Our pets can be prone to cavities, gingivitis, dental disease, and tooth root abscesses just like we can. A tooth abscess is an especially unpleasant, deep-seated oral condition, for which clinical signs may not be immediately obvious. Dogs and cats alike are skilled at concealing symptoms of disease and injury, and this can often result in their condition progressing from something minor to something major and more difficult to treat. Left untreated, an abscessed tooth can become a much larger issue, one that may affect not just the mouth, but other areas of the body, as well.
Below, we explain what a cat or dog tooth abscess is, what can cause it, and how to go about treating this problem so your pet can have a better quality of life.
What Exactly is a Tooth Abscess?
A tooth abscess is a particularly painful bacterial infection that develops around the tooth root. Both dogs and cats can experience this condition, which may occur if a root canal is left exposed. The abscess itself is a sort of pocket, which fills with pus and causes inflammation of the surrounding tissues. This pus can find its way through the bottom of the tooth root and into the surrounding bone, and possibly enter the oral cavity.
What Causes Tooth Abscess in Dogs and Cats?
We know that an abscess is caused by harmful bacteria, but what causes the bacteria to enter the tooth in the first place? Here are the primary causes of tooth abscesses in pets:
Dental trauma involves any damage to the tooth that causes it to chip, crack, or break apart. Without the protection of tooth enamel, the inner tissues of the tooth, including the dentin and pulp, are exposed, and bacteria can more easily enter the root canal and cause an infection.
For dogs, dental trauma is often caused by chewing on very hard objects, like antlers, cow hooves, cage bars, and bones. Dogs may have strong jaws, but their teeth can still be vulnerable to breakage.
Dental disease can result in a cascade of other health issues, including tooth abscesses. In this scenario, bacteria does not enter the root canal and create a pocket below the tooth; rather, it finds its way under the gum line and infects the tooth via the gums and other supporting tissues, creating a pocket around the tooth root.
Signs Your Pet May Have a Tooth Abscess
There are not necessarily any obvious signs to look for to know if your dog or cat has a tooth abscess. Pets are not given to showing that they are in pain.
However, there are some other signs that might indicate oral pain, including:
- Chewing on one side
- Dropping food while attempting to eat
- Shying away from having their face/head touched
- Avoiding chew toys
- Pawing/rubbing at face (might seem like they’re scratching an itch)
- Swelling under the eye
- Bad breath
Treating Tooth Abscesses in Dogs and Cats
If your pet exhibits any of the clinical signs listed above, they should see their veterinarian as soon as possible. A skilled, board-certified veterinary dentist can examine your pet, take dental radiographs, and run bloodwork as needed, and make a proper diagnosis of their condition. If a tooth abscess is discovered, your pet will have one of two treatment options:
Extracting the Abscessed Tooth
While perhaps not ideal, a complete extraction of the abscessed tooth may be the best way to treat your pet’s infection and relieve their discomfort. Your veterinarian will ensure that your pet is given the appropriate antibiotics and pain management to help them heal comfortably following the extraction procedure. You will also receive take-home instructions so you can continue to care for your pet as they recover in the days that follow.
Performing Root Canal Therapy
Root canal therapy is an endodontic procedure that involves carefully removing the infected pulp tissue from the tooth, cleaning and disinfecting the root canal thoroughly, filling the canal with an inert, bacteria-resistant material, and capping off the tooth with a restorative crown to keep bacteria from entering the tooth again. After the procedure, your pet will be given antibiotics and pain medication to ease their recovery.
The purpose of root canal therapy is to save the tooth from being extracted. If the trauma to your pet’s tooth and surrounding structures is not too extensive, root canal therapy may be a possibility.
Preventing an Abscessed Tooth in Dogs and Cats
Cat and dog tooth abscesses can be prevented with these steps:
Schedule Routine Health Checkups
Dogs and cats should see their veterinarian annually or semiannually for a wellness exam. This typically includes checking the oral cavity for any problems, but you can also use this time to bring up any concerns you have about your pet’s health. Your veterinarian is trained to catch subtle signs of pain and disease in animals, so make sure your pet is seeing their vet regularly!
Flip the Lip
An easy way to get a cursory glimpse of your pet’s teeth and gums is to flip their lip. This is not a substitute for a veterinarian’s exam, but it could reveal an issue that you might not have noticed otherwise. This can include tartar buildup, redness of the gums, or even a loose/broken tooth. Also, don’t ignore your pet’s bad breath—if their breath is foul, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to schedule an oral exam.
Clean Your Pet’s Teeth
Clean pearly whites and healthy pink gums are your pet’s best defense against dental disease and tooth abscesses. Teeth brushing, a tartar-control diet, and high-quality dental chews and treats can all be integrated into your pet’s at-home dental care plan.
Professional Teeth Cleanings
Additionally, we recommend routine teeth cleanings performed by your veterinarian. Since many dental problems take place under the gum line, professional teeth cleanings are the only way to remove subgingival (below the gum line) tartar buildup and any trace of bacteria. They also help to slow the accumulation of plaque and tartar in your pet’s mouth.
Why Your Pet Should See a Veterinary Dentist
Veterinary dentists exclusively provide advanced dental services for dogs and cats, and can educate you about your pet’s dental needs. Veterinary Dental Services, LLC is staffed with dental professionals who are also strong advocates for preventive, at-home dental care. We are an AAHA-accredited animal hospital, offering exceptional treatment that goes beyond standard teeth cleanings. If your companion suffers from chronic oral pain or is prone to dental disease, our team can help. Just give us a call at (978) 929-9200.