Reviewed by: Sara Ochoa, DVM
Dogs are very good at hiding pain until it starts to become too much to bear. A dog’s tooth abscess is very painful for dogs.
Have you noticed your dog pawing at his or her face more often? Has your dog been trying to push food to one side of his or her mouth when eating? Have you noticed blood spots on your dog’s toys?
These can be signs of a developing canine tooth abscess.
If you suspect your dog has abscessed teeth or other dental problems, you need to know what to do. In this post, we will cover all aspects of tooth decay in dogs, including how an abscess develops, signs, prevention, treatment, and at-home care.
How Do I Know if My Dog Has a Dog Tooth Abscess?
There are some distinct signs that your dog has an abscess, and these are mentioned in the signs and symptoms further into this post.
In the meantime, it’s important to understand how the tooth became abscessed in the first place.
How Infection Gets into the Tooth Root
When an infection around a tooth’s root becomes severe, it is called a tooth root abscess. It typically happens as a result of bacteria getting inside through a cracked or damaged tooth.
A tooth root abscess could also be related to secondary or periodontal disease.
When this happens, the infection travels along the outside of the tooth. It moves through the supportive tissues that surround the root of a tooth.
A healthy tooth is covered by enamel. Enamel is hard enough to prevent unwanted bacteria from seeping into the tooth and surrounding tissues.
Under that first layer of enamel is something called dentin. Dentin contains roughly 300,000 to 400,000 tiny openings called tubules.
The center of the tooth contains the pulp cavity, where you’ll find the pulp tissue This tissue is made up of blood vessels, nerve tissue, and lymphatic tissue.
If your dog experiences a cracked or chipped tooth, that tooth is suddenly vulnerable to bacterial infection. Think about what your dog does in a day; what he eats, tastes, plays with, etc. Bacteria is everywhere, and there’s no better place for it to live than in the mouth of a dog with dental problems.
Dogs develop tooth abscesses the same way people do, through injury or trauma. Tooth damage occurs easily in dogs that like to chew:
- hard objects, natural bones
- ice cubes,
- Pig’s ears (can become a choking hazard)
- Cow hooves
- nylone bones
- hard nylone toys
Dogs can also get broken teeth when playing with other dogs. If you have a dog that likes to play rough, he or she may end up clashing teeth with another dog. This could cause a tooth to fracture.
Essentially, a dog’s tooth abscess is caused when a crack or split in the tooth enamel leaves the pulp vulnerable to bacteria.
Dog Teeth Most at Risk of Abscesses
The teeth most at risk of damage or slab fracture are the carnassial teeth. A dog’s fourth upper molar and the first lower molar are called the dog’s carnassial teeth.
These two teeth collide like shearing blades when the dog is eating. This helps them shred into meat.
The molars are located way in the back of your dog’s mouth. Unless you are a particularly observant owner, it’s easy to miss a small chip in a tooth. Sometimes, however,
Senior dogs are also more at risk. As they age, their carnassial teeth may weaken. Overtime, this weakened state could lead to a fractured tooth.
Slab Fractures in Dogs
When a dog bites down on something hard at just the right angle and with enough force, it can cause a slab fracture. A slab fracture happens when a piece of tooth breaks off. It happens to any tooth.
Signs of Dental Disease vs Dog Tooth Abscess
Some signs of dental decay and tooth abscesses are the same or similar. However, there are a few distinctions that really point to an abscessed tooth.
Ultimately, you want to try and avoid any kind of dental disease in your dog the best way you can. This includes periodic professional dental cleanings, good hygiene at home, and only allowing your dog to chew on appropriate toys.
Signs of Dental Decay in Dogs
- bad breath (halitosis)
- extra or unusual drooling
- spots of blood on the dog’s toys
- difficulty eating hard food
- pushing food to one side of the mouth
- leaving crumbs behind because of inability to chew effectively
Signs of a Dog Tooth Abscess
- bad breath (halitosis)
- blood on toys
- under-eye “pimple” or swelling
- redness and swelling of the gums
- pawing at the face
- dragging or pushing one side of the face into the furniture
- behavioral changes
Medical Treatment of a Dental Tooth Abscess
If you notice any of the signs noted above, make an appointment for your dog to see a veterinarian.
