It can be hard to spot, but dental disease and oral conditions are very common in all ages of dogs. A very uncommon finding however is enamel hypocalcification, a condition we found on this dog when he was in for his dentistry. Enamel is the hard coating surrounding the crown (exposed part) of the tooth. Underneath the enamel is soft dentin, and in the middle of the tooth is the pulp which houses nerves and blood supply to the tooth. Enamel is formed at about 2 weeks to 3 months of age, depending on the tooth. Defects in the enamel can only occur during this time, once the enamel is laid down it remains unchanged for the rest of the dog’s life. There are several possible reasons for defects to occur:
- Improper nutrition (vitamin or calcium deficiencies)
- Viral infection (typically from distemper virus)
- Local trauma or infection
- Idiopathic (no apparent cause)
This dog was adopted at approximately 3-4 years of age so his history before that time is unknown, but it is possible that when he was a puppy he acquired distemper or had a very poor diet. When we examined his mouth under anesthesia, the enamel was extremely brittle and flaked off with little effort. As the enamel chips off with normal use, the soft dentin underneath absorbs pigments and becomes discoloured over time. Dogs with enamel defects are more prone to tooth infections, so good oral hygiene (regular brushing) is extremely important for their long term health. Regular dental cleanings and oral x-rays are also important to evaluate the progression of disease in each tooth. This patient is very lucky to now have a dedicated and attentive owner!
Enamel hypocalcification used to be a common occurrence before the distemper vaccine was developed and manufactured dog food was easily attainable. This case is a very good reminder why booster vaccinations in puppies and proper nutrition are so important!