Bonnie is a happy-go-lucky girl who loves playing with tennis balls. Bonnie has rarely ever been spotted without a ball... or two... or three in her mouth. She lives to play fetch and tug and find it. When no one is available to play, she takes her balls to bed with her for a nap. She even enjoys wearing Elizabethan collars when necessary so she can still keep her balls close, even when she drops them! One day her family noticed her jaws chattering when she picked up one of her balls. This can be a sign of dental pain, so we scheduled Bonnie for a dental cleaning.
At the time of her COHAT (Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment) during her dental cleaning appointment, Dr. Jen Sim noted that the majority of Bonnie's teeth had been worn down from years of tennis ball chewing. The mix of saliva and fuzz from the ball can work like sandpaper to wear down teeth. Dr. Sim also noted concern for an open root canal in one of her canine teeth. Left untreated, this would invite bacteria into the tooth and cause infection, as well as allow bacteria into the bloodstream with the potential to negatively affect the liver, kidneys, heart, and even brain. Her family chose to try to save the tooth for the sake of Bonnie's ball obsession and elected to perform endodontic (or root canal) therapy.
During the root canal, five steps were utilized. First, the condition of the tooth was ascertained through dental exploration and x-rays (we assess the tooth to see if it is still alive, or vital). Second, access to the pulp chamber was made (basically, a hole was created). Third, the canal was cleaned using special instruments to remove the dead tissue from the root canal (we scrub and rinse the inside of the tooth clean). Fourth, the canal was filled with a biologically compatible material (we plug it up with biocompatible plastic). Finally, the canal was sealed with a restorative surface sealer (we place a filling over the plastic).
Bonnie was sent home with antibiotics to help combat the infection and was fed soft foods for a week. She was monitored for excessive bleeding, pain, swelling of the gums, and any reluctance to eat. Bonnie had an easy and speedy recovery and has been back to playing ball daily for years! Her family immediately switched out her tennis balls for balls without fuzz and continues to have her teeth cleaned and reassessed yearly. It has been 4 years since her root canal, and everything still looks great! Her family is so thankful they opted to keep Bonnie's canine tooth because they know the ability to carry all of her balls around makes her so happy!
Some dogs do great with things like tennis balls or fuzzy toys. And they're great toys. It's about knowing your dog and watching their individual chewing habits. Some dogs will take those toys and chew them to bits and turn them into foreign bodies. Others, like Bonnie, will obsessively carry those toys in their mouths and traumatize their teeth, like this.
Some toys or chews, such as hard bones, rocks, antlers, hard chews, hooves, hard bully sticks, and ice cubes, can break teeth. Dogs have an amazing bite strength, but unfortunately, their teeth are not as strong. Here is a good test to tell if objects are too hard. It is the "kneecap rule" (if you wouldn't lift it over your head and bang it on your kneecap, it's too hard) or the fingernail rule (if you can't depress the object with your thumbnail, it's too hard).
We are always happy to answer any questions about dental care for your pets.