February 6, 2017


Pet Dental Extractions – More Than Just Pulling Teeth

by Aili V. Heintz, DVM

“Pulling teeth”….we often use this term in a number of ways. For example, “It’s like pulling teeth to get the kids clean their rooms!” or “Getting my husband to take out the garbage is like pulling teeth!” We use this phrase, most likely because these are not fun or easy tasks.

However, we often misuse the term “pulling teeth” to describe pet dental extractions. It is true that extracting or removing a tooth is neither fun nor or easy.  Nevertheless, “pulling teeth” doesn’t begin to describe canine teeth closedthe skill and technique required for this procedure. If you were to literally pull a tooth out of your pet’s mouth, you could cause serious complications.

Complicated Root Structure

Dogs and cats have a much different dental anatomy than do humans. With humans, a majority of our teeth have roots that extend below the gum line into the jaw straight downward. The roots of our teeth tend to be relatively and surprisingly short.

Dogs and cats have some teeth, like canine teeth (their long fang teeth), where the roots can be longer than the exposed teeth. Often, those roots curve under other teeth deep into the bone of the jaw.
Premolars and molars, which include most of the teeth behind the fangs, have multiple roots for each tooth.

Because of this complicated root structure, it is often necessary to section (cut into pieces) dog and cat teeth during dental extractions. If we simply tried to “pull the tooth,” there would be an increased risk that the roots would break off, potentially causing pain and dental abscesses in the future.

Post-extraction Care

After a tooth and root are sectioned and completely removed, we gently clean the area to prevent infection. In humans, after tooth extractions, our dentists will typically place gauze in our mouths and have us change it out every 10-20 minutes until any bleeding or oozing subsides. As you can imagine, this process is not possible with our animal patients!

Instead of packing the pocket with gauze, we use absorbable gel foam on our animal friends. This foam helps to stop any bleeding due to extractions, and it is absorbed by the body. We then close the extraction site with sutures to help promote faster healing and to prevent food from becoming stuck in the pockets.

As you can see, extracting an animal tooth is much more than simply “pulling a tooth.” It takes time and skill to ensure that your pet has a happy and healthy smile!