Dogs do many things well. They soothe our worries, comfort our pains, and infuse joy into our lives. They also suffer in silence well—too well, in fact. For example, dental problems are often missed until an oral infection and the pain it causes become severe. One serious dental infection causing a painful mouth is a tooth abscess. 

What causes an abscessed tooth in pets?

Dental disease is one of the most common conditions affecting pets, with roughly three-quarters of all cats and dogs suffering from oral bacteria by age 3. If left untreated, oral bacteria quickly multiply, invading the surface of the teeth below the gumline and infecting the roots.

Chewing habits can also cause tooth abscesses. Dogs who chew on rigid, dense objects, such as solid bones and antlers, can easily fracture a tooth, allowing bacteria to seed down under the gumline and attack the root. Stick-chewing dogs are also at a higher risk for abscess formation from splinters and wood fragments stuck in the gums. Bacteria speed to the damaged gum tissue, traveling down deep. As the bacterial load intensifies, the tooth root’s attachment to the jaw is eaten away and pus accumulates. A tooth root abscess is an agonizing dental emergency, requiring prompt care for pain relief. 

What are the signs of an abscessed tooth in pets?

Dogs are masters at hiding signs of disease, especially in the early stages. A tooth root abscess will often crop up with a pet owner unaware of any previous dental disease issues. While many signs of a tooth abscess are similar to general dental disease, it’s handy to know what to watch for in either case:

  • Odor coming from the mouth
  • Pawing at the face or mouth
  • Blood-tinged saliva
  • Inability to chew on one side the mouth
  • Decreased appetite
  • Reluctance to chew hard food
  • Facial swelling, especially under the eye
  • Reluctance with chew toys
  • Gingivitis

Stay on top of your pet’s dental health by checking for gingivitis during her oral health-care routine. At the first signs of red, swollen gums or yellow-brown tartar accumulation, let us know your furry friend needs dental aid. 

Diagnosing an abscessed tooth in pets

Once you discover that your pet has a dental-health issue, professional help is needed. Schedule an appointment to get to the root of your pet’s bad breath, inflamed gums, or reluctance to chew hard food. Depending on your pet’s level of pain, we may not be able to fully examine her mouth, and she will require general anesthesia so we can minimize her pain, perform a thorough oral exam, and take dental X-rays. Films of your pet’s teeth will indicate how much surrounding tissue is affected and if the infection has spread to the jawbone. Once we ascertain the severity of the abscess, we will create a treatment plan.

Treating an abscessed tooth in pets

Abscessed teeth usually have only two treatment options—extraction or root canal therapy. The severity of the abscess and the affected tooth determine the treatment route. 

  • Extraction — While extraction sounds painful, and many pet owners balk at the thought of pulling one of their beloved pet’s teeth, we take extra measures to ensure your pet’s comfort. Similar to human dentistry, we administer local anesthesia to block pain sensation to the tooth and provide a local block in addition to the anesthetic protocol, which includes pain medication and an anti-inflammatory. Pulling an animal’s tooth may seem detrimental, but pets do remarkably well once the source of pain and infection is removed.
  • Root canal therapy — This method is used when abscesses are less severe and the tooth integrity is still intact. If the tooth structure and nearby jawbone is too damaged, we may be unable to perform a root canal without further damaging the affected tooth. If your pet will benefit from a root canal instead of extraction, we perform the procedure the same way as a human oral surgeon. First, we drill small holes in the tooth to allow access to the pulp, which we then remove. Next, we clean and disinfect the inside of the tooth to kill infection-causing bacteria. Once the tooth is empty and sterile, we fill it with cement to support the tooth and prevent future infection. We finish the root canal procedure with a simple filling or a crown. 

Unfortunately, a root canal is most difficult to perform on the tooth most commonly affected. The large, upper fourth premolar is a three-rooted tooth, which allows ample opportunity for pus pockets to form around the tooth. As infection pools by the tooth, the hallmark swelling under the eye appears due to inflammation and an abundance of white blood cells. Occasionally, other teeth may be affected by root infection, requiring extraction or root canal therapy. Prevent a tooth abscess in your pet by maintaining her dental health through routine exams and cleanings, paired with at-home care.

Has your pet’s doggy breath acquired a little more bite? Schedule an appointment to check your furry friend’s dental health and prevent an agonizing abscess from forming.