Tooth pain is never easy. Not for humans. Not for pets. Since dogs can’t tell you right away that their mouth hurts, a minor problem could turn into something severe. That’s why it’s very important to pay attention to signs that your dog has oral pain. This way, you can catch problems such as an abscessed tooth early and get your dog the right treatment before dental problems impact their health and quality of life.
Signs Your Dog Has an Abscessed tooth
An abscess is a collection of pus that builds up near the site of an infection. If you look inside your dog’s mouth when your pet has a tooth abscess you’ll see swelling and redness around the gums alongside the affected tooth. The more pus that accumulates the more swollen and tender the area around this tooth can become. Of course, you may not be in the habit of regularly looking inside your dog’s mouth for an abscess, which means you need to be aware of other symptoms of an infection.
A dog with a tooth abscess may show the following signs:
- Only chewing on one side or avoiding chewing unless necessary to eat (not playing with tug or chew toys, etc.)
- Dropping food while chewing (because the pain makes your dog stop biting suddenly)
- Pulling away when you touch the snout or head
- Halitosis or bad breath
- Scratching the side of the face with the affected tooth
- Swelling around the eye, which can look like an eye infection
- Inflammation around the affected tooth that is hot to the touch
What Causes a Dog’s Abscess Tooth
Tooth root abscesses most commonly affect the upper carnassial tooth, the largest tooth in a dog's mouth. As dogs age, they are at risk for fracturing this tooth, often from trauma such as biting on something extremely firm (bones, stones, cage bars, fences, too-hard treats) or being struck in the mouth. When a piece of the upper carnassial tooth -- or any other tooth -- breaks away, it’s easy for bacteria to get into the root and other sensitive areas of the tooth. This can lead to an infection, which causes white blood cells rush to the area to fight the infection and expel dead tissue. The accumulation of white blood cells creates a pocket of pus, which is called an abscess.
Other types of tooth abscesses, including those that form under the gum line, can be caused by periodontal disease.
Treatment of Tooth Abscesses
Left untreated, an abscess could lead to a serious eye infection, widespread tooth loss, and health problems that can accompany periodontal disease such as bone loss and damage to major organs.
As soon as possible, your dog should begin antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory. These medications will alleviate some of the swelling and soreness, but the tooth will either need a root canal or will need to be removed to fix the underlying issues.
If the abscess is affecting the upper carnassial tooth, your dog will almost certainly need to have the tooth extracted since that large tooth has three roots and root canal is very complicated.
You will need to consider cost and your dog’s overall health before choosing between an extraction and root canal. Keep in mind that, usually, dogs can manage perfectly fine without a specific tooth – even the large upper carnassial tooth (which is more important to canines living in the wild than for dogs with a domestic diet).
As dogs age, you may want to take steps to lower the risk of tooth breakage by restricting your pet’s diet to softer treats and offering play things that are easy on older jaws.
Proper brushing and a routine of good oral care can also help avoid canine periodontal disease, which will protect your dog from abscesses and other dental problems.
More on Dog Dental Health
Healthy Adult Dog Teeth: What They Look Like
Why Using Dog Dental Chews to Improve Tooth Health
What to Expect at a Dog Dental Cleaning
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.