What is Tooth Fracture?
Fractures most commonly affect the canine tooth, or “fang”, which is typically the longest tooth in the cat’s mouth. The pulp extends almost to the tip of the canine tooth, therefore making pulp damage more likely if these teeth are fractured even a slightly. Thorough daily oral care is key in preventing tooth fracture and noticing it before any serious damage can occur.
Tooth fracture is a relatively common disorder in cats. It may not be serious or life-threatening, and may not ever bother the cat. However, if the tooth pulp – or the living connective tissue located in the center of the tooth – is damaged, the fracture will result in further dental problems if left untreated. These problems include bacterial infection and death of the pulp tissue (known as endodontic disease).
Symptoms of Tooth Fracture in Cats
Symptoms of tooth fracture in cats may not be immediately apparent because your cat may not be exhibiting any. In minor cases of tooth fracture, your cat’s eating habits and appetite may not change at all. Additionally, they may not experience any sort of pain or discomfort.
Look out for these symptoms of tooth fracture:
- Signs of pain or discomfort during eating
- Chewing food on one side of the mouth
- Blood in the mouth or coming from the tooth
- Pus or swelling as a result of infection
If you suspect your cat has a fractured tooth but they aren’t showing any symptoms, there is a possibility that the tooth pulp has already died and that infection has occurred. In this case, the body’s immune system has successfully fought off the infection, therefore masking outward symptoms. Damaged tooth pulp may take weeks or months to die, and your cat may not show any symptoms at all during this time.
In all cases of tooth fracture, take your cat to the vet as soon as possible, as cats are notorious for hiding their symptoms from their owners. If your cat’s tooth is bleeding, you need to take it to the vet immediately, as it has suffered damage to the dental pulp.
Causes of Tooth Fracture in Cats
The most common causes of tooth fractures in cats are from chewing on hard objects, rough play, and direct trauma. In older cats, attrition – or the natural reduction of tooth tissue due to constant tooth-to-tooth contact – may be a cause. Similarly, abrasion – or the wearing down of teeth due to a foreign object – can also be the culprit. Presently, no other known dental diseases or conditions cause tooth fracture.
Diagnosis of Tooth Fracture in Cats
Your vet will first examine your cat’s teeth, initially looking for outward signs of tooth pulp damage. The vet will likely ask you when you first noticed the fracture, as well as whether or not any traumatic events have occurred that may have caused the fracture. Be sure to inform the vet of all your cat’s symptoms, as this will aid them in determining if your cat’s fracture will require a more invasive treatment.
In order to determine whether or not there has been any pulp damage, your vet may choose to administer anesthesia to or otherwise sedate your cat and perform a radiography. They may also choose to perform a dental X-ray.
Treatment of Tooth Fracture in Cats
If there has been no pulp damage, the fracture is merely a cosmetic problem and will not require treatment. However, if pulp damage is evident, the fractured tooth will have to be extracted or treated with a root canal. Any surrounding damage to the gums or soft tissues of the mouth will also be treated during this time.
Root canal is often the recommended course of treatment. Following the removal of infected pulpal tissue, the tooth will then be fully restored using a tooth-colored composite material which will seal the tooth and prevent future infection. Your vet will perform a radiograph afterward to ensure that the entire tooth has been filled.
In the event that the pulp has died and resulted in infection, the tooth will be extracted. The infection may be treated with antibiotics if it persists following extraction. Antibiotics, if administered without extracting the tooth or otherwise treating the damaged pulp, will cure the bacterial infection temporarily. However, the infection will likely recur as soon as the medication is discontinued.
Recovery of Tooth Fracture in Cats
Root canal therapy is typically completely curative with no further problems.
Recovering from a tooth extraction may not be so easy, particularly if the canine tooth is affected. Extraction can be painful for cats because the root of the canine is longer and wider than the part of the canine that you can see. Extraction is a more major surgery, and will require anesthesia.
Following an extraction, your vet may prescribe pain management medication. Your vet may also recommend that you feed your cat soft or wet food during recovery to minimize pain.