Help! My Dog Has a Chipped Tooth But Isn’t in Pain

Causes of Chipped Teeth in Dogs

One of the most common causes of chipped teeth in dogs is chewing on hard objects like bones, rocks, and toys. According to a 2021 survey, 2.5% of dogs chew daily on household objects like their bedding or shoes, while hard bones and chew toys accounted for over 50% of objects chewed daily (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168159121001593). The upper fourth premolar tooth is the most commonly fractured, with prevalence around 20-27% (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6364561/).

Dogs love to chew, especially while teething as puppies. Their strong jaws and tendency to bite down hard on objects can easily lead to fractures and chips in their teeth. Hard chew toys and bones satisfy a dog’s natural chewing instinct, but they can also apply high pressure to teeth. The same is true for rocks, sticks, and other hard objects a dog may pick up and decide to gnaw on.

Trauma to the mouth, like being hit by a ball or other object while playing fetch, can also chip a dog’s teeth. Even conflicts with other dogs may lead to tooth fractures if one dog bites down forcefully on another. Overall, any high-impact pressure placed directly on a dog’s teeth puts them at risk for chipping and cracking.

dog chewing and chipping tooth

Signs of a Chipped Tooth

Some common signs that your dog may have a chipped tooth include:

Missing enamel – The hard, white outer layer of the tooth may be missing, exposing the softer inner layer called dentin. This exposed dentin may appear yellowish or brownish in color compared to the surrounding tooth enamel.

Discoloration – In addition to the discoloration of exposed dentin, you may notice a dark spot or stain on the tooth indicating an area of damage. The chipped area may turn dark over time as the inner pulp becomes irritated.

Other signs can include sensitivity – your dog may avoid eating hard foods or yelp if you press on the tooth. There may also be swelling around the tooth, bleeding from the gums, or bad breath. But keep in mind that a chipped tooth can sometimes show no obvious symptoms.

Carefully inspect your dog’s teeth regularly, especially the canines since they are more prone to chips. Look for any rough or sharp areas, discoloration or missing enamel to identify a chipped tooth early.

Why a Chipped Tooth May Not Cause Pain

Whether or not a chipped tooth causes pain often depends on the severity of damage and location of the tooth. According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, “Fractured teeth are commonly caused by chewing very hard objects. However, we do not always see clinical signs [like pain] associated with the fracture initially.”

Mild chips and fractures that only affect the enamel and do not expose the inner pulp of the tooth may not cause any discomfort. The enamel is the hard, outer layer that protects the sensitive dentin underneath. As long as the dentin remains protected and intact, minor chips may go unnoticed by the dog.

Additionally, the location of the chipped tooth plays a role. Incisors and canine teeth towards the front of the mouth have abundant nerve endings and blood supply. Fractures here often cause acute pain. However, premolars and molars further back have less dense innervation. Chips on these teeth may not elicit a painful response right away. According to BetterPet, “If you notice a mild chip on the crown of your dog’s tooth that doesn’t seem to be causing pain, give the veterinarian a call and set a regular appointment.”

Sources:
https://betterpet.com/dog-chipped-tooth/
https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/riney-canine-health-center/canine-health-information/risks-fractured-tooth

Potential Risks of an Untreated Chipped Tooth

Leaving a chipped tooth untreated can lead to some serious health risks for your dog. Some of the main potential risks include:

Infection – Chipped and cracked teeth expose the inner pulp chambers and dentin of the tooth. This leaves the tooth vulnerable to bacteria entering and setting up infection. An untreated infected tooth can lead to serious complications like tooth loss, abscesses, and spread of infection. According to the veterinarians at Cornell University’s Riney Canine Health Center, “A chronic broken tooth may lead to an abscess with swelling and pain” (source).

Tooth Loss – If the inner pulp of the tooth becomes infected and inflamed, the pressure buildup can lead to the death of the tooth. This requires extraction of the dead tooth to prevent further health risks. According to Animal Dental Specialists, fractured teeth left untreated due to lack of noticeable pain “will progress to infection that can lead to facial swellings, draining wounds, and eventual tooth loss if left untreated” (source).

Dental Disease – Chipped and cracked teeth create crevices and openings for plaque, tartar, and bacteria to accumulate. This can quickly lead to dental disease including advanced periodontal disease. Just like in humans, advanced gum disease in dogs can lead to bone and tooth loss.

Diagnosing a Chipped Tooth

A veterinarian will start by performing a thorough physical exam of your dog’s mouth to look for signs of chipped or broken teeth. They will inspect each tooth closely and may use a dental probe to feel for roughness or defects on the tooth surface that could indicate a chip or fracture.

veterinarian examining dog's chipped tooth

In many cases, dental x-rays will be recommended to get a clearer picture of the damage. X-rays allow the vet to see below the surface of the tooth and determine if the pulp chamber or root has been exposed or damaged, which can’t be determined just by visual inspection. This is important to diagnose, as it affects prognosis and treatment options.

According to the VCA, fractured teeth may not be discovered until your veterinarian performs a routine examination of your pet’s mouth.

In addition to visual exam and dental radiographs, advanced imaging such as cone beam CT may also be used for a very detailed 3D view of the tooth’s structure to fully assess the damage.

