Worldwide medical and scientific journal for animal health professionals
Veterinary Focus

Issue number 22.3 Dental

Fillings, crowns, and implants

Published 09/04/2021

Written by Nicolas Girard

Also available in Français , Deutsch , Italiano and Español

Damaged teeth are common but often go unnoticed, or the consequences are ignored or at best underestimated. Damage is usually traumatic and is most commonly seen following excessive tug-of-war games with abrasive or breakable toys. 

A molded metal dental prosthesis fitted after endodontic treatment and periodontal surgery to elongate the crown (note the surrounding periodontal area has no inflammation).

Key points

Dental trauma is synonymous with facial pain, but the latter is often underestimated; treatment should be implemented as early as possible.

Root canal treatment is generally satisfactory, although the period between injury and treatment is an important prognostic factor.

Intra-oral radiography is the preferred diagnostic test, allowing accurate assessment of a lesion and enabling each step of the therapeutic process to be monitored. Long-term radiographic follow-up is always recommended.

The advantages of dental prostheses are often underestimated, but they must always be used appropriately and only after effective endodontal and periodontal treatment.

When considering use of an implant, careful evaluation of the mechanical forces in play is essential.


Damaged teeth are common but often go unnoticed, or the consequences are ignored or at best underestimated. Damage is usually traumatic and is most commonly seen following excessive tug-of-war games with abrasive or breakable toys. The importance of a thorough medical examination that includes assessment of the oral cavity, combined with a good understanding of the potential consequences of dental trauma, cannot be over-emphasized. Advances in dental treatments have enabled easier access to modern surgical techniques to preserve, strengthen, or replace damaged or missing teeth. The practitioner should be familiar with these options, be capable of making an accurate diagnosis, and be able to formulate a therapeutic plan. 

Clinical indications for endodontic treatment

The most obvious clinical sign, and the most important for both practitioner and patient, is pain. This is always present with dental trauma, but often goes unnoticed by the owner and requires good observation of the animal or careful history taking (Table 1). The dental pulp, composed of connective tissue, blood vessels, lymphatics and nerves, extends continuously from the tooth into the periapical periodontal space via the root apex. Pain is therefore experienced when mechanical or thermal stimuli cause inflammation of the dental pulp, and the sensation is increased when the periapical periodontium is compressed by biting and as inflammation develops through the acute and chronic phases. The owner becomes accustomed to the animal’s condition and lacks knowledge about the expression of pain, thus delaying detection. Broken teeth also provide an ideal site for bacterial colonization; infection develops instantaneously in the pulp canal, but it takes several days for the local signs (periapical periodontitis) to become apparent 1. Since the tooth is a closed system, despite the persistence of periapical inflammation, disease development depends on host factors (periapical environment, age, general immune status) and may present as an acute disease (abscess, fistula, suppurative inflammation) or chronic inflammation (granuloma, cyst) (Figure 1). Irreversible periapical inflammation can also occur after trauma that causes contusion rather than fracture. These lesions are common in small breeds and can cause severe damage if they are left untreated.

Table 1. Dental traumas and possible causes.
Dental fracture Road traffic accident, fall, jaw fracture (simple, i.e. without exposure of the dental pulp, vs. complicated, i.e. with exposure of the dental pulp).
Dental abrasion Metal bar, tennis ball, premature wear against an object (simple vs. complicated).
Dental attrition Dental malocclusion, premature wear against another tooth (simple vs. complicated).
Dental luxation Road traffic accident, fall, jaw fracture/ contusion (no dental displacement); lateral luxation (moderate displacement without rupture of the dental vasculature); avulsion (displacement and rupture of the dental vasculature).
Figure 1a. Disease resulting from tooth damage can take a variety of forms. Diffuse osteomyelitis, intra-oral fistula and inflammation on the chin of a Labrador associated with dental trauma. © Nicolas Girard

Figure 1b. Disease resulting from tooth damage can take a variety of forms. On opening the mouth a complicated fracture of the lower canine tooth is visible. © Nicolas Girard

Clinical indications for a dental prosthesis

Functional deficits, such as malocclusion resulting from a broken crown, are often regarded as the deciding factor for treatment. The owner, convinced that restoring tooth height will re-establish a correct bite, generally underestimates the pain resulting from periapical inflammation. In other situations it is the clinician who advises a prosthesis, with the aim of strengthening the devitalized tooth. The prime objectives of any prosthesis are to provide better protection against mechanical wear, future damage, and potential bacterial contamination of the pulp canal.

