Is a Root Canal Best for a Cat's Broken Tooth?

Cats fracture teeth less frequently than dogs.

Cats fracture teeth less frequently than dogs.

When kitty cracks a tooth, the difference between saving the tooth via root canal or losing the tooth due to extraction depends on how quickly the fracture is cared for, according to the American Veterinary Dental College. Which is best is based on your budget and the depth of fracture.

Causes

In general, cats end up with a fractured tooth due to some sort of collision rather than as the result of biting something firm that caused the crack. According to Pet Place, tooth fracture can be the result of a hit-and-run with a vehicle, a fall from a high place or an attack from another animal.

Symptoms

The tricky issue with identifying a fractured tooth is that cats with this ailment often show no outward signs of pain. That doesn't mean there isn't discomfort. According to Pet Place, a fractured tooth is quite painful even if the cat gives off no physical symptoms. If your cat has experienced head or jaw trauma, it is best to watch for the following indicators: increased head shyness, unwillingness to allow head petting and scratching as before, dropping food when chewing and difficulty in chewing food. As most cats don't tolerate mouth examinations without restraint, a professional dental examination is warranted to determine if a fracture is present.

Tooth Anatomy

The anatomy of a cat's tooth provides yet another reason why immediate care for a fracture means the difference between saving and loosing the tooth. While a cat's tooth is composed of three layers aimed at protecting the interior of the tooth, the first two layers are relatively thin. The first layer is the enamel -- the white covering seen by the naked eye. The second layer is the dentin. It covers the the pulp, which contains the arteries, veins, nerves and connective tissues that are highly sensitive, according to Pet Place. This pulp is the system by which teeth grow, according to the American Veterinary Dental College. In a cat's tooth, the pulp extends to nearly the very end tip of the tooth, according to Vet Info. This means that any fracture -- even small ones -- can result in sensitive pulp being exposed to potential infection, according to the American Veterinary Dental College.

What is a Root Canal?

In more formal terms, a root canal is referred to as an endodontic procedure. Endodontic refers to the interior area of the tooth housing the pulp within what is essentially a canal. Hence the more familiar term of root canal. When a tooth is fractured, the pulp can become infected. In a root canal, the pulp is removed to avoid further infection and to eliminate the associated pain. The empty canal is then filled with an inert material and covered with a crown, according to the American Veterinary Dental College.

Diagnosis

An accurate assessment of the tooth's condition requires the help of a veterinarian. Your kitty most likely will have to go under anesthesia as most cats do not tolerate oral examinations that include the type of probing you endure at the dentist as well as X-rays. To make sure your cat is physically capable of being put under, the veterinarian will most likely order a blood test and urinalysis to determine kitty's general health, according to Pet Place.

Cost

Anytime veterinary care is necessary, one can expect the need will dip into your financial resources. This is particularly true in regards to specialized care involving feline dental procedures. According to the Veterinary Dental Center, a feline root canal costs between $500 and $600 while an extraction costs $300 to $400. Depending on the clinic, that figure may or may not include the cost of blood work and urinalysis that most veterinarians require prior to anesthesia. According to How Much Is It, a website gathering national pricing indexes for a variety of consumer products and services, basic blood work for a feline ranges from $60 to $150. Some pet health insurance plans offer coverage for dental cleanings, root canals and extractions within similar parameters as is available in dental coverage for humans with preventative procedures being covered at higher rates than procedures necessary due to tooth decay or damage such as a root canal.

Is It Worth It?

The decision whether to attempt to save a cat's tooth via root canal is one you as the human caretaker must make. According to Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, cats have 30 permanent teeth by the time they reach adulthood. Only about 10 percent of the feline population experiences no dental challenges during their lifetime, according to Daniel Carmichael, dental specialist at the Center for Specialized Veterinary Care. However, according to Cornell, most feline dental problems are best handled via extraction. That opinion varies across the veterinary community, with those specializing in feline dental care favoring the use of root canal therapy. As supported by My Pets Dentist, teeth do serve a vital function for cats and it's beneficial to save them when possible. In making the decision, be sure to consult with a veterinarian you trust. According to the American Veterinary Dental College, nearly 95 percent of feline root canals are successful, although the value of having your kitty get a root canal depends on the condition of the tooth prior to the procedure. If your veterinarian thinks it may be worth saving and you are willing to pay for the procedure, it may be your best option to help your kitty keep as many of those teeth as possible.

 

About the Author

Amy M. Armstrong is a former community news journalist with more than 15 years of experience writing features and covering school districts. She has received more than 40 awards for excellence in journalism and photography. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Washington State University. Armstrong grew up on a dairy farm in western Washington and wrote agricultural news while in college.

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