the root cause: tooth root abscesses in pets

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Dr. Kim Smyth
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Jan 02 2013

Dog chewing on stick | Tooth root abscesses in dogs

Tooth root abscesses are nothing to shake a stick at. In fact, a stick might be what got your dog into this “sticky” situation in the first place!

You see, the most common place for a tooth root abscess is in your dog’s upper carnassial tooth, toward the back of the upper jaw, which can be damaged by chewing on hard objects, like sticks, bones and rocks (yes, rocks!). Tooth root abscesses can also occur in cats, as a result of similar oral trauma.

A tooth root abscess is an infection that develops in the root of any tooth. When the tooth enamel is broken or cracked and underlying dentin is exposed, bacteria have direct access to the root.

Signs your pet may have a tooth root abscess

We know from human medicine (and maybe you know from first-hand experience!) that a tooth root abscess is incredibly painful. However, your pet probably won’t show any obvious signs of pain. If anything, he may choose to avoid that side of his mouth when chewing, which is something even the most astute owner may miss. He may paw at his face or rub it along the ground, and you may notice particularly bad breath when receiving your kisses.

Because of the close proximity that the upper carnassial tooth has with the orbit of the eye, tooth root abscesses are often mistaken for eye infections. Tooth root abscesses can cause facial swelling under the eye as pus builds up. Occasionally, the abscess will break through the surface of the skin, causing a draining tract just under the eye. You may notice redness or swelling at the gum line of the affected tooth, or the tooth may look completely normal.

Diagnosis and treatment

If you notice such signs, it is important to address them as soon as possible. If you’ve ever had a tooth root abscess, you know how exquisitely painful they are, and your pooch or kitty will thank you for your timeliness. Your veterinarian may be able to diagnose a tooth root abscess with just a thorough oral exam, or he may need to take a series of dental x-rays to confirm the diagnosis. If your pet is protected with a dog insurance plan that includes coverage for dental issues, these diagnostics can be covered.

Once a diagnosis has been made, your pet will be started on oral antibiotics and pain medication until surgery can be scheduled. Your pet’s tooth may be able to be saved, and in some cases, a root canal can be performed. Few vets have the ability to perform a root canal, so your pet may be referred to a veterinary dentist. If this is not possible, or if the tooth is too damaged to be saved, your regular veterinarian should be able to extract the affected tooth.

Recovery time from tooth extraction is swift. You may need to give canned food or moistened dry food until your pet’s gum heals, but removal of the affected tooth will cause immediate pain relief for your pet. Many, many times I have been told by owners that though they didn’t know their pets were in pain before, they certainly noticed a difference in their pet’s attitude after surgery! If you suspect a tooth root abscess, call your vet immediately.