Recent advances in dental restoration resins have led to varying opinions as to the best approach to broken teeth. Some clinicians argue that periodontal management, root canal treatment and appropriate restoration of the dental access is sufficient to re-establish good function, irrespective of the height of the remaining crown. As a restored tooth is never as strong as the original, the owner/handler must be made aware that a deficient crown has limitations as to its function, and that it is necessary to minimize shocks and avoid excessive biting forces by appropriate training. For other clinicians, human studies point to the advantages of dental prostheses, notably by improving mechanical strength and protecting the devitalized tooth from fluids gaining access by microleakage (Figure 2) 2. However no veterinary studies have yet been undertaken to support or refute either approach, leaving the practitioner to make the decision, taking into account the animal’s well-being and the efficacy of the prosthesis.

Figure 2a. A dental prothesis may be indicated in a number of situations. Severe dental abrasion on a Belgian Malinois. © Nicolas Girard

Figure 2b. A dental prothesis may be indicated in a number of situations. A molded metal dental prosthesis fitted after endodontic treatment and periodontal surgery to elongate the crown (note the surrounding periodontal area has no inflammation). © Nicolas Girard

Functional defects are always accompanied by an esthetic defect, but the latter is rarely taken into consideration, in that direct restoration (i.e. restoring the defect in a one-step procedure) is performed without attempting to re-establish the original height, or indirect restoration is achieved via a metal (rather than ceramic) dental crown, as appearance is rarely an issue. Occasionally (e.g. with show dogs) owners request a ceramic crown to restore the original appearance of the tooth, but given the relative fragility of such prostheses, such requests should be very carefully assessed by the practitioner (Figure 3).

Figure 3. A ceramic dental crown fitted to the left maxillary canine of a boxer after appropriate endodontic treatment. © Nicolas Girard

Human advances in implantology to resolve periodontal problems have naturally led some to attempt these techniques on animals. The advantages and disadvantages should be carefully discussed with the owner and should include advice on the limitations and prognosis associated with such treatments. There are of course fundamental distinctions between veterinary and human indications (e.g. dental agenesis, dental avulsion, and dental extraction) to be considered 3.

Patient and tooth assessment 

The dental examination must always be preceded by a full clinical examination and a neurological examination where necessary. Particular attention should be paid to the temporomandibular joints, the bony maxillofacial structures, and the oral mucosa. The examination of a damaged tooth starts with the animal conscious but is completed under general anesthetic. During the conscious examination note the following;

  • Any difference in color of all or part of the dental crown 4 (Figure 4).
  • The structural integrity of the crown
  • Any reaction when the tooth is percussed
  • The dental occlusion
Figure 4. Discoloration and abrasion of the left maxillary canine tooth indicative of pulp necrosis. © Nicolas Girard

The simplest and most useful technique is scanning the surface of the tooth using a probe. This will immediately identify any opening to the pulp cavity; if present, an opening has a considerable bearing on possible complications and therapeutic options.

