I think that Doggy Dental Month is February or March … we’re always a bit late with celebrations. Freckle had her four teeth removed at the end of April and Ceilidh had two of her remaining teeth removed May 28th. Our vet very kindly saved one of Ceilidh’s teeth—the one that looked like a sea lion tusk—in a little glass tube. I said to Mary Doug, “aaaawwww … one day many years from now, we can make this into jewelry and we’ll always have Ceilidh with us.” I started to get teary … then I opened up the glass tube. Hoooeeey! It was FOUL! Don’t think I want to carry it around my neck … only if we make a piece of jewelry that includes the sealed glass case!
Anyway, looking at Ceilidh’s tusk got me wondering about what teeth are made of … and I found this nice little description of teeth at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Veterinary School.
Built for crunching and chewing, teeth mostly consist of hard, inorganic minerals like calcium. But they also contain nerves, blood vessels and specialized cells that manufacture the tooth’s different parts, says Bill Gengler, a veterinary dentist and oral surgeon with the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine.
The tooth’s outermost layer—the part we brush—is enamel. [Er… that should read: “the part we SHOULD brush.” Seriously, we’ve tried over the years! Pugs have vice-grip mouths—except when food is about to enter—and they’re not about to let you mess around in there with a toothbrush (child or doggy-variety), gauze wrapped around your finger or any other weird invention that you or your vet can come up with!]
Deposited by cells called ameloblasts, enamel is 95 percent inorganic, says Gengler, making it the hardest material in the body. In contrast, only about 50 percent of our bone is mineral.
Enamel is thin, though. In dogs and cats, for example, it’s just a fraction of a millimeter in thickness—so most of a tooth’s substance comes from the dentin underneath. Made by cells called odontoblasts, dentin is about 70 percent inorganic and tubular in structure, like a network of “little conduits with liquid inside,” Gengler says.
Inside the tooth, below the dentin, is the pulp chamber. The pulp includes blood vessels that nourish the tooth by delivering oxygen and nutrients, and fast- and slow-conducting nerve fibers that warn us of problems.
What Dr. Gengler failed to mention was that dog tusks such as Ceilidh’s smell really bad when they begin to decay and fall out and really don’t make very nice jewelry. Happy belated Doggy Dental Month!