Treatment Options

There are several treatment options for a chipped tooth in dogs depending on the severity of the fracture:

Monitoring – For minor chips that do not reach the pulp cavity, the vet may recommend just monitoring the tooth and keeping it clean. Small rough edges can be smoothed. As long as no signs of infection develop, no other treatment may be needed.

Bonding – For small to medium chips, dental bonding can repair the tooth. This involves etching the surface of the tooth, applying a dental bonding agent, sculpting composite resin to rebuild the missing part, and hardening the resin with a curing light. Bonding can restore function and appearance.

Crowns – For more severe fractures or chips extending far below the gumline, a crown can protect the tooth. It caps the entire visible part of the tooth and is custom-fitted. Crowns require shaving the tooth down and usually require anesthesia. They can prevent extraction.

Extraction – If the pulp is exposed, the tooth is split, or there is evidence of infection, extraction may be necessary. This removes the tooth entirely but preserves the surrounding bone and other teeth. It is done under anesthesia.

The best option depends on factors like cost, how deep the chip is, tooth location, and overall dental health. A vet can advise on the ideal treatment method after examination. Regular dental cleanings help prevent chips from worsening.

Source: https://www.wellpets.com/blog/136-what-should-you-do-if-your-dog-chips-a-tooth

Caring for a Chipped Tooth at Home

There are some things you can do at home to care for your dog’s chipped tooth and prevent further damage while waiting to see the vet:

Focus on dental hygiene – Brush your dog’s teeth daily, being extra gentle around the chipped tooth. Use a soft bristle toothbrush and dog-safe toothpaste. Proper brushing can help prevent plaque buildup and infection in the exposed tooth (Well Pets).

brushing dog's chipped tooth gently

Avoid hard chews and toys – Do not let your dog chew on bones, antlers, hooves, or other very hard objects that could cause more damage to the chipped tooth. Stick to soft rubber toys for now (Better Pet).

Feed soft foods – Try feeding wet canned food, softened kibble with water, or mashing your dog’s regular dry food into a soft consistency. This puts less pressure on the chipped tooth while chewing (Whole Dog Journal).

Use caution with chew treats – Monitor your dog closely when giving any kind of chew treat or dental chew, and take it away if they start chewing aggressively. Softer treats like greenies may be tolerated (Well Pets).

Preventing Chipped Teeth

There are some steps dog owners can take to help prevent their dogs from chipping teeth:

preventing dogs from chipping teeth

Provide proper chew toys – Hard rubber chew toys are gentler on teeth than bones or antlers. Avoid toys that are too hard like hooves, rocks, ice cubes. Rotate different chew toys to avoid overuse of any specific toy.

Practice dental care – Regular brushing helps prevent plaque and tartar buildup that weaken enamel. Annual cleanings by a vet remove hardened tartar.

Feed dental diet – Some kibble formulations help clean teeth as the dog chews. Consult your vet on the best dental diet.

Curb aggressive chewing – Dogs that aggressively bite down hard on inappropriate objects may chip teeth. Redirect to appropriate chews.

Use preventive sealant – A protective dental sealant applied by a vet helps protect vulnerable areas from chipping.

Regular vet checkups – Annual oral exams by a vet can detect issues early before they escalate.

When to See the Vet

Even if your dog’s chipped tooth does not appear to be causing pain, it’s important to have your veterinarian examine it. Some signs that indicate a veterinary visit is needed include:

– Discolored tooth – This could signal infection or dying tooth tissue.

– Swelling around the tooth – Inflammation can point to an infection that needs treatment.

– Bleeding from the tooth – Bleeding may occur with fractures that expose the pulp. This requires a root canal or extraction.

– Loss of appetite – Your dog may stop eating due to mouth pain.

– Pawing at the mouth – Your dog may paw at their mouth if the chipped tooth is causing discomfort.

– Drooling – Excessive drooling can indicate an injury or problem in the mouth.

– Nasal discharge – Drainage from the nose may signal an infection from the tooth.

– Difficulty eating – Your dog may have trouble picking up food or chewing if there is a painful tooth fracture.

– Behavior changes – Unexplained behavior changes could stem from dental pain.

Even if you don’t observe any of these signs, it’s important to have your veterinarian evaluate any tooth fracture. Leaving a chipped tooth untreated could allow infections or dental disease to occur over time. Early diagnosis and treatment leads to better outcomes for your dog’s dental health. (Fractured Teeth in Dogs – VCA)

Prognosis for Chipped Teeth

The prognosis for a chipped tooth in dogs is generally good with proper treatment. Even if a tooth is severely broken, there are treatment options like root canal therapy or extraction that can relieve pain and allow your dog to regain normal function.

For less severe chips that don’t expose the pulp, the prognosis is excellent. As long as the tooth is monitored for signs of pain, infection, or deterioration, a small chip can remain untreated. However, larger fractures that affect a substantial portion of the tooth may eventually require treatment.

With prompt veterinary attention and appropriate follow-up care, most chipped and broken teeth can be restored to full function and comfort. Regular dental exams can catch chips before they turn into major problems. Be sure to watch for signs of oral pain like reduced appetite or chewing on one side.

While chipped teeth may look alarming, they do not automatically spell disaster. Thanks to modern veterinary dentistry, many damaged teeth can be repaired. With simple at-home care and checkups as directed by your vet, your dog’s chipped tooth can heal well.

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