What is Furcation?
The spot in the tooth where the roots meet is known as the furcation. When periodontal disease causes the gums to recede the furcation may become exposed and can be susceptible to degradation and infection.
Furcation issues in dogs are much more common than in humans because the root and furcation area are much closer to the surface of the gums. Mild cases of furcation disease may only require minor work, however serious cases of furcation disease may require the extraction of the tooth.
Furcation disease in dogs is typically seen when periodontal disease reaches an advanced stage.
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Symptoms of Furcation in Dogs
Furcation disease is typically an extension of periodontal disease, most often of advanced periodontal disease. Other signs that your dog may be suffering from periodontal disease may include:
- Bad breath
- Bleeding or ulcerated gums
- Bulging gums
- Excessive drooling
- Loose teeth
- Missing teeth
- Nasal discharge
- Reluctance to eat
- Stained teeth
- Tartar buildup on teeth
Furcation disease typically can be classified into three categories, which are divided by how far a periodontal probe can reach through the tooth underneath the crown.
- Stage 1 - When probing a stage 1 furcation the examiner will be able to extend the probe under the crown of the tooth, but less than half way
- Stage 2 - Although a probe will reach more than half way through a stage 2 furcation, it will not reach out through the other side of the tooth
- Stage 3 - This is the most serious stage of furcation allowing the probe to go completely through the tooth
Causes of Furcation in Dogs
Furcation disease is produced by periodontal disease, which is in turn caused by a bacterial buildup that settles on the teeth and gums. When the bacterial buildup first starts affecting the gums, they become inflamed and irritated, a condition known as gingivitis. If untreated, this can lead to a progressively degenerative disorder known as periodontitis, which can leave portions of the root exposed and susceptible to damage to the furcation area of the tooth.
Diagnosis of Furcation in Dogs
A dog that is presenting with furcation disease will also typically have signs of periodontal disease that will be seen during the initial physical examination. Standard diagnostic tests, including a biochemical profile, complete blood test, and urinalysis, will be employed to uncover if there are any systemic infections that may be contributing to the degradation of the gums. The canine will typically be anesthetized at this point so that the examining veterinarian can further gauge the extent of the damage.
Radiographs of the teeth and underlying structures will typically be used to assess the health of both the bones and teeth; quite often this will help to uncover signs of disease that are not visible above the gum line and may also reveal any furcations for further assessment although they are often more severe than they appear on x-ray imaging. The gums and furcations will be probed to measure how deep any pockets of infection are in the gums as well as to determine how far through the tooth the furcation goes.
Treatment of Furcation in Dogs
An appropriate treatment for the specific situation will be determined once the furcation disorder has been identified and classified. Simple stage one furcation damage will be scaled, cleaned, and polished. In order to prevent the advancement of the disease plaque control treatments will need to be repeated on a regular basis. Stage two furcation disease is treated in much the same way, although in some cases a bone graft and physical barrier may be put into place in order to prevent any skin cells from invading the furcation area.
Techniques such as guided tissue generation and root planing may be required as well for the management of furcation disease that has progressed to the second stage. Stage three furcation disease requires a more complicated treatment, however, and although advanced mucogingival surgical intervention may be utilized to save the tooth on occasion, it typically requires the full extraction of the tooth or teeth that are affected.
Recovery of Furcation in Dogs
If your dog needs to have a tooth extracted, ensuring that they have a calm and quiet location to return to will help speed your pet’s recovery. Patients that are still recovering from the anesthesia required to examine and treat teeth may have coordination difficulties initially and may be confused and disoriented at first. Isolation from other animals, children, or unfamiliar people may be advised until the medication has fully cleared your pet’s system. Dogs that have had teeth removed may experience pain when attempting to chew their food, and a diet of dry food moistened with broth, commercial wet dog food, or unseasoned human grade food such as chicken is recommended to make eating more comfortable.