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Vet checking a dog‘s teeth

The essentials

  • A chipped tooth is common — Whether it’s by accident or playtime, dogs commonly chip teeth.
  • It can be serious — Like human dental problems, pain or risk of infection can constitute an emergency for dogs, too.
  • There are ways to prevent a chipped tooth — There are a few things pet owners can do to safeguard against chipped teeth.

Before you rush to the emergency vet or search for home remedies for a dog’s broken tooth, assess your specific situation. A dog that’s been struck in the mouth (by a car or other object) may have a chipped tooth. Other times, chewing or pulling on a hard toy can result in a chipped tooth. It can be a one-time occurrence or a sign of something more serious like periodontal disease.

👉 The most commonly chipped teeth are the canines and large upper chewing teeth toward the back of the mouth.

Signs your dog may have a chipped tooth

If you’ve ever had tooth pain, you know it can be excruciating. Our fur babies experience dental pain, too, but they can’t communicate when they’re hurting or how much. You won’t always be around to see your dog gnawing away at their favorite antler or tugging a rugged rope, so you might not even notice a chipped tooth at first. Still, there are some tell-tell signs that your dog has a chipped tooth that needs attention.

  • Lots of drool. Hypersalivation, or excessive drooling, can be a sign of dental disease or a chipped tooth, among other things.
  • Pawing at the mouth. Is your pup pawing at their face or mouth? This could be a sign of pain, irritation, or an itchy infection.
  • Facial swelling. Dogs often chip their back teeth where owners can’t easily see them. Signs of facial swelling call for a trip to the vet to rule out infection.
  • Aversion to face petting. A dog’s tooth pain can be severe without owners ever knowing it. One obvious sign of pain is wincing or shying away from having their face or mouth touched.
  • Refusing hard food. Dogs with a chipped tooth or exposed gum will favor the other side of their mouth and avoid hard, crunchy, difficult-to-chew foods.
  • Refusing hard treats or toys. If your pup’s favorite chew toy or bone has gone untouched, you should inspect their mouth.

Types of chipped teeth in dogs and how to treat them

Not all chipped teeth cases are equal. One chipped tooth can be minor, while another is a tooth fracture with pulp exposure. The pulp is the soft innermost part of the tooth.

Think of a pet’s broken tooth like a human’s: at times, an emergency dental visit is required, while at others, you can manage pain at home until your appointment. Your vet has several treatment options, one or a combination of which will typically help your dog, but sometimes they’ll monitor a minor fracture rather than take immediate action. Treatments include extraction, a root canal, or a vital pulpotomy. We’ll talk at a high level about treatments here and then in more depth later.

Enamel fracture

An enamel fracture is considered a mild tooth injury but does require attention. Enamel is the thin outer coating of your dog’s tooth, and a fracture can vary in severity. In some cases, a veterinarian can smooth the rough edges, but a specialist with dental training typically has the kits necessary for crown restoration (smoothing).

If the enamel fracture is deeper, dentin, the layer underneath the enamel, may be exposed. Exposed dentin can lead to tooth sensitivity to hot or cold. In those cases, your veterinarian may etch the surface, then apply a liquid patch repair that will harden and protect the exposure.

Uncomplicated crown fracture

An uncomplicated crown fracture occurs when the damage is isolated only to the tooth, and no pulp is exposed.

Both enamel fractures and uncomplicated crown fractures can leave a tooth weaker and more susceptible to future cracks. For younger puppies, veterinarians may place a crown cover on the tooth and follow up with X-rays as the pup develops. A damaged deciduous (baby) tooth will be extracted.

No matter your dog’s age, any chipped tooth warrants a trip to the vet. Older dogs may not need any treatment for an uncomplicated crown fracture, but it’s always best to let the vet determine that.

Complicated crown fracture

When a complicated fracture occurs, the crack extends into the pulp. Not only is it painful and sensitive, but a complicated crown fracture can damage the tooth’s vital structure.

If your dog suffers from this type of broken tooth, you will likely notice signs of pain. You mustn’t delay treatment because further complications can occur. Also, handle your dog with care, approaching them gently and cautiously so they don’t become aggressive as a pain response.

Root fracture

A root fracture is a complicated injury that can only be diagnosed with an X-ray. A root fracture involves the portion of the tooth below the gumline and into the jawbone that pet owners can’t see.

The break can occur in the usual ways (trauma, chewing on a hard toy) but also because of a tooth extraction. Pup parents who notice signs of pain plus bad breath should see their veterinarian immediately because root fractures can cause serious infections.

👉 Your veterinarian will likely refer you to a dog dental specialist with the tools and expertise necessary to treat your dog’s tooth. 

When to see a veterinarian for a dog’s chipped tooth

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 for them to check on your pup non-urgently.

In any case of a chipped tooth resulting from trauma, head to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Some crown fractures are fixed with a vital pulpotomy instead of a root canal , but you have 48 hours to make that happen. Otherwise, it’s a root canal or extraction.

Our pups can’t tell us what kind of pain they’re in, and it’s difficult to know if the damage has reached the root or is causing any sensitivity. Rule out any possibilities for further damage or infection with your vet.

Treatment options for chipped teeth

The location, severity, and overall oral health of your pup will all play into determining a treatment option. Here are a few that might be available.

Dental bonding

Bonding is also known as crown restoration and is used for minor chips when the crack hasn’t reached the pulp. If your pup has uncomplicated fractures, your doggie dentist may use dental bonding to restore the tooth. The dog’s tooth is sanded, then a tooth-colored liquid is applied, bonding to the tooth’s surface, followed by resin (like a top coat for nail polish).

