Bella, a friendly, gentle yellow lab, arrived at AHNA for a dental care appointment in December. She is magnificently beautiful. Her family loves her dearly and takes excellent care of her. Without realizing the potential risk, her family bought what seemed like a simple toy for her to chew on, but it caused her great harm. The chew toy was a piece of antler, unfortunately commonly sold at pet stores and on the internet as a “natural” way to clean teeth and provide an enjoyable distraction and entertainment. Antlers, while a natural product, are much too hard for dogs to chew on.
Although her family had no way to know that it happened, while Bella was chewing on the piece of antler they bought, a large, important three-rooted chewing tooth in her upper left jaw developed a slab fracture. In other words, the tooth cracked so that a piece of the side of the tooth was not attached well. This fracture opened the root canal which immediately causes severe pain and then progresses to a throbbing pain. In time, infection traveled to the root tips and began destroying bone. After a few weeks, the infection was so bad that it was it was draining out of her gum. (see below picture of the fractured upper left carnassial tooth) All this happened without Bella being able to explain to her family, who loved her so much and would do anything to help her, that she was in pain. Luckily, being the best of pet parents, they brought Bella in for her yearly comprehensive physical exam. An oral exam is always part of the physical exam, and upon examining Bella’s mouth, Dr. Garner found the fractured tooth.
Bella was scheduled to be brought back for dental surgery under anesthesia. When her mouth was examined under anesthesia, we discovered that two other teeth in her lower right jaw had similar fractures on the inner side of the teeth. The extent of the damage to each tooth made it necessary to extract all three of the broken teeth so that Bella could be comfortable and the infections eliminated. (see picture at left of fractured premolars in lower right jaw) When this type of tooth damage occurs in people, they describe it as being very painful. We know that Bella was happy to wake up and finally have the pain gone.
In case you are wondering why Bella’s teeth were surgically extracted, dog and cat teeth cannot usually be “wiggled’ and pulled. Dog and cat teeth are anatomically quite different than human teeth. Pets’ teeth have long thin roots that break very easily during extractions, so most extractions in pets must be true surgical procedures which necessitate removing some of the bone to get to the root. A gum flap is then placed and sutured over the extraction site. This also prevents a “dry socket” from forming. Every bit of the entire root needs to be extracted, even with a three-rooted tooth. At Animal Hospital of North Asheville, we x-ray after every extraction to be sure the entire root is out. AHNA does perform root canals and place crowns, but the extent of damage and infection made extraction the realistic choice for Bella’s teeth.
Pets are not good at letting you know when their teeth hurt and may suffer for weeks, months or even years before the problem is identified. It is very important that you prevent access to hard, inflexible toys such as antlers, hard nylon bones, or anything that you cannot bend or dent with your fingernail. Being careful about what you provide as a chew toy is a wonderful service that you can provide for your pets. Please try to educate your friends and family members because most people do not realize the danger of hard chew toys. If you’re interested, the antlers in the picture sell for $34 each….so they are both expensive and harmful.