Under anesthesia the following are essential;

  • Assessment of the periodontal integrity (using a probe to estimate any subgingival extension of the fracture).
  • Intra-oral radiography to assess the dental canal: root wall ratio, and to check for any periapical inflammation. 
The treatment protocol and prognosis must be clearly explained to the owner. A precise clinical diagnosis is essential, and the final choice of endodontic treatment and/or restoration with a dental prosthesis must consider;
  • The medical status of the patient (i.e. age, history, cardiovascular and metabolic status).
  • The dental occlusion and what the mechanical forces are likely to be.
  • The state of the periodontal tissue (checking for periodontal disease and assessing if restorative surgery is feasible).
  • If orodental hygiene is satisfactory.
  • Appropriate endodontic treatment (Table 2).
  • Dental radiography (to look for periapical lesions, ankylosis or root resorption).
  • Use of dental models that accurately reproduce the mandibular and maxillary dental arcades.
Table 2. Assessment and treatment for dental trauma.
Degree of pulpitis  Delay in treating Degree of periapical periodontitis  Treatment
Reversible pulpitis  0-2 days  Absent Partial pulpectomy or root canal treatment
Irreversible pulpitis 2-7 days  Absent One-session root canal treatment
Pulp necrosis Delay > 15 days Moderate One-session root canal treatment
Pulp necrosis Delay > 15 days Severe (osteomyelitis, pain, inflammation) Two-session root canal treatment

Materials, techniques, and after-care

Endodontic treatments vary depending on the time since the pulp trauma. Treatment of a live tooth must be undertaken at a maximum of 48 hours post-trauma. Recent studies combining imaging and periapical histology after infection of the root canal confirm the speed of onset of periapical inflammation 1

Partial pulpotomy and pulp capping is performed under aseptic surgical conditions, i.e. sterile instruments, disinfection of the oral cavity and the dental surface to be treated, and the use of a sterile dental dam. The key to effective treatment lies in the quality of the restoration and especially the control of any leakage. The infected coronal pulp is removed using a dental burr that is slightly larger than the diameter of the dental canal. After controlling the hemorrhage, the pulp is capped using a dressing (calcium hydroxide or a hydroxyapatite mixture) that promotes healing. Localized aseptic necrosis develops on contact with the pulp, with the formation of a dentine scar or bridge; this can be confirmed via radiography, but the bridge in itself is not a hermetic barrier against fluids, and the key to effective treatment lies in the quality of the restoration, especially how watertight it is. 

Good knowledge of the qualities and limitations of the various dental materials is important and facilitates handling and implementation. For restoration, the physical and mechanical protection of the pulp cap is essential. A sandwich technique is employed, using a base composed of a glass-ionomer cement (selected on the basis of good resilience and impermeability to leakage) which will protect the pulp cap and support the restoration. The crown opening is then restored using a composite resin chosen for its mechanical resistance and esthetic properties.

Treatment of contaminated dental pulp within 48 hours of trauma has a success rate of 88% 5. However, if pulp infection is treated between 48 hours and 7 days after the insult the success rate drops to 41%, and infections older than 1-3 weeks have a satisfactory prognosis of only 23%. These results from a veterinary study concur with human recommendations for which the best chance of therapeutic success (95%) is with reversible pulpitis treated within 24 hours 6. 

Root canal treatment is the treatment of choice for pulp trauma older than 48 hours. This involves the complete elimination of the pulp and mechanical debridement of the walls of the dental canal, which is then disinfected (chemical debridement) and totally filled before the coronal access is restored. Surgical techniques vary, essentially differing by the method used to fill the canal. Methods to disinfect and shape the dental canal vary little but these steps are essential for effective treatment. When preparing the canal, shaping it enables more effective use of the instruments and allows the irrigation fluid to circulate more easily; if the canal is properly opened the fluid can reach the finest branches of the pulp system, which will optimize disinfection. Elimination of the pulp is certainly important, but complete mechanical debridement followed by chemical debridement of the dentine walls is essential to disinfect the root canal. The canal should be tapered, ideally approximately 10% (i.e. by 0.1 mm every 1 mm) 7 8. This is especially important at the apical third of the root. A three-dimensional filling of the canal is employed to prevent bacterial recolonization. Cement is essential when filling the canal with gutta-percha; applied as an ultrathin layer, it ensures that the gutta percha fills the dental canal perfectly to provide a watertight barrier against bacteria (Figure 5). 

