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Today, we saw a wonderful pitbull with a giant pitbull head and a broken tooth (canine). The canines are the big long “fangs” – two on top, two on the bottom. They’re easy to break because they stick up higher than the surrounding teeth. When someone calls letting us know their pet has a broken tooth this is the most common.
The reason this is a big deal is because of how a tooth is built. You probably think, like I used to, that teeth are solid all the way through. Well, you know how sometimes you can feel pain deep inside your tooth if you eat something really cold? That’s because the center of a tooth is hollow, and filled with skinny little nerves and blood vessels. These structures live within a tube called the “root canal” that is a hollow canal down into the root of the tooth.
When you break off the tip of a canine tooth, it’s like opening a tube of toothpaste. Suddenly, environmental contaminants can get down inside and muck everything up.
When bacteria enter the root-canal-with-a-broken-tip through the hole in the top, they can sometimes climb down the canal into the root of the broken tooth, and even between the broken tooth and the skull, and make an abscess. This is called a “tooth root abscess”. One solution to this problem, then, is to do “root canal therapy” - which basically means to fill the canal with inert material and plugging the hole. If that fails, or if the pet owner doesn’t wish to pay for a root canal (which is several hundred, often over a thousand dollars) then the only other option is to extract the tooth.
The part of the broken tooth you can see in this picture represents about 1/5 of the tooth. 4/5 of it is solidly anchored to the head, inside a big ol’ socket, like a lightbulb socket. And just like a light bulb, it’s not like you can just pull it straight out, you have to separate the bulb from the socket first. And breaking the tooth during extraction causes all SORTS of new problems, just like breaking a lightbulb while trying to remove it from a socket would cause trouble. So it has to be done REALLY, REALLY carefully.
What we do is gently-but-forcefully push a metal instrument, called an elevator, down along the side of the broken tooth under the gum, to cut through the ligaments that hold the tooth in the socket. It’s a labor intensive, sweat-inducing, arm-twisting job, but THOROUGHLY satisfying when the beast pops out of that giant crater of a socket a few (several) minutes later. Obviously, general anesthesia is required for all this!
Then we sew up the now gaping maw of the socket closed with dissolvable suture, and wake the patient up from anesthesia with pain medications on board. Because the dog probably wasn’t chewing on his broken tooth anyways (exposed nerves inside a broken tooth are SUPER painful) these dogs usually go home and eat regular food. Recovery takes about two weeks, at which time the socket has healed over with new gum tissue.
Call us with any questions. Do you think your pet has a broken tooth?