The Classic Comprehensive Handbook of Cat Care
What to Do When Your Cat Is Sick: broken tooth
A broken tooth can become the cause of serious medical problems in a cat if it is neglected. When the inside chamber of the tooth (pulp cavity, chamber), which contains the blood supply and nerve, is exposed by breakage, the tooth dies and may develop an abscess (localized infection) around its root. Such localized infections may be associated with facial swelling, pain, and reluctance to eat, chew, or pick up hard objects.
However, many cats show no specific signs of discomfort and the broken tooth is found only incidentally on physical examination. Some cats develop serious systemic bacterial infections from infected broken teeth, so it is important always to examine the mouth for evidence of infected teeth whenever the presence of any kind of bacterial infection is diagnosed.
Some tooth fractures are very minor and do not expose the pulp chamber or kill the tooth. They require no special veterinary care unless there are sharp edges on the break that need to be smoothed. The more usual type of break is severe enough to expose the pulp cavity. If this type of break has been present for some time, a dark gray-black spot is seen in the area normally occupied by the pulp. The surrounding part of the tooth may be the normal creamy white color, or it may also be discolored pinkish brown or gray.
Should you notice a broken tooth at this stage, a veterinarian’s examination is indicated but not urgent. A freshly broken tooth with pulp exposure has a bright, reddish-pink pulp area that may bleed if touched. This type of tooth injury calls for a veterinarian’s examination within a few hours if an attempt to preserve the tooth’s vitality is desired. Veterinarians with special training in dentistry will take steps to seal the freshly exposed pulp chamber in the hope that the broken tooth will survive without abscessation.
Since it is relatively rare for a cat owner to discover a freshly broken tooth, the more usual treatments administered are extraction or root canal therapy. Cats tolerate tooth extraction well since, unlike humans, their teeth have little tendency to migrate out of their normal position when an opposing tooth is removed. Root canal therapy is performed when tooth preservation is important for cosmetic or functional reasons. Ask your veterinarian for more information if you think your cat may require treatment for a broken tooth.