Worn Pet Teeth

What causes worn teeth?

Excessive wear of pet teeth can cause problems, and there are many reasons this can occur in dogs and cats. Some of the most common causes of worn pet teeth are chewing on tennis balls and other toys and itching/chewing because of skin allergies.

Another cause of severely worn teeth is chewing on cages or fences, which wears down the backside of the canines and increases the risk of tooth fracture. Finally, malocclusion or bite problems can cause two teeth to come together and wear on each other.

What to look for

Worn pet teeth can look like fractured teeth, but the edges and tips are generally smooth. If the wear occurs slowly, the tooth may respond by laying down extra tooth structure to protect the root canal. The tooth will generally stay alive and may not require any therapy if this happens. The exposed dentin in the middle of the tooth will become stained, and it usually appears as a light tan to medium brown color. Furthermore, when a protective layer of dentin is present, a dental explorer instrument will not be able to enter the root canal when performing an oral exam. In contrast, an explorer will sink into the root canal during probing/examination if the root canal is not protected.

In cases where the tooth is broken or the wear occurs too fast or for too long, the root canal can become exposed. Teeth with exposed root canals will generally have a dark brown to black center, instead of the light tan or medium brown color of reparative dentin, and will allow an instrument into the canal.   Teeth with direct root canal exposure are infected and require either root canal therapy or extraction.

On occasion, wear can occur quickly enough to infect the tooth, but the tooth lives long enough to lay down a protective layer of dentin before it dies. These teeth will look like a living, worn tooth on the outside but are dead on the inside. The only way to tell for sure is by taking a dental x-ray. Dead teeth have wider root canals than their vital neighbors. For this reason, we recommend dental x-rays on all significantly worn teeth.


Pending the situation, there are various treatment options:

  • If the tooth is non-vital (dead), root canal therapy or extraction is warranted.
  • If the tooth is NOT yet infected, the behavior must be curtailed, or the wear will continue.
    • This may include allergy treatment, changing the environment, or the type of toy.
  • If the damage is already significant, or changing the behavior is not possible, then crowns are recommended to protect the teeth from fracturing or further wear. We have had great success with crowns in these cases. See research below.
Example of crowns

At VDS we offer these services to address worn teeth

A dental crown in veterinary dentistry is a tooth-shaped "cap" that is placed over a dog or cat's tooth. It covers the tooth to restore (or at least approximate) its shape, size, strength, and/or to improve its appearance
Root Canal Therapy
Root Canal Therapy involves the removal of the pet's diseased or infected root canal system (nerve). The most common indication for pet root canal therapy is a fractured tooth. Other indications are discolored (dead) teeth or abscessed teeth.
An extraction is the pulling of one or more of your dog or cat's teeth. This is often needed because of complications due to periodontal (gum) disease.

Learn More

Success of Feather Margin Preparation for Full Metal Prosthodontic Crowns in the Canine Teeth in 84 Pet and Working Dogs (2005-2017)
By Dr. Ribka and Dr. Niemiec
Read Abstract