Tooth Root Abscesses in Dogs
Dogs have 42 adult teeth: 6 incisors, 4 canines, 16 premolars, and 10 molars. Any of these teeth are at risk for developing an abscess, but the most common teeth to develop abscesses are the upper 4th premolars. Continue reading to learn more about tooth root abscesses in dogs, including common causes, treatments, and ways to prevent this painful condition.
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How do tooth root abscesses develop?
An infection can develop at the base or root of the tooth due to injury/broken tooth, cavities, bacterial infections of the pulp canal of the tooth, or to the bone surrounding the tooth. Severe systemic bacterial infections (infections spreading through the body) are another possible cause of tooth root abscesses in dogs.
The upper 4th premolars, also called the carnassial teeth, are the most commonly affected. These large teeth toward the back of the mouth often develop fractures, called slab fractures, from chewing on hard objects. The fractured tooth exposes the pulp canal and dentin, allowing bacteria to enter and move up the root or apex of the tooth, causing an abscess to form.
Once an abscess has formed, it can begin damaging the bones of the jaw and even invade into the sinuses leading to sinus infections, nose bleeds, and potentially draining, infected wounds along the tissue called a fistula. These abscesses can even move upward and form behind the eyes!
Symptoms of Tooth Root Abscesses in Dogs
Some dogs are great at hiding their pain, but others are more sensitive and show symptoms earlier on. Common symptoms of a tooth root abscess include:
- Reluctance to chew their food or play with toys
- Nasal discharge or bloody nose
- Rubbing the face with their paws or on the ground, furniture, or other objects
- Swelling below the eye with carnassial tooth root abscesses
- Foul smell to their breath
- Enlarged lymph nodes on the head
- Eye bulging, 3rd eyelid elevation, eye discharge (if the abscess develops behind the eye)
- Inflamed, red gums and gum recession in the region of the damaged tooth
- Fracture of the jaw (more common with severe infections of the lower jaw)
- Loose/mobile tooth
- Pain when opening the mouth in some cases
Treatment Options for Dogs with Tooth Root Abscesses
Antibiotics can help reduce the pain and infection but will not resolve the issue long term because the infection will keep coming back.
A root canal can be performed if the fracture was recent and there is minimal infection present. Most root canals are performed by veterinary dental specialists. This allows the rest of the tooth to be preserved.
Most abscessed teeth are extracted or removed. Your vet can take dental radiographs (x-rays) to confirm there is an infection present, determine how much bone loss has occurred, and if any of the adjacent teeth are being affected. The affected tooth and bone in the region are removed and smoothed down so the gum tissue can be closed over the extraction site. Dental radiographs are taken again to ensure the entire root has been removed.
If the bone damage is more severe, your vet may also take a sample of the bone for bacterial testing to ensure the antibiotic does not need to be changed. If a fistula is present, it can be very hard to close and heal since there is often not enough tissue present to close the site completely or without excess tension on the sutures. This means we really want to get these infected teeth treated before a fistula develops!
After the extraction, your dog should eat canned food for the next week and avoid all chew toys and treats for 2 weeks to allow the extraction site to heal. Your dog will likely go home with good pain medications and antibiotics to resolve any residual infections. Antibiotics are often begun before the surgical extraction to resolve as much infection as possible.
How to Prevent Your Dog from Developing a Tooth Root Abscess
Do not allow your dog to chew on very hard items like natural bones, antlers, rocks, ice, or hard plastic.
Brush your dogs’ teeth daily at home and be sure to use toothpaste made for dogs and cats since these will be fluoride-free. You can use a finger toothbrush, regular toothbrush, toothbrush made for pets, or even an exfoliating washcloth glove to brush their teeth.
Use recommended dental chews for additional oral health. Please see the products endorsed by the Veterinary Oral Health Council that have been proven to work.
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