Dogs, like many other carnivores, have specialized teeth for shearing. These teeth come in pairs – an upper and a lower – and are modified fourth premolars (upper) and first molar (lower). The sharp cusps create a scissors-like action, obviously important for chopping up chunks of flesh into pieces that can be swallowed. (Sabertooth cats had carnassial teeth, too – they did not use their elongated canines for chewing!) Apparently, these teeth are particularly susceptible to fracturing and abscesses in domestic dogs. This is what happened to Tajji. She isn’t a “strong chewer,” like our old German Shepherd Dog, but all dogs can exert tremendous force when they bite down.
About three years ago, as near as we can tell from her vet records, Tajji suffered a slab fracture of one of her upper carnassials teeth. The portion of the tooth on the lip (as opposed to tongue) side was broken but not detached. This image shows a dog with almost the same problem, a slab fracture with a movable chip. Tajji’s fractured tooth was covered with tartar. We had no way of knowing how much discomfort she was in, and how chronic pain might have exacerbated her reactivity. It was clear to both of us that we needed to get to the tooth taken care of. The vet offered to try to save the main portion of the tooth, warning us that the exposed surface would need careful brushing to prevent decay and new buildup of tartar. Rather than risk a problem that required a second dental surgery when Tajji would be even older, we decided to go ahead with extracting this one.