Tooth wear – what now?

Attrition is defined as a physiologic wear of hard dental tissues (enamel and dentin) from tooth to tooth contact due to natural mastication. So there is some attrition expected to affect teeth of dogs and cats during aging. If this process is excessive, mostly due to abnormal tooth to tooth contact in cases of malocclusion, we call this pathologic attrition.

Abrasion is mostly a result of excessive wear of the teeth due to chewing on abrasive objects, and patterns may give us an idea of what the object is (e.g., chewing on frisbies will result in abrasion of the canine teeth, chewing on tennis balls will result in abrasion of premolar teeth, chewing on cage bars will result in abrasion of the distal (back) aspect of the canine teeth).

Clinically it is usually difficult to discern attrition from pathologic attrition from abrasion, unless the reason is evident. Therefore we will commonly refer to “dental wear” or “attrition/abrasion” diagnosis as clinically they all may result in endodontic (pulp) disease. Attrition/abrasion may range from minor wear of the tip of the crown to pronounced exposure of the dentine. Generally, if the process of dental hard tissues loss is slow, the pulp will have time to protect itself from the inside with formation of more dentin (i.e., tertiary dentin). In rapidly progressing hard dental tissues loss, pulp exposure may be observed.

If pulp exposure is noted, the tooth needs treatment just as in cases of dental fractures with pulp exposure. However, even if no pulp exposure is noted, the tooth should be radiographed as exposed dentinal tubules are wide enough for the bacteria to enter the pulp and cause infection, inflammation and pulp death.

Many cases of abrasion can be prevented by selecting an appropriate toy!

If you have noted any problems with your animal, please consult your veterinarian.

Selected references
1. DuPont G (2010) Pathologies of the dental hard tissues. In: Small animal dental, oral & maxillofacial disease. BA Niemiec, Ed., CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, Boca Raton, pp. 127–157.
2. Verstraete FJM, Tsugawa AJ (2016). Self-assessment color review: Veterinary dentistry, 2nd ed., CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, Boca Raton, p. 167.