Introduction ...Common Problems.... Selected Procedures...Prevention


The type, function and appearance of teeth in dogs (and cats) is different than in other commonly encountered species in veterinary medicine. The anatomy of a typical adult tooth is as follows:

from fromCanine Dentistry, A Compendium 2nd Ed 1985

Dentin: the substance of the tooth below the enamel. It is bone-like, about 27% organic in composition and contains nerve fibers woven through it (making the tooth sensitive to temperature, for example)

Cementum: layer of boney material below the surface of the gumline, covering the root; it is attached to the bone into which the tooth resides
(the alveolar bone) and attaches the tooth via the periodontal ligaments

Pulp: this is the soft tissue within the tooth substance and contains
sensory nerves and vessels (through the apical delta) which supply the tooth's nutrional and oxygen needs

This is the appearance of a typical tooth. It is composed of roots, apices, crown, neck, cementum, ligaments, pulp, dentin and enamel.

Crown: Portion of the tooth above the gum (gingiva) line...and covered in enamel

Neck: the constriction of the tooth at the gumline...where enamel ends and dentin, covered by cementum begins

Apex: Most terminal portion of the root

Apical Delta: Small openings in the root tip allowing tiny nerves and vessels to penetrate the substance of the tooth

Enamel: the hard, outer covering of the crown. It is about 5% organic in composition

Root: portion of the tooth below the gumline

Common Problems

The most common problems involve the accumulation of tartar and mineralized material (calculus) , periodontal disease (involving neck, tooth and periodontal ligaments with surrounding bone), gingival hyperplasia, broken teeth, exposed tooth roots, abscessed teeth, worn teeth, pulp exposure and oral neoplasms and epulides; additionally, various congenital problems may be seen, such as retained deciduous teeth, unilateral or bilateral under- and overbites ("Malocclusion", "Occlusal defects"), supranumerary teeth (too many teeth). There is another subset of problems encountered in cats...which will not be addressed on this page. Basic information about these is presented in the slide show, below.

Keep in mind that dental health is important in the overall health of the pet. Poor dental care can lead to other medical problems including, but not limited to kidney disease, cardiac disease and uncontrolled diabetes mellitus.

Selected Dental Procedures:

Tooth Brushing

An important component in dental care is the preventative care provided at home. Brushing teeth is one of the most useful activities a pet owner can undertake to ensure the dental and general health of a pet. The following presentation discusses a technique for training your dog for toothbrushing.

More information about teeth-brushing and dental care can be found here

Specialty Procedures

The most common dental procedures were shown in the slides show, above (Common Problems). Certain areas of special interest in veterinary dentistry have emerged over the years and basic information about some of these is presented here.

Enamel Defect Restoration

Enamel restoration refers to replacement of lost enamel and with a suitable protective and esthetically unobtrusive barrier. A crude representation of the steps in restoring an area with an enamel defect is show here...

Root Canal

Root canal therapy involves removal of the pulp and replacement with an inert material, concurrently restoring the approximate anatomically normal appearance of the tooth. It is the therapy of choice for complicated crown fractures or wear in which there is damage to or danger of exposure of pulp to environmetal pathogens. Traumatic damage to pulp, which can lead to apical root absorption and abscess formation in the surrounding bone, can occur directly or indirectly, through damaged dentin tubules and extension to the pulp cavity. Root canal is useful for preserving the appearance and function of a diseased tooth provided there is sufficient remaining healthy tooth (i.e. that the damage does not extend far below the gum line). If damage is too severe, the tooth is extracted instead.


Orthodonture in veterinary medicine is an area of increasing interest. It is the branch of dentistry that deals with the prevention and correction of irregularities of dental arcades, most specifically dental malocclusion. Some pictures of common orthodonture appliances are shown in the slide presentation, above, under dental procedures.

Traumatic Avulsion or Luxation

Traumatic avulsion (separation of a tooth from its boney socket (the "alveolus")) and luxation (dislocation of a tooth out of the alveolus) sometimes occur. It is possible to reimplant the affected tooth, within certain guidelines, as presented at a recent (2004) veterinary meeting*.


In addition to brushing of teeth, described above, there are a few other activities one can select to promote dental health, and prevent or retard the formation of plaque, tartar, calculus and, ultimately, periodontal disease.


Home Care for the Veterinary Dental Patient , Daniel T Carmichael, Hartz® Companion Animal, Dec 2003 pp1

*The North American Veterinary  Conference Proceedings 2004 pp 246-247

Handbook of Canine and Feline Dentistry, Cecilia Gorrel, DDS, DVM, Philippe Hennet, DVM and Leen Verhaert, DVM, Virbac® Animal Health

Small Animal Dentistry, Colin E. Harvey & Peter P. Emily 1993, Mosby® -Yearbook, Inc.

Veterinary Medicine, December 2004, pp1008

Veterinary Forum, January 2007 p 21

Copyright 1997-2017 Newman Veterinary Medical Services, Seattle, WA


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