Dental enamel defects in dogs

Dental enamel defects in dogs

Make sure you know the best way to treat these discolorations that can signify severe disease.
Jul 01, 2012

Photo 1: A developmental enamel defect in the right mandibular first molar in a dog. Note the tan-to-brown discoloration. (Photos courtesy of Dr. Brett Beckman)
Developmental enamel defects represent not only a cosmetic alteration of the crown of teeth in dogs, but, more important, the brown-to-tan discoloration indicates that the underlying dentin may be exposed to the oral environment (Photo 1). This exposure can lead to pulpitits and death of the affected tooth or teeth. Dentin sensitivity is a concern, especially if multiple teeth are affected.

Photo 2: Concurrent alterations in the dentin formation in teeth with enamel defects may result in root abnormalities. Note the shortened and apically thin mesial root of the right mandibular first molar in this dog.
Root aberrations may also occur that may require treatment (Photo 2). Dental radiography, therefore, is paramount in assessing all teeth with enamel defects, regardless of cause.


Developmental enamel defects can be categorized based on compromise of quality or quantity. Defects in quality (hypocalcification) cause a less inorganic matrix, and the resulting enamel is softer than normal enamel. It's often possible to remove hypocalcified enamel with ultrasonic scaling.1 Defects in quantity (hypoplasia) result in a much thinner than normal enamel.1 Pitting may be present in the surface. Both types of defects can be found concurrently, and differentiation is not necessary because, therapeutically, the approach is the same.

Photo 3: Thinning at the apex is present in this dog’s left mandibular canine tooth.
Many teeth with developmental enamel defects also will have variations in developmental root abnormalities. Roots may appear long and thin toward the apex (Photo 3,) or have blunt attenuated roots (Photo 4).

Photo 4: Attenuation and blunting are present in this dog’s left first and second molar teeth.
In addition, amelogenesis imperfecta is an inherited maturation disorder of the enamel. This condition appears to be uncommon in dogs, although standard poodles may have a genetic predisposition.2


Enamel formation occurs in dogs between 2 weeks and 3 months of age.3 Trauma during enamel development is a common cause of enamel defects in dogs. However, in general, a history of oral trauma is nonexistent but, occasionally, can be traced to altercations with other pets or accidental drops, falls, etc. The result is generally seen in one or several teeth in a regional distribution. A febrile event that occurred during enamel development may be responsible for cases in which most or all of the dentition is affected.

Systemic insults that may result in enamel defects include nutritional deficiencies, infection, fever, metabolic abnormalities, toxins and parasites. Distemper viral infections and other Morbillivirus species infections are classically recognized as causes of enamel hypoplasia or hypocalcification.4