Fractured Teeth in Cats

By Tammy Hunter, DVM; Jan Bellows, DVM, Dipl. AVDC, ABVP

How do cats break their teeth?

Fractured teeth are a common occurrence in cats, resulting from fights, motor vehicle accidents, and chewing on hard objects. The most frequently broken teeth in cats are the canine (fang) teeth.

What do broken teeth look like?

Sometimes the fractured tooth results in a chip off the enamel (hard, mineralized surface of teeth) and dentin (bony tissue beneath the enamel), and other times, the tooth is so fractured that the nerve is exposed to the outside.

There are five common tooth fracture classifications in cats:

  • Enamel fracture. A fracture with loss of crown substance confined to the enamel.
  • Uncomplicated crown fracture. A fracture of the crown that does not expose the pulp (soft tissue forming the inner structure of the tooth and containing nerves and blood vessels).
  • Complicated crown fracture. A fracture of the crown that exposes the pulp.
  • Uncomplicated crown-root fracture. A fracture of the crown and root that does not expose the pulp.
  • Complicated crown-root fracture. A fracture of the crown and root that exposes the pulp.
  • Root fracture. A fracture involving the root.

Are broken teeth in cats a problem?

Incisor fracture in a cat.Yes, fractured teeth in cats are a problem. When the enamel is fractured, exposing the dentin, the affected tooth becomes sensitive to heat, cold, and pressure. In cats, the enamel is relatively thin, and even a chip fracture needs attention.

It is far worse when the pulp (nerve) is exposed. The inside of the tooth fills with infected material that eventually trickles through the openings in the tip of the root into the jaw. Since the bacteria have a secure hiding place inside the root canal, the body’s immune system is unable to clear the infection, even with antibiotic treatment.

In time, bacteria exiting the tooth’s apex can spread, causing local tooth pain every time the cat chews and infection in other parts of the body.

What are the signs of a fractured tooth?

Signs to look for include:

  • Chewing on one side
  • Dropping food from the mouth when eating
  • Excessive drooling
  • Grinding of teeth
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Facial swelling
  • Lymph node enlargement
  • Shying away when the face is petted
  • Refusing to eat hard food
  • Refusing to chew on hard treats or toys

Often there are no signs at all, as cats are experts at hiding pain. This is why regular veterinary physical examinations are important for detecting evidence of fractured teeth.

What can be done to fix broken teeth?

Image shows a tooth that is sealed after a root canal to prevent bacteria from the mouth from entering the tooth.The tooth is sealed after a root canal to prevent bacteria from the mouth from entering the tooth.Most fractured teeth need to be treated to create pain-free function. Treatment may include root canal therapy, vital pulp therapy, or extraction. Ignoring the problem is not a good option, as the tooth will become sensitive and painful.

Root canal therapy involves removal of the diseased pulp tissue inside the tooth. As with people, an X-ray of the tooth evaluates the surrounding bone and confirms that the root is intact. Instruments are used to clean, disinfect, and fill the root canal to prevent future bacterial contamination and save the tooth. Long-term results of root canal treatment are generally excellent.

Vital pulp therapy may be performed on recently fractured teeth in younger cats (under 18 months of age). This treatment keeps the tooth alive. In vital pulp therapy, a layer of the pulp is removed to remove surface bacteria and inflamed tissue. A medicated dressing is placed on the newly exposed pulp to allow healing. A protective barrier of dental composite is placed on top of the dressing. Teeth treated with vital pulp therapy may require future root canal treatment.

Removal of broken teeth is another option; however, many veterinarians try to avoid extraction of teeth that are fractured but otherwise healthy. The decision to extract a tooth can only be made after careful oral examination under general anesthesia, as well as examination of dental X-rays. The extraction procedure involves oral surgery, comparable to removing impacted wisdom teeth in human patients.

How can I prevent my cat from fracturing more teeth?

Examine what your cat chews on. If your cat chews on hard objects that do not bend, remove the items or spray with a non-toxic, pet-friendly deterrent or repellent to decrease the attraction. Cats that have sustained tooth fractures from outdoor trauma (cat fights or car accidents) should be kept indoors.

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