Figure 5. Radiograph showing the final filling. © Nicolas Girard

Success rates for endodontic treatment have rarely been studied in veterinary dentistry. However it is important to stress two major differences compared to human dentistry: 

  • Treatment is often instigated long after the initial insult and the periapical periodontitis is well advanced.
  • The canal anatomy is complex and a canal may be as long as 40-42 mm, making effective mechanical and chemical debridement difficult.

One retrospective study noted that treatment for irreversible pulpitis offers a clinical and radiographic success rate of ~ 85%, but if pulp necrosis has developed, the success rate drops to ~45% 9. However, if one only considers animals with no clinical signs (pain, inflammation) and no radiographic signs of aggravation, the overall success rates of root canal treatment are close to those reported for human dentistry at around 96% 9. These results may explain why opinions vary between practitioners, but should also alert clinicians to a probable underestimation of the chronic pain experienced by treated animals. It is therefore important to recommend an additional disinfection step if there is established periapical periodontitis, even though this means a second general anesthetic (Figure 6).

To achieve this, calcium hydroxide is applied to the dental canal at the end of the canal preparation phase. It is protected from external contamination by a temporary hard filling material which is left in situ for 15 days; definitive filling of the canal is then performed as a second procedure, thus allowing greater healing of the periapical periodontitis. The advantage of this two-session treatment was highlighted by a prospective study using 2D and 3D dental imagery and histology 10. The disadvantages of an additional general anesthetic should be assessed against parameters such as pain, status of the pulp inflammation (pulpitis vs. pulp necrosis) and the degree of periapical inflammation 11.

Figure 6. Diffuse periapical osteomyelitis of the mandibular canine tooth; this will require a two-session root canal treatment. © Nicolas Girard

Indirect dental restoration

Indirect restorations involve several surgical procedures, and the choice between the different possible restorations should consider the extent of the tooth damage, the mechanical stress that will be supported by the restored tooth, and the need to control dental plaque, as well as financial and esthetic aspects.

Ideally a crown will have both excellent retention and optimal mechanical resistance. The quality of the retention of the restoration is directly related to the percentage of a tooth’s surface area covered by the prosthesis, and a full crown, i.e. one that completely covers a damaged tooth, is thus largely preferred in veterinary dentistry. A molded metal prosthesis strengthens the damaged tooth by spreading occlusal forces over a large surface area, and by eliminating forces directed onto the actual site of the fracture. It is important to ensure that the crown itself does not weaken the tooth 12. To achieve this one must consider the five main principles of dental preparation prior to crown placement;

  • Preservation of the tooth structure
  • Retention and resistance of the crown
  • Durability of the crown
  • Integrity of the crown margins
  • Respect for the underlying periodontal tissues 

The tooth is prepared during an initial general anesthetic. The axial surfaces must be reduced using a conical diamond burr to allow retention of the molded crown; the amount of enamel removed should be minimal (0.5 mm depth) and it is desirable to attain an optimal angle of reduction of 6% 12. This is not easy; a study of preparation angles performed by human dental students showed that the ability to achieve this theoretically ideal angle varied markedly 13. The retention of the dental prosthesis is a result of micromechanical and chemical bonding, and it is recognized that whilst a significant part of crown retention is related to the quality of the adhesion of the dental resin, a minimal reduction angle is also fundamental for effective retention 13. Poor preparation is the primary cause of crown dehiscence. The quality of the shape of the margin at the base of the crown, the optional use of an intra-canal retention post, and the final supragingival prosthetic coverage (which should remain above the gum line) are all essential parameters that the clinician must master.

A silicon impression made during surgery is sent to a specialist laboratory which prepares the dental crown using a metal alloy (nickel-cobalt or cobalt-chromium); this offers good resistance to mechanical forces. During a second anesthetic the crown is positioned, adjusted if necessary, and finally sealed with a suitable liquid resin. Treatment is deemed a failure if the tooth fractures under the crown or the crown becomes detached; midterm therapeutic success (3 years post-procedure) is assessed to be ~80% 13, and it would appear that the failure rate is directly related to residual tooth height, i.e. the lower the crown, the poorer the retention (Figure 7). 



