It all started with a broken tooth. A broken tooth that I didn’t even know my dog had.
I had dropped off my Miniature Poodle, Jäger, at the vet for his annual teeth cleaning. My vet called me just an hour later, saying that after they put my dog under general anesthesia, they opened his mouth and saw that he had a visibly broken tooth. I was flabbergasted. My dog had not once acted like he was in pain. He was eating normally and was his usual, happy self.
As it turns out, dogs are masters at masking their pain. It goes back to their survival instinct. An injured or sick animal is an easy target for predators, so dogs don’t always act hurt, even if they are.
Needless to say, I felt TERRIBLE. My poor little doggie was in pain, and I didn’t even know it. Thank goodness I brought him in for his teeth cleaning or who knows how long it would have gone undetected?
I figured my vet would just pull the tooth and asked what the cost would be. I was surprised when he said, “You know what? This is a pretty important tooth [it was a molar], and Jäger is a young dog. You might want to consider a root canal.”
Ummmmmm, a WHAT?
Yep, root canals for dogs are actually a thing. (An EXPENSIVE thing, by the way. Thank god we have pet insurance!) My regular vet doesn’t do advanced dental procedures like root canals, so he just cleaned my dog’s teeth and referred me to a veterinary dentist. In the U.S., these specialists are board certified by the American College of Veterinary Dentistry.
“Root canal therapy is recommended over extraction when the tooth involved is an important [strategic] tooth,” said Barden Greenfield, DVM, Dipl. AVDC, owner of Your Pet Dentist, which has locations in Memphis, Tennessee, and Little Rock, Arkansas.
He said the usual candidates for root canals are the maxillary and mandibular canines, upper fourth premolars, mandibular first molars, and maxillary lateral incisors.
“I highly recommend root canal therapy over extractions for those teeth that qualify for the procedure. Dental X-rays are needed to assess the root canal system and the root of the tooth. In some cases, the tooth has to be extracted due to root resorption or other potential problems.”
Simply pulling a broken tooth might be less costly, but there are risks involved with extraction. Root canals are preferred for these particular teeth for several reasons: 1) They are extremely difficult to remove, 2) trying to remove them can result in accidentally fracturing the jaw, 3) these strategic teeth keep the tongue in the mouth (so it doesn’t loll out to the side), and 4) the teeth provide support to the mandible.
I chose to go ahead with the root canal for Jäger, and I’m so glad I did. The procedure went well, Jäger was sent home with pain meds, and by the next day he was feeling back to his old self. I can only imagine what a relief it was for him to have his broken tooth fixed! He has had two rechecks for that tooth since the procedure, and everything still looks great.
“Normal follow up for root canals is to take dental X-rays in six to 12 months after the procedure, then annually afterwards,” Dr. Greenfield said. “This is done at the time of the annual cleaning, so there is no additional anesthetic fee/time. Root canals are over 90 percent successful, so ideally it should last the life of the pet.”
I still don’t know what broke Jäger’s tooth. He’s a big-time chewer, and sometimes he gets ahold of things I don’t want him to. Dr. Greenfield said hard chews are often the culprit.
“One of the biggest items that can contribute to tooth fracture are dogs chewing on deer/elk antlers,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are seeing a lot of those cases lately. Other hard chews can contribute, such as cow hooves and hard bones.”
I certainly don’t want another broken tooth, so we switched all of Jäger’s chews to softer ones.
“Rawhides are still OK as long as you find one that is safe to digest,” Dr. Greenfield said. “Most of the chews I recommend are not necessarily chews for passive chewing, but rather to help prevent dental plaque and calculus.”
He recommends chews that have the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal.
With luck, my dog’s first root canal will be his last!