What happens when your pet wears down or fractures a tooth?
A pet’s tooth is made of three layers. The outer layer, called the enamel, is very thin but strong and is impervious to bacteria in the saliva: Enamel protects the two inner layers of a tooth from infection. The middle layer, called the dentin, is an organized collection of connective tissue plus blood capillaries and nerve fibers running within tubules: Dentin makes up the bulk structure of the tooth. The inner core, called the root canal, is a bundle of larger blood vessels and nerves that convey nutrients and sensory function to the dentin. Oftentimes we do not think of a tooth as being a live tissue but it truly is!
Pets use their mouths to grasp and chew food. They also use their mouths as a tool to explore their environment and to carry objects. Considering how strong a pet can clamp their teeth together it is no surprise that they can wear through the thin protective enamel, or even fracture through the enamel.
Saliva naturally contains bacteria. When a tooth wears slowly enough the body has a protective mechanism named “reparative dentin” that will seal dentin tubules from bacterial infection. But if a tooth wears too quickly for reparative dentin to form then the salivary bacteria can leak into the open dentinal tubules and infect the inside of the tooth. Another way that the inside of a tooth can become infected is if a pet’s tooth suddenly fractures. We see this very often from trauma such as pets fighting with one another, chewing on objects that are harder than a tooth, or being hit by a car.
Once salivary bacteria infects the inside of a tooth it nearly always causes the tooth to die. This leads to an ongoing tooth root infection know as an endodontic abscess. Dental infection can spread to vital organs including the heart, liver, kidney, and bladder.
Having your pet’s worn and/or fractured teeth cared for is one of the keys to keeping your pet healthy so that they can have the longest, healthiest, and happiest life possible.