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What to Expect if Your Dog Has a Root Canal

Dog root canal

Root canal therapy (also called vital pulpotomy) is primarily a ‘tooth-saving’ procedure in dogs. Teeth have significant functions and, as much as possible, saving them is the goal of every dental procedure. If your dog’s tooth is fractured with the pulp exposed, or if there is already a tooth root abscess (infection), an appropriate medical intervention must be performed immediately. Otherwise, there is a high risk of the infection spreading to other areas of the body. Keep reading to learn more!

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Root canal therapy is commonly performed on large, functional teeth, although it can be performed on most teeth. ‘Functional teeth’ are useful in picking up objects or used for chewing and include the canine teeth, upper fourth premolar, and the lower first molar.

In addition to preserving a tooth, root canal therapy is less invasive. This means there is less postoperative pain compared to when a tooth is extracted. A dog can almost immediately return to normal activity after the procedure.

What is a root canal?

The root canal of a tooth is the center portion of the tooth that contains the pulp (soft tissue). The pulp is composed of nerves, blood vessels, connective tissues, and lymphatics. The center of the tooth is also known as the pulp cavity.

Why does my dog need root canal treatment?

Root canal therapy is often the only treatment option to preserve a tooth that is compromised by a fracture or pulpitis.

A broken tooth is often caused by chewing on hard objects such as bones, hard plastic toys, rocks, or antlers. Trauma to the mouth can also result in broken teeth. When a tooth breaks, the pulp can become exposed, causing pain and sensitivity. Without any appropriate treatment, the pulp of a broken tooth can become infected (pulpitis) and can lead to swelling of the dog’s face.

Root canal therapy is a safe option when the dog’s lower canine teeth are fractured. This is especially true in older dogs as the incidence of tooth ankylosis appears to increase with age. Tooth ankylosis occurs when the tissue (periodontal ligament) that acts as a “shock absorber” for the tooth is lost or damaged, causing the tooth to be firmly attached to the bone. The problem is usually diagnosed with dental x-rays. If the affected tooth is extracted, the risk of tooth and/or jaw fracture is a concern.

How Root Canal Therapy is Performed

In a nutshell, a root canal procedure converts a compromised tooth into one that’s free of pain and infection while preserving its function.

When a dog’s tooth is fractured and the pulp is exposed, root canal therapy can salvage the tooth by removing the infected and inflamed pulp in a sterile manner. The next step will be cleansing of the root canal and filling in with dental materials before a final layer of hard white material (composite) is placed over the tooth. This will provide a hard, protective layer that will prevent further bacterial entry into the tooth.

In some cases, the tooth may need additional protection which can be provided by a metal crown. This is usually indicated in working dogs, such as police dogs, whose teeth are frequently subjected to hard and large chewing objects. Placing a crown may also be necessary for dogs with extensive chewing behaviors or when a considerable portion of the tooth has already been chipped away.

After the procedure, your pet won’t need to be confined overnight in the clinic. By the following day, your dog should quickly return to his normal routine without any indications that he’s been through a dental procedure.

Any licensed veterinarian can perform root canal therapy in dogs. However, there is a need for advanced training and specialized instruments and materials to ensure that the root canal is properly disinfected, shaped, and filled. Your veterinarian may refer your pet to a board-certified veterinary dentist, or you can visit the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) to find a dental specialist in your area.

How do I know if root canal therapy is appropriate for my dog?

Most cases of fractured teeth or those with pulpitis or tooth abscesses are good candidates for root canal therapy. But when dental disease is well-advanced, your vet will consider certain factors to determine if the procedure can save the affected tooth.

Evaluation will involve a thorough visual exam of the tooth and associated structures coupled with x-rays of the tooth. The results of the evaluation will provide valuable information that can help the vet decide whether root canal therapy is feasible and viable. If it’s not, then the tooth needs to be extracted. Also, some dogs are just not good candidates for root canal therapy.

Root Canal vs. Extraction

Root canal therapy preserves a compromised tooth while extraction completely removes the affected tooth.

Advantages of Root Canal Therapy

  • Less invasive than a tooth extraction
  • Less traumatic with very minimal pain after the procedure
  • The anesthesia time required is typically shorter (depending on the condition of the tooth)
  • The recovery period is very short
  • The tooth’s main structure is intact, thus the function is also preserved. The dog can eat and chew immediately after the procedure.
  • It is often hard to tell the difference between a tooth that has undergone root canal therapy and a normal tooth.
  • Minimal secondary problems

Disadvantages of Tooth Extraction

  • Involves surgery below the gum line, removing the tooth and its large roots
  • The level of pain after extraction is greater compared to root canal extraction
  • Cases of complicated tooth extractions may require longer anesthesia time.
  • Recovery often takes longer than root canal therapy
  • There is a gap or space in the gums left by the extracted tooth (mostly a cosmetic consequence)

How successful is a root canal procedure for dogs?

Root canal therapy in dogs has a very high success rate (over 90%). It’s an excellent option for restoring your pet’s oral health.

Post-Root Canal Follow-Up

Your vet will determine the schedule for your pet’s follow-up appointment(s). During these visits, dental x-rays are usually performed to recheck the tooth.

Read more:

Everything You Need to Know About Your Dog’s Dental Health

Brushing Your Dog's Teeth: Step-by-Step Instructions

Is it normal for dogs to lose their teeth?

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