A Look Inside a Dog’s Tooth

For National Pet Dental Health Month, we have talked about the kinds of teeth your pet has, the basics of dental care, and why it’s important. Let’s take a look at the inside of your dog’s (or cat’s) teeth, and see what they look like!

dog tooth anatomy{Image from “Anatomy of Domestic Animals” by Pasquini.}

Dogs and cats have teeth that are very similar to people’s teeth. Let’s take a quick look at the anatomy, and what can go wrong with some of these parts.

  1. The crown is the part of the tooth that is above the gums (the part you can see). The crown is where plaque and tartar accumulate – causing a yellow or brown discoloration of the tooth, and sometimes very bad breath.
  2. The neck is the part of the tooth right at the gumline. There is a slight narrowing of the tooth here.
  3. The root is the part of the tooth under the gums (the part you can’t see). Plaque and tartar can also accumulate down the neck of the tooth and onto the root of the tooth, below the gums. This can cause a lot of irritation and inflammation. Plaque accumulation on the tooth root leads to gingivitis.
  4. The enamel is the hard outer covering of the tooth. Enamel is stronger than bone, and is the hardest surface in the body. In people, when the enamel is eroded we get a cavity. Dogs and cats don’t really get cavities the same way that people do, but they can get resorptive lesions (which are very similar to cavities). Once enamel is gone, it can not be replaced.
  5. The dentin is the hard inner part of the tooth. The dentin protects the pulp cavity. If the dentin is damaged (like in a broken tooth in a dog or cat, or in a cavity in a person), it leaves the sensitive pulp cavity exposed and can be very painful.
  6. The pulp cavity is the inside of the tooth. This is where the nerves and blood supply for the tooth are located. If the pulp cavity is exposed, the nerve inside can be irritated and cause a lot of pain. The blood vessels inside can also be damaged and cause bleeding.
  7. The cementum is a very thin covering of the root of the tooth. This helps to “cement” the tooth in the jawbone.
  8. The periodontal membrane connects the cementum to the jawbone. This is what holds the tooth in place. As animals (and people) grow up, they lose their baby teeth. When the baby teeth are ready to fall out, the periodontal membrane holding the tooth in place loosens, and the baby tooth comes out. Periodontal disease – inflammation of the periodontal membrane – can develop when gingivitis becomes severe. When this membrane becomes inflamed, it loosens the connection between the tooth and the jawbone. This can cause the gums to recede, exposing the tooth root, and can even cause teeth to fall out.

Regular dental cleanings can help to keep your pet’s teeth, mouth, and whole body healthy. When is the last time your pet had a dental exam or a dental cleaning? Call us or come in to see when your pet’s last cleaning was, and if he needs another one. Most dogs and cats, especially as they get older, need a routine dental cleaning about once a year.

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