Dog Tooth Abscess

Our canine friends are unable to inform us of their nagging tooth aches.

This not only means that dental disease can go unnoticed for long periods of time, but serious tooth infections can as well.

So what is a dental abscess in dogs, and what does this diagnosis mean for your furry friend?

In this article we will discuss the details of dog tooth abscesses, and help you better understand the importance of dental health going forward.

Dog Tooth Abscess

What Is An Abscess?

Before we get into the details of dental abscesses in our canine friends, it’s important to understand what an abscess is in the first place.

An abscess is essentially a pocket of infection within the body, developing as a result of an initial wound or irritation.

This lump is often painful and filled with pus, only finding relief when the area is drained and treated with antibiotics.

Abscesses are not only extremely uncomfortable for the dog affected, but can cause a dog to feel generally unwell.

Dogs with an abscess may have a fever, appear lethargic, shy away from food, and display other abnormal behaviors.

What Is A Tooth Abscess In Dogs?

Now that you have a better understanding of what an abscess is, you can now picture a dental abscess and what it entails.

A dental abscess, or tooth root abscess, is an infection that often begins within the root of a tooth, growing in size as it progresses.

If left untreated, a dental abscess will continue to fill with pus until the infected pocket makes its way into the skin surrounding your dog’s mouth.

This is when the visible swelling develops on a dog’s face, even bursting through the skin if it is not addressed in time.

As you can likely gather from this description, a dental abscess can be an excruciating experience.

What Causes Dental Abscesses In Dogs?

Just like any other type of abscess, a dental abscess forms when bacteria find their way into a compromised area.

If the dentin on a dog’s tooth is damaged for any reason, this offers bacteria the perfect opportunity to wreak havoc.

Bacteria can make their way into the pulp of your dog’s tooth, allowing them to gain access to the root of the compromised tooth.

This is where the infection will brew, leading to the painful abscesses we are discussing today.

The most common tooth injuries that lead to abscess include fractured teeth as a result of injury or infection, or severe dental disease that causes deterioration of the tooth.

Though bacteria may take a different path when getting to the pulp of the tooth based on the initial cause, the result is the same once the root of the tooth is infiltrated.

Though a dental abscess can form around any tooth, they most often occur around the canine teeth, around the premolar in the upper jaw, and around the molars in the lower jaw.

The spot of the infection will determine where the swelling develops if it progresses into an abscess.

What Are The Symptoms Of A Tooth Abscess In Dogs?

While we described an abscess as a swollen mass filled with pus, it’s not always this obvious.

A dental abscess only bursts through the skin and displays visible swelling once it has progressed, and there are often much more subtle signs that you can look for first.

To help you better detect any dental infections in your pup, let’s list a few of the most common symptoms of dental abscess below.

  • Having a hard time eating food, such as dropping kibble from their mouth as they eat
  • Crying out when they are eating
  • Only chewing on one side of their mouth
  • Foul breath
  • Facial sensitivity, such as pulling away when you are petting them around their face
  • Blood in the water bowl
  • Blood on their toys
  • Pawing at the face

Some of the more obvious signs of a dental abscess in dogs include:

  • Facial swelling, either in the cheek area beneath the eye or below their chin
  • Constant watering of one eye
  • Small hole on the cheek or chin, often looking like a small puncture
  • Bloody drool
  • Excessive drooling
  • Pain when opening their mouth

The above symptoms can be present when a dog has a dental abscess, but they can be present with severe dental disease as well.

If you begin to notice any of the above symptoms in your canine friend, it’s best to have them seen for a dental exam at your vet’s office.

Diagnosing Dental Abscesses In Dogs

If your vet is fearful of a dental abscess in your canine friend, there are a few ways for them to get to the bottom of their symptoms.

First, your vet will gather a detailed history of any symptoms you are observing at home, as well as any strange behaviors that may have brought them to the vet in the first place.

Once your vet has gathered a detailed medical history, they will move on to an oral exam.

Depending on how painful your dog is, your vet will either perform an oral exam while they are awake or under sedation.

A quick oral exam is usually enough to either diagnose severe dental disease, or even any areas that could be brewing a dental abscess.

The last potential diagnostic that your vet may perform is a dental radiograph.

This allows your vet to not only examine the health of each tooth in their mouth, but to focus on any particular areas they are concerned with.

A dental x-ray will allow your vet to see any fractured teeth, pockets of infection, and even the decay of any other teeth in the mouth.

If your vet thinks your dog requires surgery to address their dental concern, they will likely suggest routine blood work to make sure they are fit to be anesthetized.

Treatment For Tooth Abscesses In Dogs

Just like in humans, a tooth abscess is a serious medical condition that will require immediate attention.

While surgical removal/attention of the tooth are the only curative options for the abscess, they will first attempt to diminish the current infection before attempting to remove the tooth.

This means your vet will likely send your dog home with antibiotics and pain control to give your dog for the next few days, and will schedule dental surgery for their next open slot.

Based on the severity of your dog’s tooth infection, your vet will either perform a full extraction or a root canal.

A root canal is only on the table if the trauma to the tooth is not too severe, or if your dog’s level of dental disease is not too extensive.

However, if the tooth cannot be saved, your vet will perform an extraction (removal of the tooth).

While many tooth abscesses can be treated by your regular veterinarian, there are some cases that require the skill of a dental specialist.

This is usually necessary in situations involving severe bone infections, or in those with chronic dental abscesses that have already been addressed once before.

Your dog’s dental radiographs will allow your vet to determine the best plan of action going forward.

No matter which path your dog must take, you can expect to maintain a close relationship with the vet performing their procedure, as well as having follow-up exams in the weeks following their surgery.

Tooth Abscess Recovery In Dogs

When your dog’s dental abscess is treated appropriately, most dogs will have a good prognosis and smooth recovery.

Any dental abscess will often require up to 14 days of antibiotics after their procedure, a change in diet to a food that is easy to chew, as well as a follow up exam to monitor their recovery.

Maintaining a close relationship with your vet is critical when they are recovering from a dental abscess, as complications can always develop in the days and weeks following their procedure.

Following your vet’s postoperative instructions will offer your pup the best chance at a smooth recovery.

Once your dog recovers from their procedure, your vet will likely suggest routine dental exams every 6 months to keep an eye out for any changes.

If this was not your dog’s first dental abscess, they may even suggest coming more frequently.

Can You Prevent Tooth Abscesses In Dogs?

The best way to prevent a tooth abscess in your dog is by keeping up with their dental health and regular dental cleanings.

To help you protect your pup against dental infections, let’s list some of the most effective prevention options below.

Some of the best ways to promote dental health in your dog includes:

  • Keeping up with annual vet exams, as your vet will perform basic oral exams at these visits as well
  • Creating a dental health plan with your vet, and scheduling dental cleanings at your vet’s recommendation
  • Brushing your dog’s teeth regularly with a dog approved toothpaste
  • Offering them vet approved dental chews and bones

If you make sure to implement the steps we listed above, your pup will have the best chance at an abscess free future.

Final Thoughts

Dental abscesses are a painful health complication that can deeply impact our pups.

Be sure to review the information we discussed above, and you can keep an eye out for any potential dental complications as they arise.

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