Dentigerous Cysts in Dogs

Key Takeaways

Dentigerous cysts are formed when a tooth does not emerge properly out of the gumline. A fluid-filled cyst forms around the crown of the tooth and gradually increases in size. 

• Can present with no symptoms other than a “missing” tooth

• More severe cases can have large swelling, damage to the surrounding bones, and facial asymmetry

• Diagnosed through dental imaging, oral examination, and fluid aspiration

• Treatment is removal of the unerupted tooth and any cyst tissue followed by reconstructive bone grafts, if necessary

• Prevention is not completely possible as the causes are likely genetic, however, monitoring of oral health and early investigation of ‘missing’ teeth yields the best prognosis

A Closer Look: What are Dentigerous Cysts in Dogs?

Dentigerous cysts are a common oral condition in dogs and treatment generally carries a favorable prognosis. Treatment is most effective and least invasive if the cyst is caught early.

It is important to note that a ‘missing’ tooth may actually not be missing and could be unerupted. It is always best to have  missing teeth investigated to rule out an unerupted tooth. Retained deciduous (baby) teeth may also occur in association with dentigerous cysts, especially in brachycephalic and toy breeds.

Risk Factors

Minor dentigerous cysts may have no symptoms, other than an apparently missing tooth. More severe cases may develop additional complications, including:

• Secondary infections

• Jaw pain

• Food avoidance, which can lead to weight loss and malnutrition

Brachycephalic and toy breeds have jaw deformities and dental malocclusions that predispose them to a variety of conditions, including dentigerous cysts. These make diagnosis of dentigerous cysts more challenging, but also lead to symptoms of their own: 

• Plaque

• Tartar

• Decay

• Halitosis

• Bloody saliva

Excessive drooling

• Difficulty eating

Possible Causes

Dentigerous cysts are caused by an unerupted tooth (a tooth that does not grow up and out of the gumline). Small and brachycephalic dog breeds, especially Boston Terriers, Pugs, and Boxers, are at a higher risk for formation of dentigerous cysts.

Main Symptoms

In many cases there are no symptoms other than an apparently missing tooth, and the cyst can be missed in regular oral exams. Counting all the teeth is necessary to identify if any are missing.  Some swelling may be present in early stages but more severe cases can present with:

• Facial asymmetry

• Pathologic fractures of the jaw

• Large oral masses

Testing and Diagnosis

Diagnosis starts with oral examination. Additional tests may include:

• Fine needle aspiration of cyst

• Dental radiography

Steps to Recovery

Treatment is fairly straightforward and requires extraction of the unerupted tooth and removal of any cyst tissue. If the cyst is more severe, it may require bone grafting to repair damage to the surrounding area.

Dentigerous cysts are effectively cured with surgery and the prognosis is excellent.

Prevention

This condition is not preventable but can be treated effectively if caught early. Dentigerous cysts are not contagious.

Are Dentigerous Cysts Common in Dogs?

Dentigerous cysts are a common dental condition in dogs.

Typical Treatment

• Extraction of the unerupted tooth

• Removal of any cyst tissues

• Bone graft

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