Life Without Upper Carnassials

Commenter Jamie posted on The Saga of Miles’ Teeth, asking me the following:

My golden Obie broke his lower carnassial tooth. I was wondering what the long term effects of losing those teeth were. Like what does Miles’ mouth look like after extracting those teeth, does plaque occur on the opposing teeth, can miles chew/eat like normal not just soft food and do you regret not doing root canals.

Thank you for the comment Jamie! Your questions are useful, so I will write an update on Miles’ teeth here. Hopefully this can help others thinking about this topic.

Removal of Miles’ Upper Right Carnassial

Last April, I was doing a routine check of Miles’ teeth, and I noticed that his upper right carnassial tooth was shattered. The tooth had many breaks, the worst of which was a split right down the center of the tooth. I knew it wasn’t salvageable, and our trusted veterinarian agreed. Our veterinarian removed the tooth the following surgery day. The surgery was very long and labor intensive for our veterinarian, and Miles experienced swelling afterwards, but the removal and recovery went very well.

Removal of Miles’ Upper Left Carnassial

Later last year in October, Miles came running to me whining, and I checked his mouth. The top portion of his upper left carnassial had broken off. I was referred to a veterinary dental specialist. The hope was that since I’d discovered the break minutes after it occurred, that the specialist would be able to save the tooth and the root right away (a vital pulpotomy). The specialist informed me that since Miles was over 2 years of age, he was not a candidate for the procedure, and that my only two options were a root canal, or a removal. After speaking with both the specialist and my veterinarian, the consesus was that removal was the best choice. Following that decision, I then asked my veterinarian if he would be willing to do the surgery again. Thankfully, he agreed to.

We (veterinary dental specialist, our veterinarian, me) made the call to remove the tooth, rather than do a root canal) for three main reasons:

  1. Miles’ recent dental history. Both carnassials had broken/shattered in a short period, despite the fact that Miles has never been given rock-hard items to chew. The hardest thing Miles has exposure to is marrow bones, which are always given under supervision.
  2. A root canal saves the tooth structure, but, the altered tooth will be more fragile and brittle than a live tooth. Given the fact that both teeth were healthy and still broke/shattered, there would be a high chance that the salvaged but more delicate tooth would break again.
  3. We weighed the downsides of an absent tooth against the possibility for an additional future surgery. A root canal would have been Miles’ third surgery in a year span (Miles had a lumpectomy not long before the first tooth removal), and if the root canal resulted in another broken tooth, that would mean a fourth surgery in a short period of time.
Life Without Upper Carnassials
A vintage side-view illustration of dog teeth, with the upper carnassial tooth in red. As of October 2015, Miles no longer has either of his upper carnassial teeth.

7 Months Later

It has now been a year since upper right carnassial was removed, and around 7 months since the upper left carnassial was removed. Our veterinarian reminds me all of the time that his own dog had to have both of these same teeth removed, even though “I didn’t feed him rocks or anything!” Why Miles’ teeth broke, why my vet’s dog’s teeth broke, we will never know.

What I do know is that Miles recovered from both removal surgeries very quickly, and that he is getting along very well without the two large teeth. I think that the length of recovery and final outcome have a great deal to do with the dog’s anatomy and overall health, and the skill of the surgeon. There are many variables I can’t address accurately based on this one example, but, at least it can give you an idea of one dog’s outcome!

After both surgeries, Miles was back to chewing normally within a month. Miles loves bullysticks. I’ll admit even those short recovery periods without his beloved bullysticks was a tough time for Miles! Once his mouth was healed, he was right back at chewing, just as happily as before. He can’t chew with as much impact as he used to, but he makes up for it in vigour! Miles seems perfectly comfortable chewing with his lower carnassials with the absence of his upper carnassials. This is going to depend on the dog’s personality, and how much they like to chew, of course. But in Miles’ case, he is relaxed, loves to chew, and because of that, is very lucky. All of his teeth have continued to benefit from his love to chew. He continues to not require professional dental cleaning.

Again, I think knowing how much your dog likes to chew before tooth removal can give you an idea of how much they’ll like to chew post-removal.

My final answers to Jamie’s questions are:

  1. Here is what Miles’ mouth looks like now:Life Without Upper Carnassials
  2. I have not noticed an increase in plaque buildup anywhere since the removals. The removals have not caused problems for the lower carnassials. Thankfully Miles’ original love of chewing, and his original dental health given that interest have both remained just as strong as before.
    Life Without Upper Carnassials
    Miles working his way to the end of a big bullystick. This is what I call ‘stogie time’


  3. Miles can eat anything and everything he did before.
  4. In Miles’ case, I do not regret opting for removal over a root canal on his upper left carnassial (a root canal was not an option for his upper right carnassial).

In Miles’ case, we’ll never know why his teeth broke in the first place. But I am greatful that Miles’ love to chew has prevailed (for his enjoyment, and his dental health!), and for the skilled work of my veterinarian. We are very lucky.

8 comments on Life Without Upper Carnassials

  • Ana

    Thanks for posting this information. Our Norwich may be losing the same upper tooth in surgery next week and your account of what Miles experienced and your own decision-making really helps me feel informed in case it happens. Thanks again!

    • Emma (author)

      Hi Ana,

      I am glad to hear that! It has been nearly 2 years since this post, and Miles is doing great without his upper carnassials. His lower carnassials are doing wonderfully. Good luck for your little guy!


  • Fae Birch

    Glad Miles is doing okay, and thanks from us and our Bedlington terrier Kitty who has broken her right upper carnassial and will be having it removed this week. Is this a more common thing with terriers I wonder? Maybe their bite is stronger than their teeth.

  • Laura

    I, too, found this very helpful. My dog somehow fracture the upper left carnassial tooth and this helped me weigh the risks and benefits. Thank you very much! Glad to hear Miles is doing well.

  • Linda

    I’m so happy to have found this! My dog went in for a cleaning today and it was discovered that both of her upper carnassial teeth were cracked and had to be removed. One was even abscessed! Poor baby must have been in a lot of pain. I am so nervous to pick her up in a few hours. She is a very aggressive chewer and I usually give her nylon bones. My doctor suspects that’s what caused the cracks. Hopefully she’ll get along as well as Miles. Thanks again for this post!

  • Gary Cook

    Thanks for the information. My 9 year- old Lab Bibi just had four uppers removed, upper carnasials and first molars after previous cleanings and courses of antibiotics which helped only temporarily. I was glad to learn from you that she will likely be able to chew again normally. After just two days, she feels better. I wish I had stumbled on to this site beforehand. I wouldn’t have worried so much whether I was making the right decision.

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