Wyatt endured his toothache patiently, making little ado about something.
The fractured slab of enamel dangled from an upper-rear tooth for days, perhaps weeks, before it was noticed by the management. Wyatt, who has a documented rock fetish, had likely damaged the tooth in the process of liberating or transporting a new pet.
Our veterinarian informed us that the tooth in question was a fourth premolar, also known as a carnassial tooth, which is used in the biting and shearing of food. Depending on their location (and in Wyatt’s case), canine premolars can have three roots, amplifying the risk of discomfort and infection when broken.
Fractured teeth, we learned, are common in dogs; we also learned that the commonality of broken teeth and their treatment neither make choosing the right procedure any easier nor the procedures themselves any cheaper. The primary options for severe tooth fractures in dogs are extraction and root canal.
While there are some factors—the type of tooth, the extent of damage, the age of the dog, etc.—that make the call easier, our veterinarian confirmed what that great flea market of data known as the internet led us to believe: Each treatment has its pros and cons, and it’s ultimately up to you, but make a decision fast before you and your dog are also faced with an abscess.
A root canal is costlier than extraction—on average about double, by our research—but it can also save a valuable tooth. The repaired tooth, however, can break again later, in which case it would likely require removal; there is some debate over the long-term functionality of dogs’ teeth following root canals among both veterinarians and dog owners.
Extraction is less-costly than a root canal, and it eliminates the damaged tooth and root; dogs typically adapt their eating methods around missing teeth to no further effect, and the open socket usually heals over within a week or so. This does not mean that extraction is without downside, however.
As with humans, the gaps left by extracted or otherwise missing teeth in dogs can allow surrounding teeth to shift, contribute to progressive bone loss in the jaw, and increase the risk for harm to the adjacent remaining teeth. In cases of both extraction and root canal, extra attention must be devoted to your dog’s diet, dental care, and canine oral health habits like stick-chewing, bone-gnawing and stone-toting.
We settled on extraction for Wyatt, believing his risk for refracturing the tooth was high and after being assured that the likelihood of further damage could be mitigated with additional vigilance on his behalf by the humans.
No philosopher he, Wyatt is not one to linger on chance and sufferance. Within a couple days after surgery, Wyatt was back to roughhousing with his brothers and, despite our efforts to steer him toward softer playthings, unearthing new igneous friends.