Help, my puppy broke a tooth playing tug! Should I be worried?
Puppy teeth are fortunately temporary and once they have finished their role, they are replaced by permanent and stronger teeth. However, just because you know your pup will grow new teeth, breaking a baby tooth (deciduous) will make any dog owner panic.
The panic is even greater if you provoked the break by playing tug-of-war or if you are unsure whether the broken tooth is deciduous or permanent.
In this article, we will discuss how playing tug roughly with puppies may cause a tooth to come loose or break.
We will describe the signs of a broken tooth and whether the puppy should see the vet even if it's a baby tooth.
We will also review the complications and problems seen with fractured adult teeth in dogs and finally give tips on how to play tug safely with puppies.
Is the Broken Tooth a Baby Tooth or Permanent Tooth?
For dog owners, it can be difficult to differentiate between deciduous and permanent teeth. Here is just a little guide on the teething process in puppies.
Generally, by the age of about 8 weeks, pups should have grown a complete set of 28 deciduous or temporary teeth, also known as baby teeth. A puppy's baby teeth include the incisors, canines and premolars. Puppies have no molars.
At about 13 weeks, the baby teeth begin to fall out, starting with the incisors, which are usually swallowed. The roots dissolve and are reabsorbed into the jaws, allowing room for the adult teeth to grow.
By about 30 weeks of age (around 7 months), all of the puppy's permanent adult teeth are in place. Adult dogs have 42 teeth: 20 in the upper jaw and because it has two extra molars, 22 in the lower jaw.
If your puppy broke a tooth playing tug or chewing on something, and you are not sure whether it's a baby tooth or a permanent one, it's best advised to collect the broken tooth and ask the vet for help.
Vets can tell whether the tooth was baby or adult just by looking at it. Alternatively, you can take your puppy to the vet’s office and request an oral examination.
What Happens When a Puppy's Tooth Breaks?
Every puppy owner and every puppy enjoy playing tug-of-war. Sadly, sometimes things can escalate and the fun time ends up with a broken tooth.
In such cases, there are several different scenarios and potential consequences.
1: The Puppy's Tooth is Chipped
If the puppy's tooth is slightly chipped, the pup may feel occasional discomfort when sliding with its tongue over the chipped area. Other than that, there should be no significant consequences.
However, if the chipping results in the pink pulp being exposed, chances are your puppy is in severe pain. Keep in mind that not all dogs manifest pain.
In fact, because of their surviving instincts, most dogs are reluctant to show pain and prefer to suffer in silence.
2: The Baby Tooth Becomes Infected
If the pink pulp is exposed, bacteria from the mouth can invade and infect the canal. The bigger problem is that these bacteria can travel to distant organs causing potentially fatal infections.
3: The Infected Tooth Causes a Skin Abscess
Instead of traveling to distant organs, the bacteria may build up within the canal and surrounding tissues. Over time, this may lead to a skin abscess.
4: The Puppy's Tooth Dies
If left untreated, the pink pulp sustains significant damage and eventually dies. A dead tooth cannot be treated, only managed.
Different Types of Tooth Fractures in Dogs
Fractures can occur in all teeth and affect different parts of them so there will be different types of tooth fractures in dogs.
Are some teeth more likely to break than others? In theory, all teeth are prone to breaking given the right circumstances. However, in practice, the teeth most included in chewing are most likely to break. In other terms, this means the pup’s canine teeth are at the highest risk of breaking.
Sometimes, a puppy's tooth is broken at the gum line.A tooth broken at the gum line is an objective reason to make a trip to the vet’s office. This type of fracture leaves the inside of the tooth open and prone to infections that can spread to other organs. To avoid such complications, the vet will have to remove the broken tooth.
When it comes to types of tooth fractures, there are two main tooth fracture categories in dogs as outlined below.
1: Uncomplicated Crown Fractures
Uncomplicated crown fractures are more superficial and limited to the enamel layer of the tooth. In such cases, the dentin (second layer) is exposed, but the pulp remains closed and protected.
2: Complicated Crown Fractures
Complicated crown fractures are more profound and affect the first (enamel) and second (dentin) layer leaving the pulp exposed. This type of fracture is more complicated to treat.
