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Dog Tooth Abscess – 9 FAQ’s For You

A dog tooth abscess happens when a bacterial infection invades the tissue below a broken tooth.  When dogs paw at their faces, rub one side of their face onto the floor or over furniture, or refuses treats they’d otherwise beg for, it’s possible there’s a dog tooth abscess brewing. 

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This post will help you identify a dog tooth abscess. More importantly, the post will give you tips on how to prevent abscesses from happening in the first place. You’ll learn the proper way to brush your dog’s teeth, when to start, and what to do if you can’t afford proper dog dental care. 

1. How to Identify a Dog Tooth Abscess

a. Check Your Dog’s Breath

Dog’s don’t typically have minty fresh breath, but if it’s particularly foul it could indicate an infection.

b. Look for Redness & Swelling 

Gently check the gums for swelling or redness. Be careful!  A dog in pain may bite. Never force the jaw open. I find it’s easiest to check when my dog is relaxed and curled up at my feet.  

The first thing I do is gently press my fingers along my dog’s jawline. You don’t need to press too hard.  If there is any sensitivity at all, your dog will pull or turn his head away.

2. What are the symptoms of a dog tooth abscess?

Once a dog tooth has abscessed, you might notice swelling in the gums, around the cheeks, or even under the eyes.

However, long before an abscess forms you might notice your dog favoring one side of the mouth or pawing at the area.  These are things that can be easy to miss in the early stages. If you can, try to bring your dog for regular dental check-ups.

The problem will only get worse the longer you leave it. It will also get more painful for the dog and more expensive.

Watch this video quick video on canine tooth abscesses:

Watch for Under Eye Swelling

The 4th upper premolar is the largest root and the most likely to become infected. This is also called the carnassial tooth. This tooth has three long roots that reach into the maxillary sinuses. 

It’s worth remembering that if you ever notice swelling under your dog’s eye, it could be tooth related.

The carnassial teeth are prone to traumatic injury due to their location and shearing action. 

3. What Causes Dog Tooth Abscesses?

There’s a whole chain of events that lead to an abscessed tooth, most of which you wouldn’t normally notice. It’s only when you see the swelling and witness the dog’s pain that you realize there’s a problem.

A tooth root abscess is usually the result of a broken tooth due to traumatic injury.  Dogs can easily damage their teeth from chewing hard bones, antlers, cow hooves, or very hard nylon toys. 

If you dog has developed periodontal disease (an infection of the surround tissue) he/she will be more prone to tooth infection.

Food particles, saliva, and bacteria mix together and form a sticky substances known as plaque. If the plaque isn’t effectively cleaned off the tooth, it hardens into tartar. That hard mess invites more bacteria to join the party and before you know it, the gums have come loose from the tooth.

Once the gums start to pull away from the tooth, small air pockets form. The dog’s white blood cells spring into action and send a swell of white blood cells to the area. Unfortunately, it’s those white blood cells that create pus. The pus fills the air pockets and causes swelling.

4. Should I Brush my Dog’s Teeth?

Ideally, you should introduce tooth brushing to puppies from the age of 8 to 12 weeks. Initially, the idea isn’t so much to clean the teeth but to get your puppy used to the sensations and tastes. You don’t even have to start with a toothbrush. Buy dog formulated toothpaste (this is important) and put a dab on the tip of your finger. Gently rub your puppies gums if he or she will let you. There’s a good chance your puppy is going to think this is a game, so make it positive and fun.

If you’ve never brushed your dog’s teeth, it’s important to first get a professional dental examination.  That way, any immediate dental problems can be taken care of.

Once your dog’s teeth have been professionally cleaned and examined, you can begin regular brushing to keep on top of that healthy smile. 

Watch this YouTube video about periodontal disease in pets.

5. How much does it cost to get a dental cleaning for my dog?

The cost of professional dog dental cleaning will vary depending on how bad your dog’s teeth are.  You can, however, expect to be between $200 and $500, depending on the clinic.  The cost may be higher if the procedure is performed by a canine dental specialist or not. 

Shop around and make sure to ask what’s included in the price. Some clinics may itemize everything. For that reason, you might only get a partial quote.

