Loose, Broken, or Chipped Teeth: What Owners Should Know

Dr. Jacqueline Brister

loose teeth in dogs and cats

Dental problems are as common to dogs and cats as they are to human beings. Pets can break or crack a tooth from chewing on hard objects or from trauma such as being hit by a car. As pets get older, if dental disease is not regularly addressed and managed, teeth may become loose or wiggly. Below are some common questions and answers about tooth problems among pets.

What if my pet’s tooth is loose or wiggly?

Often, loose teeth are the result of periodontal disease. This is a disorder in which inflammation and infection from dental tartar and bacteria living in the mouth wear away at the structures keeping the teeth in place. These structures include the gums (“gingiva”), ligaments attaching the teeth to the bones (“periodontal ligament”), and the bones in the skull themselves which hold the teeth (“mandible” and “maxilla”). Periodontal disease is preventable with daily teeth brushing and yearly or twice yearly dental cleanings. Over time, periodontal disease can lead to bone loss; periodontal ligament break down; and loose, diseased teeth.

Take your pet to see a veterinarian. He or she will be able to determine if the loose tooth can be saved or if it needs to be extracted/removed. In some cases, a root canal can be performed to prevent the need for a tooth extraction. Root canals can be expensive and may require a visit to a dental specialist.

My pet lost a tooth! What should I do?

Unfortunately, not much can be done for a tooth that falls out. In older pets, tooth loss may be the result of periodontal disease. In younger adult pets, tooth loss may be due to a traumatic event. You should take your pet to the veterinarian to ensure that the entire tooth fell out. If a tooth breaks below the gum line, this may lead to pain and infection over time. In these cases, extraction of the portion of the tooth left behind is often necessary.

What should I do if my pet breaks a tooth?

Small tooth chips and breaks are not uncommon among pets. Some pets will actually wear their teeth down over time if they are aggressive or chronic “chewers.” The biggest concern with a broken tooth is if the pulp cavity within the roots of the tooth is exposed to the harsh environment of the mouth. The pulp cavity contains the nerves and vessels of the tooth. If a tooth is broken and this part of the tooth is no longer protected, pain and infection can occur.

Have your veterinarian evaluate the broken tooth. In some cases, no treatment is necessary. If the chip is sharp, your vet may file it down to prevent your pet from cutting his or her mouth. If the root or pulp cavity is exposed, the tooth will likely need to be extracted. In these cases, a root canal may also be warranted.

Is my pet in pain?

If a pet is having tooth problems, it can hurt them just as much as it would for us. Most pets will continue to eat because it is in their nature to thrive and survive at all costs, even when they have a sore mouth. Other symptoms of a painful mouth include drooling, bleeding in the mouth, red or swollen gums or cheeks, bad breath, chewing on only one side of the mouth, or yellow or white fluid around the affected tooth. If you are unsure if a tooth is causing your pet discomfort, set up an appointment with a veterinarian. He or she will be able to perform a thorough examination and help you determine if your pet is in pain.

Will my pet be able to eat kibble or hard food after losing a tooth?

Generally, adult dogs have 42 teeth, and adult cats have 30 teeth. Extracting or losing a few teeth is probably not going to affect them at all once the mouth has healed. The gums and roof of a cat or dog’s mouth is so tough that many pets can continue to eat hard food with few or no teeth at all. If your pet has been dealing with a tooth issue for a while, having the diseased tooth extracted may actually lead to your pet eating more, because he or she feels better.

What about puppy or kitten teeth?

Broken “baby” teeth may still need to be removed. Although these teeth should fall out eventually, a broken baby tooth with root or pulp exposure can still lead to infection and pain. Loose teeth or missing teeth are quite common among pets aged 10 weeks to 9 months. They fall out and are replaced by adult teeth, just like us humans. If you are worried, contact your veterinarian for an examination to ensure everything is normal.

Believe it or not, the most common tooth problem in young pets are puppy or kitten teeth that don’t fall out. This is seen most often in smaller breed dogs. Baby teeth, also known as “deciduous” or “primary” teeth, normally have all fallen out by about 6 to 9 months of age. When they don’t fall out, this can lead to impaction or prevention of the adult teeth from coming up to the surface of the gums (“eruption”). It can also lead to adult teeth erupting incorrectly, leading to abnormal positioning of the adult teeth, and possibly difficulty in closing the mouth. Baby teeth that don’t fall out can also crowd the adult teeth that do erupt, leading to extra tartar formation and earlier onset of periodontal disease. Your veterinarian will likely want to extract these persistent baby teeth to prevent these issues from occurring. In some cases, this can be done while your pet is under anesthesia for another procedure such as their neuter or spay. If impaction or abnormal positioning occurs, your veterinarian may want to extract them immediately, rather than waiting, so that the adult teeth will position themselves normally.

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