Causes & Treatments of Broken Jaws in Dogs

Broken jaws in dogs can result from various causes. Fractures of the jaw are due to underlying maxillofacial injury, which includes maxillary and mandibular fractures. The maxilla is the upper jaw and contains the maxillary teeth. The maxillae connect to the nasal bone, cheekbone, and other surrounding structures. The lower jaw of dogs is composed of right and left mandibles connected by a fibrocartilaginous joint in the front of the mouth referred to as the mandibular symphysis. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the upper and lower jaw and is responsible for jaw movement. As both maxillae and mandibles are important for oral function, it is essential to promptly identify and address the pathology and underlying cause. 

What Causes a Broken Jaw in Dogs?

1. Trauma

  • Accidents: Dogs may experience jaw fractures due to car accidents, falls, or other traumatic events. 
  • Fights: Aggressive interactions with other animals can lead to jaw injuries.
  • A study looking at “Oromaxillofacial Trauma in Dogs” (Frontiers 2020) found that animal bites accounted for 50% of trauma. This was followed by unknown trauma at 15%. Both vehicular accidents and blunt force trauma each accounted for a 13% etiology incidence. 

2. Bite Injuries

  • Dogs may injure their jaws while attempting to bite hard objects, such as rocks or bones.
  • Inappropriate chewing on hard toys or objects. Dogs have 5-10 times less enamel than humans, making them more susceptible to trauma. Dogs are carnivores and do not have the amount of increased enamel needed to chew on coarse material vegetation in an herbivore diet. A good rule of thumb is if you believe a chew object would fracture a tooth in your mouth if you bit on it, it most definitely could do so to your dog. This is especially true if the underlying bone structure is abnormal. 

3. Medical Conditions

  • Dental disease: Advanced dental problems, such as severe periodontal disease or tooth abscesses, can weaken the jawbone. Dental disease is seen more commonly in small-breed dogs than in larger ones. Small breed dogs such as chihuahuas, poodles, and yorkies (among others) have a greater propensity for aggressive periodontal disease, which can cause localized erosive bone loss, weakening the jawbone. 
  • Osteomyelitis: Inflammation or infection of the bone can compromise its strength and lead to fractures.
  • Tumors: Bone tumors in the jaw can weaken the bone as it increases in size, leading to a ‘pathologic’ fracture. Common oral tumors in dogs that affect the jawbone include squamous cell carcinoma, osteosarcoma, and fibrosarcoma.

4. Deficiencies

  • Inadequate nutrition, particularly a lack of essential minerals like calcium and phosphorus, can weaken bones, making them more susceptible to fractures. Nutritional deficiencies are rare due to the nutritionally balanced formation of commercial dog food. 

5. Age

  • Puppies and older dogs may be more prone to jaw fractures secondary to exuberant, inquisitive behavior and age-related structural design. 
  • Puppies are often very enthusiastic and may not recognize ill-temper clues from a housemate. Puppies attempting to share a food bowl with a larger housemate will usually trigger a snapping reaction, leading to maxillofacial trauma.

6. Metabolic Conditions

  • Hyperparathyroidism can contribute to decreased bone density, particularly in the mandible. Hyperparathyroidism may be genetic (primary hyperparathyroidism) or may be secondary to chronic kidney disease (secondary hyperparathyroidism)

Broken Jaw Treatment

Treatment of maxillomandibular fractures depends on the severity and underlying cause. Often, more than one fracture is present. Concurrent oral wounds and tooth fractures are frequently present. The first step is ensuring the patient is stable and conscious. Many jaw fractures are often seen by emergency or primary care veterinarians who will stabilize the patient before referral for oral surgery. Stabilization typically includes pain medications, hospitalization, a neurologic exam, thoracic (chest)/abdominal radiographs, and fluid therapy. 

Maxillofacial stabilization may include one or a combination of the following:

  1. Surgically repair any lacerations and wounds in the mouth.
  2. Intraoral acrylic splints
  3. Bone plating 
  4. Labial button placement 
  5. Various wiring techniques
  6. Muzzle therapy 

Fractured Jaw Repair for Dogs in Bozeman

At Montana Pet Dentistry and Oral Surgery, oral comfort and health is our top priority. During an anesthetized oral exam with us, cone beam CT imaging is completed to assess the maxillofacial structures in a 3-D view. Cone beam CT imaging is referred to as a ‘panoramic’ by human dentists and oral surgeons. Based on the imaging and anesthetized exam findings, a doctor will recommend a specific treatment plan to restore oral function. Depending on the exam and imaging findings, extraction and root canal therapy may also be recommended. 

If you believe your dog has experienced a jaw fracture, please call us to schedule a consult exam and treatment.


Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (3/7/2024). Photo by Alexandra Lau on Unsplash