6. Can I fix a dog’s toothache at home, before it turns into a cavity or abscess?

Unfortunately, no.  Dogs have a built-in instinct to hide pain. In the wild, an animal that shows weakness is at risk from prey.  Our dogs might be domesticated, but they carry a lot of the same survival instincts that their ancestors carried.  In other words, you’re probably not going to even notice there’s a problem until it becomes visible. 

7. Are there any home treatments I can try for my dog’s tooth abscess?

If the dog abscess is small, and your dog is still eating and drinking, there are a few home treatments you can try. That said, these treatments should really only be used as a temporary measure until you’re able to get your dog into the veterinarian clinic.

REMEMBER: The following suggestions are for use on the outside of the body – not in the dog’s mouth.  Obviously, these will only work if the abscess is visible from the outside (a lump or wound).

Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Salt Water is Cheap and Effective

I suspect this one is easier said than done, but try to cleanse the wound with a mixture of salt and water (about 1 tablespoon of salt per cup of water).  Dab the area dry.

Topical Cream for Dog Abscess

Follow up with a topical anti-bacterial cream. There are different over-the-counter options available that would be the same types you would use for a cut or abrasion. Neosporin (Trademark) is one example.

Prevent the Dog From Irritating the Abscess

Even if your dog can’t physically lick the tooth abscess, they can still paw at it or drag it across the floor or furniture.  This is their way of trying to relieve the symptoms. Unfortunately, those behaviors only introduce bacteria into the abscess and compound the pain. 

The tried-and-true way of keeping your dog from irritating that abscess is with an Elizabethan collar.   I’ve seen people use a t-shirt (tight fitting) on their dogs after surgery, but this won’t work for an abscess.  The veterinary clinic may have them to rent or buy.  You can also shop for one online. 

Use a Warm Compress for a Dog Abscess

Use a warm (not hot) face cloth or towel several times a day for five to ten minutes (or as long as the dog will tolerate it) at a time.  This will help to bring blood flow to the area which will aid in healing.

The following video is courtesy of YouTube and illustrates the best method for brushing your dog’s teeth.

8. Should my dog have a root canal or a tooth extraction?

If cost is a concern, you’re going to want to go with a tooth extraction. At this point, you’ve already paid for the dental examination, cleaning, x-rays, antibiotics, etc.  The cost to remove a large molar is about $135.  

A root canal is much more involved and costs a lot more money.  Instead of hundreds of dollars, it could be thousands.  Dog dental specialists will want to save the dog’s tooth at all costs. Your wallet, however, may have other ideas.  At the end of the day, it’s important to note that dogs adapt very easily. One missing tooth isn’t going to threaten your dog’s quality of life. 

Getting a root canal solves the problem for now, but there’s nothing to say that another abscess won’t form. There have been instances of people choosing multiple root canals for their dogs only to end up having the tooth extracted.

9. Is there anything I can do to ease my dog’s pain?

The easy answer is yes, you can administer Aspirin at 10 mg per pound of the dog’s body weight. HOWEVER, it’s important that you don’t give Aspirin if your dog is currently taking any other medications. This especially includes Prednisone or any other anti-inflammatory.  This also includes prescriptions, supplements, over-the-counter meds, or holistic/natural interventions.

Never stop an already prescribed treatment or alter it in any way.  Personally, I hesitate to give my dogs any over-the-counter pain medications before clearing it with the veterinarian. 

Numb the Pain of a Dog Tooth Abscess

If Aspirin isn’t an option, you can use a little bit of ice or a topical solution to numb the area.  NOTE:  If the abscess is really bad, the dog isn’t likely going to let you stick your finger anywhere near the gum line.  You could try putting a little bit of the gel directly on the wound/abscess, but again – be gentle and be careful. This may or may not work.

Provide Good Quality Soft Food

Another temporary option might be to supply a good quality soft food to the dog. This will eliminate having to bite down on the area and might relieve some of the pain.  At the very least, your dog should be able to get some nutrients until you’re able to get professional help.


At the end of the day, you’re going to have to decide on the best treatment option for your dog. A dog tooth abscess will not get better without treatment. Abscesses are not like a cut or wound where the body eventually heals itself.  Bacteria cause the site to swell and that’s what we call an abscess.  At this point, your dog needs antibiotics and either a tooth extraction or a root canal.  

Don’t let the veterinarian or anyone else pressure you into getting the more expensive root canal. 

I want to thank you for taking the time to read my post. Please feel free to leave comments, or contact me directly at: [email protected]