A tooth root abscess is a painful condition that requires prompt treatment.
To manage your dog’s pain, the doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics along with painkillers and anti-inflammatories. Keep in mind that these prescriptions only treat the symptoms and not the underlying condition.
Endodontic (Root Canal Therapy)
An abscessed dog tooth can only be treated in one of two ways. Root canal therapy is one option. This will keep the tooth’s structure intact.
To determine if your dog is a good candidate for root canal treatment, the tooth root in question must be evaluated via radiographs.
The degree of the tooth’s crown trauma, any pre-existing infection (which causes bone loss around the root), and the tooth’s overall periodontal health will all have an effect on whether root canal therapy or extraction is advised.
If root canal is established as the best option to go with, the area will need to be checked within three to six months of the initial procedure, and then yearly.
The other option is an extraction. Extraction will depend on how severe the abscess is and how much of the tooth structure has been damaged.
A veterinary dentist can only see what’s happening above the gum line.
In order to get a clear picture of your dog’s teeth, including signs of severe periodontal disease, he or she will want to take dental radiographs.
Dental radiographs are pictures of the teeth, bone, and soft tissue. These images can help detect cavities, hidden dental structures and bone loss.
For more information on how dental x-rays are needed, read Dental X-Rays by Cleveland Clinic.
The veterinarian will be in the best position to advice you on what path to take. Most will refer these challenging cages to veterinary dental specialist.
Your dog will be prescribed post-operative antibiotics regardless of the option you choose. In some situations, you may need to change your dog’s diet during the post-operative recover period
Get Ahead of Tooth Root Abscesses with Periodic Dental Cleaning
The cost of professional canine dog cleaning will likely vary depending on where you live. Most places will give you a quote to help you determine whether you can handle the added expense.
Oftentimes, myself included, we wait until there are signs of trouble. At that point, dental issues may have become severe. This makes the surgery more involved and more expensive.
Ask your veterinarian for advice on the best way to keep your dog’s teeth healthy and strong. This may include things like offering safe chew toys, not feeding your dog bones, and regularly brushing your dog’s teeth with a toothpaste formula made for pets.
At Home Post-Surgical Care
Your dog’s mouth may be a little sore for a few days after dental surgery, especially if there were extractions involved.
The veterinarian should offer some at-home care tips before you leave the clinic. However, we’ve outlined a few here as well.
Soft Food Diet
Avoid hard treats and kibble for about a week or longer. You can buy wet food in cans until your dog feels better.
If you have hard treats that your dog absolutely loves, try soaking them in warm water until the soften up. If that doesn’t work, you may need to substitute those treats for something a little easier on the mouth.
Serious After Care for a Complicated Extraction
Follow your veterinarian’s advice. You may need to provide your pet with a short-term watered down or liquid diet.
A veterinarian may prescribe aspirin for dogs to manage pain.
Do not give your dog any over-the-counter pain medication unless the veterinarian has made the recommendation. Aspirin is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory.
They fall within the same category of drugs like ibuprofen, naproxen, carprofen, and others. Although they do tend to have fewer side-effects than steroids, they can still cause problems for your dog.
Always watch for behavioral changes anytime you give your dog a newly prescribed drug, or an OTC drug that has been approved by a veterinarian.
At the end of the day, the best pain relief is likely rest and a soft diet.
Dental disease in dogs is no joke. The best way to prevent the onset of periodontal disease is to give your dog regular professional dental check-ups.
Start brushing your puppies teeth at an early age. This helps your dog get used to the feeling. Also, never use regular toothpaste. Shop for toothpaste formulas specifically made for dogs.
Human toothpaste consists of ingredients toxic to dogs including fluoride, sodium lauryl sulfate, and xylitol.
Remember, a dog tooth abscess can have unusual signs including a lump under the eye.
Report any unusual signs and symptoms to your veterinarian so that you can help improve your dog’s quality of life sooner rather than later.
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