Miley, a three year-old Chihuahua came to Southern California Veterinary Dental Specialties and Oral Surgery for bilateral mandibular (lower jaws) fractures. Her owners reported that Miley had been found roaming the neighborhood until she was rescued only a few weeks before the fractures occurred. Prior to the fractures, they noticed moderate to severe halitosis (bad breath), but noted that Miley had been eating and drinking well and had otherwise been doing great.
Miley’s owners were not present when the fractures occurred, so they did not see a traumatic incident. When the fractures were first noticed, her owners noted that she was acutely painful, unable to fully close her mouth, and could not eat hard kibble.
Pathologic Pet Jaw Fractures:
Unfortunately, this story is all too common. Miley had pathologic fractures of both her left and right mandibles. A pathologic fracture occurs when the bone is weakened by another disease process making it easier to fracture. In fact, in our experience the majority of mandibular fractures in small and toy breed dogs are pathologic fractures secondary to severe periodontal disease. These fractures occur with very mild force from everyday activities such as: playing with a toy, playing with another pet, and even eating. This was likely true in Miley’s case as her fracture was secondary to bone loss from severe periodontal disease.
The inciting causes of pathologic mandibular fractures are periodontal disease, cancer, and/or osteomyelitis (severe infection of the bone). In Miley’s case, she had severe periodontal disease of her mandibular teeth. Halitosis, a sign of periodontal disease, was the owners’ only strong clue that there was disease until the fractures occurred.
Pet Periodontal Disease:
In addition to the fractures, Miley had several teeth extracted due to severe periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is the number one disease in both adult dogs and cats. Yet it is often underdiagnosed. Periodontal disease occurs as oral bacteria under the gums creates pockets surrounding a tooth. If this bacteria is not kept in check with regular homecare such as brushing and using oral rinses, these pockets will work down along a tooth root causing bone loss. This type of bone loss led to weakened areas in Miley’s mandibles. The weakened areas of bone allow everyday activities to cause a pathological fracture. This is most evident in small breed dogs (under 25 pounds) where the mandible is small and little bone loss is needed before a pathologic fracture can occur.
Pet Jaw Fracture Repair:
There are several methods of mandibular fracture repair. Based on the nature of the fracture, the pet’s size, and the integrity of the remaining bone following fracture, a board-certified veterinary dentist can determine the best method of repair. Miley’s fracture was immobilized with a special muzzle to minimize the use of her jaw. The muzzle prevents stress on the mandibles while they continue to heal.
Treatment options vary for periodontal disease based off of the type of tooth, severity of disease, and the purpose of the pet. A board-certified veterinary dentist can present these options and help you to decide what is best for your pet. Veterinary dentists work closely with our referring colleagues and provide detailed records and any follow up care recommendations.