there are chances the pulp cavity can be returned to viable state and the tooth color may return normal after treatment. In general, root canal treatments are often suggested for working dogs or for cosmetic reasons. They are carried out by specialists, in this case, board-certified veterinary dentists.
Extractions are often done by general practice veterinarians unless they are complicated teeth to extract. Always have your vet perform x-rays after an extraction to make sure no roots are left behind which can lead to extraction complications in dogs.
My Dog Has a Gray Tooth
In the case of a dog tooth that has turned gray, there are chances the tooth is affected by irreversible pulpitis. Basically, after a few months that a tooth goes through a period of active pulpitis, with all its associated risks, (as described above in the case of a dog with a pink tooth) blood supply is cut off and the tooth dies.
The unflattering dog tooth color change into grey is simply the tell-tale sign of a non-vital tooth. Along with no more blood supply, nerve supply to that tooth is likely also cut off which means that the tooth may no longer be painful.
If the tooth is non-vital but still has structurally sound roots, a veterinary dentist may provide restorative options such as root canal or crowns.
If the dog in question is a puppy (between 3 and 5 months of age) and the gray tooth in question is a baby tooth, there should be no major concern as puppy teeth are shed as the stronger permanent teeth push through. Usually, all baby tooth should have fallen out by the time the puppy is 6 months of age. Any retained teeth (puppy teeth that are reluctant to fall out) should be assessed by a vet.
"Think of this discoloration, which often changes color (pink to purple to gray) over time, as signifying a dead tooth.... The tooth discoloration is pigment from red blood cell breakdown that has percolated into the dentin tubules."~Dr. Daniel T. Carmichael, veterinary dentist
More Dog Tooth Color Change Causes
There are several more causes of dog tooth color change. Sometimes, certain types of drugs may cause discoloration of the teeth as a side effect. For instance, tetracycline, a type of antibiotic, may cause permanent discolored teeth in young dogs if their adult teeth are still growing, explains veterinarian Dr. Fiona. In this case, most teeth or all teeth may be affected.
Certain medical conditions may also cause teeth discoloration. Canine distemper, a serious viral infection, is known for causing problems with the production of the dog's enamel, leading to a deficient amount. The presence of a fever during enamel development may too be responsible for discolored teeth in dogs. Metabolic conditions such as kidney failure may also lead to tooth discoloration in dogs. This again, would involve a certain number of teeth.
Nutritional deficiencies taking place when puppies are growing may also affect the dog's teeth, but nowadays, with the advent of feeding nutritionally complete commercial foods, this is rarely seen.
As seen, there are several causes of dog tooth color changes. Several conditions may cause pain, but pain is not always detected by dog owners. Your vet is the best person to assess the state of your dog's teeth and decide whether medical intervention is needed.
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- Hale FA. Localized intrinsic staining of teeth due to pulpitis and pulp necrosis in dogs. J Vet Dent 2001;18(1):14-20.
- DVM360: Dental enamel defects in dogs
- DVM360: Just Ask the Expert: How should I approach a discolored tooth?
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