What does a discolored dog tooth mean for your pet?

A discolored dog tooth can be extremely concerning for pet owners, and for good reason. A yellow, black, or otherwise discolored dog tooth can occur for a number of different reasons. Even if you suspect you know the cause, your pup’s discolored teeth should be immediately checked out by a veterinarian trained in dentistry. 

Read on to find out more about the types and causes of discolored dog teeth and the impact this health issue could have on your pet.

Understanding Discolored Teeth in Dogs

Discolored dog teeth can be an array of colors, including grey, pink, purple, brown, yellow, or black. It is estimated that over 90% of discolored teeth in dogs are actually dead, which means that a discolored tooth of any color is very likely a serious problem for your pet.

When a dog tooth dies, the soft tissues inside the hollow part of the tooth (root canal) die. They then begin to break down and start to leak out the end of the root. This sets up inflammation in that area, frequently leading to damage to the bone, the root, and possibly infection in that area. These outcomes can all be painful for your pup.

Since dogs almost never show signs of oral pain, these problems frequently go unnoticed and untreated, making the situation worse. Always be sure to take your dog to a veterinary dentist as soon as you notice any discoloration or other signs of dental problems so that the issue may be correctly diagnosed and treated. Only a veterinarian trained in dentistry can determine whether tooth discoloration is within the tooth or on its surface.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Discoloration

There are two different types of tooth discoloration. Intrinsic discoloration occurs when there is an internal health issue with the tooth, causing internal discoloration of the entire tooth. Extrinsic discoloration is caused when stains accumulate on the outside of the tooth. Surface staining is common, and not usually a sign of a significant health problem.  

Yellow and Brown Teeth—Extrinsic Discoloration

Extrinsic discoloration is caused by an outside source. Some things that can cause extrinsic discoloration, which usually presents itself as yellow and brown teeth, include:

  • Calculus (tartar) stains
  • Stains from materials in the food or water
  • Stains from medications
  • Stains from faulty enamel formation
  • Stains from chewing on metal objects
  • Infections or severe stress when the teeth were developing

Pink, Purple, Grey, or Black Teeth—Intrinsic Discoloration

Intrinsic discoloration occurs inside your dog’s tooth. The most common cause of intrinsic staining is secondary to trauma of the tooth, which causes the pulp tissue to die and blood to seep into the structure of the tooth from the inside. Intrinsic staining can be caused by problems such as:

  • Fractures that allow infection inside the tooth
  • Excess bilirubin in your dog’s blood
  • Health conditions that result in improper development of dentin or enamel
  • Trauma or Injury to the tooth, causing pulpitis

Pulpitis is inflammation of the pulp inside the tooth. It is most commonly caused by trauma to the tooth. Some forms of trauma may be getting hit, bumping the tooth, or biting down on something hard that does not fracture the tooth but traumatizes it all the same.

Discolored teeth due to pulpitis are typically painful. The pain may be recurrent until the tooth becomes non-vital (dead). But pain may return due to periapical disease such as an abscess. It is recommended to see your veterinary dentist right away when you notice a discolored tooth so it can be treated appropriately.

Different Signs of a Discolored Dog Tooth—Intrinsic or Extrinsic

Both intrinsic and extrinsic discoloration can be accompanied by these signs:

  • Any type of discoloration on the tooth 
  • A fractured or broken tooth
  • Rough enamel or pitted tooth surface
  • Lines or rings of discoloration around teeth
  • Stained enamel

Treating a Discolored Dog Tooth

If the staining is only on the surface, the discolored dog tooth may not require treatment. However, discolored teeth that are dead or painful are treated with endodontic (root canal) therapy or extraction. Depending on the severity of the problem and the type of tooth affected, your veterinary dentist will recommend one of these two treatments. 

Endodontic therapy is also known as root canal therapy. This treatment involves removing the dead pulp within the tooth, cleaning and disinfecting the hollow area inside the tooth, and filling the inside of the tooth with materials that prevent any re-entry of bacteria inside the tooth. Root canal therapy is actually a less traumatic procedure than extraction and allows the tooth to remain in your dog’s mouth. 

Surgical extractions are recommended in severe cases where a root canal is not an option. Surgical extractions are more invasive than root canal therapy, as the roots of a dog’s teeth go deep into the jaw bone. Unfortunately, sometimes surgery is the only available option.

Veterinary Dentist in Montana

If you are concerned about your dog’s discolored tooth, give us a call today to schedule a visit to Montana Pet Dentistry and Oral Surgery with Dr. Melissa Guillory. We are available Monday through Thursday from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM.


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