Treatment of Teeth Fractures in Dogs
There are various treatment options for fixing teeth fractures. Which treatment is best depends on several factors including the type of tooth, type of fracture, and the pup’s age.
Treating Uncomplicated Crown Fractures
When a puppy sustains an uncomplicated crown fracture, the course of the treatment depends on whether the tooth is alive or dead.
The vet will determine the vitality of the tooth based on a radiography image. If the tooth is dead there will be visible bone loss surrounding the fractured area.
If the tooth is vital, the vet will close the fracture using a bonding sealant. This will keep the harmful bacteria at bay, decrease the pup’s sensitivity, and decrease the risk of developing dental diseases.
On the other hand, if the tooth is dead, the vet will suggest two options – root canal therapy or extraction. Yes, dogs undergo these procedures too! Which treatment is best for your pup’s case is something you need to discuss with the vet.
Treating Complicated Crown Fractures
Complicated crown fractures are much more challenging to manage. There are three different treatment options – two focus on preserving the tooth and the other one is considered a last resort and undertaken when there is no other alternative.
Treatment 1: Root Canal Treatment
The possibility of performing a root canal treatment is like a win-win situation – the dog gets to keep its tooth; the vet does not have to perform a complicated extraction surgery, and the risk of developing infections is decreased to zero.
Root canal treatment is considered in cases the tooth is otherwise healthy and necessary for preserving the strength of the jaw and the stability of the other teeth.
The procedure consists of removing the canal tissue also known as the "pulp," filling the empty canal, and then closing it. The root canal technique can be used on any tooth, but it has the most excellent prognosis when performed on the lower first molars and upper fourth premolars.
Treatment 2: Vital Pulp Treatment (VPT)
Vital pulp therapy (VPT) is recommended for dogs under the age of two years. This is because, at this point, the dog’s teeth are not mature enough to undergo a classic root canal treatment.
However, there is one more caveat – the procedure must be performed within 48 hours of the fracture. If it has been long since the fracture occurred, the likelihood of achieving positive results is minimal.
This accents the need of seeking professional help and seeing the vet as soon as you notice something wrong is going on with your pup’s teeth.
Treatment 3: Tooth Extraction
Tooth extraction is considered when the broken tooth is a baby tooth and when the owner’s treatment funds are limited as this option is the cheapest one.
In the first case, when the broken tooth is deciduous and needs to be extracted, the vet will perform the extraction carefully in order not to damage the permanent tooth.
In the second case, the vet will talk to the owner regarding the decision. Most vets are against removing the canine teeth especially if there is a slight chance of saving them.
This is because the canine teeth are involved in chewing and eating and their absence may lead to orthodontic problems.
Finally, it should be noted that extracting permanent teeth is more complicated than extracting baby teeth. Removing a permanent canine tooth requires dental surgery.
Cost of Repairing a Puppy's Broken Tooth
How much does it cost to fix a broken puppy tooth? The exact cost of the fixing treatment depends on various factors including the dog’s age and size, the type of teeth and fracture, and the undertaken fixing method.
Depending on these factors as well as where you live and the credentials of the vet doing the fixing, you can expect to pay between $300 and $1000 for a broken tooth.
Is it OK to Play Tug of War with Puppies?
The sole purpose of the tug of war game is to keep your puppy physically and mentally stimulated – factors critical for normal development and socialization. Therefore, keep things simple and light. If your pup tends to pull too much let the rope.
There is one main tip when it comes to playing tug-of-war safely – do not overdo it. Tug-of-war is a game, not a competition meaning you must not pull too hard and provoke unwanted injuries.
Alternatively, you can find other interactive and stimulating games that do not include chewing and pulling – at least until your pup grows its adult teeth.
The Bottom Line
Playing tug-of-war often results in broken teeth, especially, if the game is rough and your pup’s teeth are about to fall. As scary as the situation looks, the good news is that the condition is harmless in most cases.
If your pup is in pain, the vet can prescribe pain killers or simply pull the remaining part of the tooth. However, things are much trickier if the broken tooth was permanent.
Therefore, if playing tug ends up in a broken or otherwise damaged tooth it is highly recommended to seek veterinary attention.