I can pick them out with a single look at their teeth. The bone chewers. The antler chewers.
Here's how it goes down. I get a bouncy young dog in my exam room. Usually in excellent condition, with loving and caring owners. I start my complete physical exam. I look at his beautiful clear eyes, his clean ears. I lift his lip expecting to see pearly white teeth...and there they are. Multiple teeth with the tips chipped right off. Often with a black (or pink) spot in the middle of the chipped edge indicating exposure of the delicate pulp and nerve of the tooth. In the worst cases, sometimes the entire side of the molar has just fallen right off, a slab of tooth chipped right off the side. I calmly make conversation with my patients' family "...so has Fido been chewing on any bones or antlers?"
"Oh yes, the guy at the pet store highly recommended them and Fido L-O-V-E-S them! Don't his teeth look so white?"
Sadly, this is a very common scenario. I can say this with a very high degree of confidence because I see it ALL THE TIME. Bones (cooked and raw) antlers, rocks and other hard toys, even ice cubes, cause chipped and broken teeth. "But Doctor, my dog has always chewed antlers/bones and has never chipped a tooth". That may be true, until it isn't. And then we have a bigger problem. There is, no doubt, a gradient in risk. The more aggressive the chewer, the stronger the jaw, the higher the risk. But dogs that chew bones and antlers and other hard toys are at markedly higher risk of chipping and breaking teeth.
So, what's the big deal? The chipped teeth don't seem to bother him?! With a few exceptions, whether it is a small fracture off the tip of the tooth, or a large crack right down the middle of the tooth, there is no doubt that Fido is feeling it. Worse yet, this exposed pulp now provides an open channel for bacteria to invade right down the middle of that tooth and into the root. This infection can slowly, painfully, eat away at the bone around the root of the tooth, under the gumline, undetected. Time and time (and time and time and time...) again, I hear owners assure me their dog is not painful with his dental disease, but then, after we fix the problem, they return to say that he is suddenly a new dog. Chronic, aching pain is not something that is easy to detect in our patient, tolerant canine (and feline) friends.
If this happens, there are treatment options available. If you would like your pet to retain the offending tooth, especially if it is one of the large canine teeth or chewing teeth, we can refer you to a veterinary dental specialist in hopes that a root canal might be an option. Otherwise, we can preform an extraction of the broken tooth in our hospital.
So what should you do? Well, of course stop giving your dog bones and antlers...but what other chews should you cut out? Consider the "knee cap test". This is highly scientific... if you knock the chew on your bare knee cap and it hurts, its too hard! Of the "fingernail test". If you can not depress your finger nail into it, its too hard. Need something more scientific than that? Visit the Veterinary Oral Health Council website. It provides a list of products whose manufacturers have willingly put them through extensive testing to prove their safety, and their efficacy in preventing plaque (best!) and tartar. This list is not exclusive, but it is accurate and independently evaluated.
Now, whether it is even appropriate to GIVE your dog a chew toy is another story. This discussion does not include the risks of swallowing chews whole and getting intestinal obstructions! Use your best judgement. Please, do not HESITATE to call us to discuss treat and chew options for your dog...or better yet, get brushing!!