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  1. dogs dental health

How To Spot and Treat a Dog Tooth Abscess

Posted by Dr. Roth on August 04, 2022

Wellness Care
What to do if?
How To Treat a Dog Tooth Abscess Header Photo

A dog with a tooth abscess may stop playing with their toys or show other signs that pet parents might not immediately connect to their oral health. The dog may be reluctant to show signs of discomfort, so it's important to be observant of their behavior every day — not just when the dog parent suspects something might be wrong.

Learn how to identify a tooth abscess and prevent related conditions from developing. 

Clinical Signs and Symptoms of a Dog Tooth Abscess

What does an abscessed tooth look like on a dog? Well, a dog tooth abscess develops when bacteria in the mouth get underneath the gum line and creates a pocket of infection around the root of the tooth.

Bacteria enter the root of the tooth in two main ways. Some dogs have severe periodontal disease, and if it's left untreated, it can eventually progress to a dog tooth abscess. Fractured teeth can also eventually become abscessed. If a pet parent regularly checks their dog's teeth for any that may be broken, they’ll be able to find them earlier and avoid an infection happening in the first place.

If a dog does have a tooth abscess, the pet parent might notice them pawing at their mouth or trying to avoid chewing on one side of their jaw. Here are some other dog tooth abscess symptoms:

Bad Breath

Signs like bad breath may be unrelated to abscessed teeth. But the bacteria involved in a dog tooth abscess cause a distinct odor that is different from a dog's usual breath.

Run-of-the-mill bad breath can be prevented with regular teeth brushing with a vet-approved toothpaste. Dental water additives can also be used to help prevent periodontitis and tooth abscesses in dogs that don't like to have their teeth brushed regularly.

Swollen Spots on the Face

If a dog parent notices swelling beneath the dog's eyes or on other parts of their face, they may have a tooth abscess. These swollen areas are sometimes round and might even have pus draining from them.

Swollen areas on the dog's face that are caused by tooth abscesses can develop rather quickly, over just a few days. It's also possible for the dental abscess to burst, which will look like a wound on their face.

Gum Recession

Dogs with periodontitis usually have receding gums. The dog's gums may also be red and swollen. When the gums recede, this leaves deep pockets between the gums and teeth, and bacteria will grow in these pockets. If pus starts to form in these spaces and it doesn't drain, an abscess can form.

How To Treat Abscessed Teeth in Canines

Dogs can benefit from temporary treatment methods that relieve pain and inflammation in the gums until the pet parent is able to get them to the vet. But they’ll likely eventually have to make decisions about bigger procedures that will help prevent the further spread of bacteria and preserve their dog's tooth.

Pain Medication

Although the dog may hide the fact that they're in pain, a dog tooth abscess usually causes discomfort. So after a dental examination, veterinarians will usually prescribe pain medication, like carprofen. Some pain relievers, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), aren't safe for all dogs. So, it's important to discuss pain relievers with a veterinarian before giving them to the dog.

A dog will also have to take an antibiotic, like clindamycin, to stop the bacteria from growing. But these are not permanent solutions — they simply help to alleviate the pain and current infection until the dog can have a procedure done to fix their tooth. Some procedures are covered by pet insurance.

Endodontic Treatment

Endodontic treatment, also called a root canal, isn't painful because it's done while the dog is anesthetized. In this procedure, the infected pulp in the dog's tooth is replaced with an inert material. If the vet recommends endodontic treatment, the dog will likely need at least two weeks to recover, and the pet parent will need to adjust their eating and drinking habits during this time.

This treatment option eliminates severe infection. It also prevents the tooth from getting infected again. Endodontic treatment is less invasive than extraction and allows the dog to keep their tooth. This type of procedure would typically be performed by a dental specialist.

Tooth Extractions

Tooth extraction is a last resort, but it may be necessary if the dog's tooth is damaged beyond repair. Surgical extraction may also be the only option for some types of teeth. Veterinary dentists usually prefer to restrict root canals to molars, canine teeth, and large premolars.

In a tooth extraction, the veterinarian will surgically remove the entire tooth while the dog is anesthetized. They'll also clean the tooth socket to remove all of the infected material. The gum wound will be closed with absorbable sutures, which don't require an extra vet visit to be removed — they'll fall out on their own. The dog will need around two weeks to recover from the procedure.

How To Prevent Tooth Root Abscesses in Your Dog

To prevent dental disease and promote good oral health, a pet parent should:

  • Brush the dog's teeth regularly

  • Use a dental water additive

  • Avoid giving the dog hard toys, antlers, or other objects that can fracture their teeth

Daily brushing removes plaque and tartar, preventing them from accumulating on a dog's teeth. This will avoid the formation of a pus cavity. Puppies should also have their teeth brushed to acclimate them to the process so they will be more likely to allow it as adult dogs, and to check their mouth regularly for broken teeth from chewing or rough play like tug.

Seek Professional Help for Your Pet's Dental Needs

Pet parents probably want to help their dog immediately when they have a tooth abscess. But it's important to consult a veterinarian before using any medications to ensure that the remedy they choose is safe for the dog.

Fuzzy veterinarians can answer questions about a dog's tooth abscess because they're on call 24/7. Sign up for a free Fuzzy trial today and start talking to a veterinarian in minutes.

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