Dental bonding is an inexpensive treatment that can restore the function of your dog’s tooth, reduce pain, and keep things from getting worse.

Dental crown

Dental crowns shield the tooth after a root canal or vital pulpotomy, providing a tooth-like function. Doggie dentists will never apply a crown over a fractured tooth because it would be the perfect storm for an infection to grow.

Crowns are sometimes applied to the healthy teeth of police dogs to protect their teeth from fractures when working in the field. The most commonly used crowns are metallic.

Root canal

Also known as endodontic treatment, root canal therapy involves anesthesia to remove the damaged or infected pulp from the tooth’s root. After removal, the tooth is sealed to prevent further pain or damage.

To access the root, the veterinarian creates an opening in the crown. They carefully remove the infected pulp, which houses infection, and the nerves that cause tooth pain. They clean the area thoroughly, then seal it. In some cases, a crown will be placed over the tooth.

Tooth extraction

Extraction is a lot like human wisdom teeth removal. It’s reserved for irreparable damage or when needed to prevent infection or alleviate pain.

Your dog will likely have an X-ray to make sure extraction needs to happen. After being placed under anesthesia, an incision will be made to detach the tooth’s tissue. Next, the tooth will be carefully loosened and removed. A few stitches are needed in the gums, and sometimes the area will be packed to help with healing.

Cost of fixing a chipped tooth

The cost of fixing your dog’s chipped tooth can vary, the same as human dental work. Minor fractures and simple procedures will cost less. Dental bonding, for example, runs between $90-$300 per tooth. An extraction will cost more, upwards of $500-$2,500. Root canals are the most complicated and expensive procedures, close to what a human would pay, $1,500-$3,000 for small- to medium-sized dogs, whereas a root canal in a large dog (specifically the canine tooth) can cost much more.

Caring for your dog after treatment

After your dog has dental work, you’ll want to ensure their comfort. You’ll also aid in their healing process and help maintain good oral health. Make sure to follow all post-operative instructions from your vet or dental specialist and have plenty of soft or wet food for your pup.

Pain management and medications

After a procedure, your veterinarian may prescribe pain management medications or antibiotics. In some cases, antibiotics are combined with probiotics to ease stomach upset. Make sure to administer as directed to keep your pup comfortable. Medications can range from carprofen (like ibuprofen for dogs) to opioids.

Most vet dentists use nerve blocks during the procedure, and these blocks can last for most of the day. Medications that are sent home are mostly NSAIDS like carprofen and sometimes nerve pain meds like gabapentin. We rarely reach for OTC painkillers. In low doses, it may be safe for dogs, but there are better options.

Erica Irish DVM

Monitoring your dog’s recovery

Keep a close eye on your dog’s behavior after a procedure. Your veterinarian will talk with you about grogginess after anesthesia so you know what’s normal. Look for any signs of discomfort, including excessive drooling, pawing at the mouth, reluctance to eat, or changes in behavior. If you notice anything concerning, contact your veterinarian.

Proper dental care after surgery

Once your doggie dental problems are solved, you’ll want to take preventative measures for good oral health moving forward. Teeth brushing and dental waters or rinses keep your dog’s mouth clean and give you regular insight into the condition of their teeth. After complete healing, you may add dental treats or chews. Avoid hard toys or bones that could mess up your pup’s fresh dental work.

Preventing a dog’s chipped tooth

The amount of force needed to chip a tooth is surprisingly low. The most common causes of chipped teeth are trauma, chewing on hard objects, and dog fights. There are a few things that pup parents can do to safeguard their dog from trauma (like getting hit by a car) or mouth injuries (like biting another dog during a fight). Making sure your dog fence is secure and keeping your dog leashed in public are some of the best preventatives.

Toy safety

Test toys before giving them to your pup. The “thumb test” or fingernail test is the most common. Apply gentle pressure with your fingernail to the object. If it’s safe, a slight indentation should be left behind. If it’s not, the toy isn’t pliable enough to protect your pup’s teeth.

👉A lot of pups love ice cubes, but they’re a common cause of chipped teeth.

Frequently asked questions

Can a dog’s broken tooth heal on its own?

No, pet parents should always see a veterinarian for a dog’s chipped tooth to get a thorough assessment. Even in uncomplicated fractures without exposed pulp and an asymptomatic pup, the tooth’s durability may still be compromised. It’s not a good idea for dog owners to determine the severity of the crack without having it examined.

Is a broken dog tooth an emergency?

Sometimes. If you notice signs of pain or discomfort, a lot of blood, or exposed pulp, it’s likely an emergency.

What should I do if a dog’s tooth breaks off at the gumline?

Take your pet to the veterinarian to make sure the entire tooth came out. A leftover piece of tooth can lead to infection or pain.

Should I pull a dog’s loose tooth?

No. Puppy teeth may fall out on their own, while an older dog with a loose tooth can be painful. In either case, you should consult the vet for advice.

Is tug-of-war safe for puppies?

If done correctly, it can be. Never pull harder than your pup is pulling, jerk your dog’s neck, or pull your pup across the floor by the rope. Gentle tugging is a great way to play but always protect your dog.

Are rawhide bones safe for dogs?

Yes. Rawhide bones can be pretty pliable, enough to be safe for teeth. Steer clear of very thick ones, which can break off in large pieces causing bowel obstruction if swallowed.