Figure 7. Major prosthesis failure due to a lack of understanding and failure to master the essential rules of endodontic/periodontal treatment and dental restoration. © Nicolas Girard


The use of dental prostheses in veterinary medicine need to be carefully considered. The esthetic appearance is rarely the primary consideration; protecting the pulp and ensuring a pain-free tooth are paramount, and any prosthesis must always be used appropriately and only after effective endodontic and periodontal treatment. Finally it may be worthwhile noting that the ethics and practicalities of replacing a missing tooth should always be fully discussed with the owner. The four possible restorative techniques (a removable prosthesis, a removable or fixed partial denture or bridge, or a prosthesis supported by a periodontal implant (Figure 8)) all carry risks; the mechanical forces exerted by a dog, as well as the difficulties associated with ensuring satisfactory behavioral control, make such treatments problematic and must be clearly explained to the owner before proceeding.

Figure 8a. A periodontal implant and prosthesis in a dog. Radiograph showing good osseo-integration of two implants in the alveolar bone at the level of the right maxillary canine of a large breed dog following avulsion of the tooth. © Nicolas Girard

Figure 8b. A periodontal implant and prosthesis in a dog.Two suprastructures are screwed into the implants and used to support the prosthesis. © Nicolas Girard

Figure 8c. A periodontal implant and prosthesis in a dog. The final ceramic dental crown supported by the two implants. © Nicolas Girard


  1. Tanumaru-Filho M, Jorge EG, Duarte MA, et al. Comparative radiographic and histological analyses of periapical lesion development. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endo 2009;107(3):442-447.
  2. Coffman CR, Visser L. Crown restoration of the endotically treated tooth: literature review. J Vet Dent 2007;24(1):9-12.
  3. Ruhanau J, Olsen T, Greven V, et al. Dental implant of the mandibular first molar tooth in a dog. J Vet Dent 2003;20(2):84-90.
  4. Hale FA. Localized intrinsic staining of teeth due to pulpitis and pulp necrosis in dogs. J Vet Dent 2001;18(1):14-20.
  5. Clarke DE. Vital pulp therapy for complicated crown fracture of permanent canine teeth in dogs: a three-year retrospective study. J Vet Dent 2001;18: 117-21.
  6. Trope M, Chivian N, Sigursson A, et al. Traumatic injuries. In: Cohen S, Burns RC eds. Pathways of the pulp. St Louis: CV Mosby; 2002:603-49.
  7. Machtou P. Irrigation investigation in endodontics. Master’s thesis, Paris, 1980 Paris 7.
  8. Ruddle CJ. Cleaning and shaping the root canal system. In: Cohen S, Burns RC eds. Pathways of the pulp. St Louis: CV Mosby; 2002:231-91.
  9. Kuntsi-Vaattovaara HK, Verstraete FJM, Kass P. Results of root canal treatment in dogs: 127 cases (1995-2000). J Am Vet Med Assoc 2002;220(6):775-9.
  10. Garcia de Paula-Silva FW, Santamaria M Jr, Leonardo MR. Cone beam computerized tomography, radiographic, and histological evaluation of periapical repair in dogs post endodontic treatment. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endod 2009;108:796-805.
  11. Gesi A, Hakeberg M, Warfvinge J, et al. Incidence of periapical lesion and clinical symptoms after pulpectomy: a clinical and radiologic evaluation of 1-versus 2-session treatment. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Radiol Endod 2006;101:379-388.
  12. Schilinburg HT, Hobo S, Whitsett LD, et al. Principles of tooth preparation. In: Shilinburg HT, Hobo S, Whitsett LD, et al. eds. Fundamentals of fixed prosthodontics. 3rd ed. Chicago: Quintessence; 1997:119-137.

  13. Soukup JW, Snyder CJ, Karls TN, et al. Achievable convergence angles and the effect of preparation design on the clinical outcome of full veneer crowns in dogs. J Vet Dent 2011;28(2)78-82.
Nicolas Girard

Nicolas Girard

Nicolas Girard, Centre VetDentis, Saint-Laurent-du-Var, France Read more

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