Fracture of the Maxilla (Upper Jaw) in Dogs

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Overview of Fracture of the Maxilla in Dogs

Fractures of the maxilla (upper jaw) are usually the result of major trauma, but can be caused by disease of the bone itself or dental disease.

Fractures of the maxilla are often segmental involving a short region of the upper dental arcade. The fractures can be impacted (pushed inward) resulting in disruption of the adjacent nasal cavity. Maxillary fractures infrequently result in instability. These fractures are usually “open” (bone exposed) and “comminuted” (multiple bone fragments). Depending on the nature of the fracture and the age of the animal, different methods of management may be indicated for each situation. Maxillary fractures can have serious complications if repair is indicated but not performed or if the repair fails.

What to Watch For

Symptoms of fracture of the maxilla in dogs may include: 

  • Drooling
  • Bloody fluid coming from the nostril
  • Difficulty breathing through the nose
  • Inability to close the mouth
  • Pain when attempting to eat
  • Diagnosis of Fracture of the Maxilla in Dogs

    Thorough physical examination including examination of the oral cavity is initially performed. No laboratory tests are required to make the diagnosis, but several additional tests may be needed, including:

  • Chest X-rays
  • Complete orthopedic examination
  • Complete neurological examination
  • Radiographs or computed tomography (CT scan) of the skull
  • Treatment of Fracture of the Maxilla in Dogs

    Emergency care for concurrent problems caused by the trauma is initially performed prior to specific treatment for the maxillary fracture. After stabilization, additional treatment may include:

  • Some fractures of the maxilla can be managed without surgery simply by resting the dog and preventing further injury to the mouth by feeding soft foods and not allowing the animal to chew on toys or other objects.
  • Some maxillary fractures require anesthesia and surgical stabilization of the bone fragments for the best results.
  • If dental disease is suspected as the cause for the fracture, a full dental cleaning with extractions of some teeth may be required.
  • Injectable analgesics (pain medications) are given to the animal while being treated in the hospital and may be continued orally once discharged from the hospital.
  • Antibiotics are commonly given to minimize the chance for systemic infection from bacteria in the mouth.
  • Home Care and Prevention

    With conservative management or after surgical repair of the fracture, the dog will be kept restricted from activity for several weeks and will be fed only a soft gruel that does not require chewing.

    Recheck appointment with the veterinarian will occur in several weeks to evaluate how the bone is healing (possibly with new radiographs), to monitor the animal’s progress, and to make sure it is safe to return the animal to his regular diet.

    Many traumatic events are true accidents and thus unavoidable. Dental hygiene and routine cleaning by the veterinarian may prevent severe dental disease that could lead to maxillary fractures.

    In-depth Information on Fracture of the Canine Maxilla

    Motor vehicle trauma is a frequent cause of maxillary fractures in dogs but any trauma to the head can cause them. Dogs can develop non-traumatic fractures of the maxilla when certain disease conditions exist. These fractures, also known as “pathologic fractures” can occur if the dog has severe dental disease leading to destruction of the bone supporting the teeth, has a bone infection (osteomyelitis) or has cancer of the bone.

    Symptoms caused by fracture of the maxilla may be relatively subtle, with reluctance of the animal to play or chew on toys or food or more obvious with bloody saliva dripping from the mouth, bloody fluid coming from the nostril, reluctance to close the mouth, or inability to eat at all.

    The maxilla is actually a relatively thin and frail bone that forms the outer wall and floor of the nasal cavity (also known as the roof of the mouth or hard palate) and supports the upper canine, premolar and molar teeth on each side of the mouth. Because of the configuration of the maxilla in relation to the rest of the skull, fractures usually are comminuted (multiple pieces) and impacted into the nasal cavity. Sometimes the fractures are not displaced and are relatively well aligned with the remaining bone. Because there is relatively little soft tissue covering the maxilla in the mouth, these fractures are usually “open” (bone exposed). Open fractures have a greater chance of getting infected and may have more complications than closed fractures.

    Each case of maxillary fracture needs to be evaluated in its entirety (age of animal, severity of the fracture, experience of the surgeon, and financial concerns of the owner) to determine the most appropriate and best form of treatment.

    Inappropriate case management, inadequate surgical stabilization when indicated or poor aftercare can lead to complications such as non-unions (fractures that will not heal), malunions (fractures that heal in an abnormal direction or orientation resulting in malocclusion of the teeth and difficulty chewing or impairment of airflow through the nasal cavity) or osteomyelitis (bone infection).

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