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Tooth Root Abscess in Dogs

What Is a Tooth Root Abscess in Dogs?

A tooth root abscess in dogs refers to a collection of infection around the root of a tooth beneath the gumline. It’s a painful condition that can lead to decreased appetite and reluctance to chew on toys. Swelling might also be noticeable below the eye or along the jawline.

Because of the discomfort and infection involved, a tooth root abscess should be treated as a medical emergency in dogs. If you suspect your pet is suffering from a tooth root abscess, it’s crucial to promptly seek veterinary care. Surgery is typically necessary to extract the affected tooth. However, even if immediate surgery isn’t possible, it’s important to get your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible to begin treatment, which often includes pain relief medication and antibiotics until the surgical procedure can be scheduled.


Symptoms of a tooth root abscess in dogs may vary, and not all dogs will display clinical signs. However, common symptoms include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Difficulty eating, preferring soft food, or chewing on one side of the mouth
  • Difficulty chewing on toys
  • Oral pain
  • Pawing at the face or mouth
  • Facial swelling, often below the eyes or in the lower jaw area
  • Draining wound on the face or in the mouth
  • Swelling or redness of the gums
  • Excessive drooling
  • Presence of a broken or discolored tooth
  • Fever


Tooth root abscesses in dogs stem from infections located at the tip of the tooth root. These infections typically arise when bacteria infiltrate a chip, crack, or fracture in the tooth, traveling down the tooth and causing swelling and inflammation at the root’s tip.

Another route of infection occurs through the gums, particularly in cases of severe dental disease. Initially presenting as gingivitis, gum inflammation can escalate into severe inflammation and infection (periodontal disease), often accompanied by significant tartar buildup that harbors bacteria. This condition not only leads to bad breath but also fosters bacterial accumulation around the root, potentially resulting in a tooth root abscess.

While any tooth can succumb to a tooth root abscess, the most commonly fractured teeth, and thus prone to abscesses, are the carnassial teeth. These include the fourth upper premolars (large premolars on both sides of the top jaw) and the lower first molars (largest molars on both sides of the bottom jaw).

Although tooth root abscesses can affect any dog, those with a penchant for enthusiastic chewing may face a higher risk. A prevalent type of tooth fracture, known as a slab fracture, often occurs when a dog bites down on a hard object at a slight angle, causing a chip to break off. This specific type of tooth breakage is frequent in carnassial teeth and can serve as a breeding ground for tooth root abscesses.


To diagnose a tooth root abscess in dogs, veterinarians follow a structured approach. Initially, they gather a comprehensive history to identify any eating or chewing difficulties your dog may be experiencing. Subsequently, a detailed physical examination is conducted to look for signs of facial swelling, draining wounds, fractured or discolored teeth, and fever.

Based on the history and physical examination findings, your veterinarian may suspect a tooth root abscess, but definitive diagnosis requires dental x-rays. Dental x-rays are typically performed concurrently with a dental cleaning, known as a prophylaxis, and require general anesthesia. A tooth root abscess will manifest as a dark area in the bone surrounding the affected root on the dental x-ray.

Prior to administering anesthesia, your veterinarian will likely recommend a complete blood count, serum blood chemistry, and urinalysis for a baseline evaluation. These tests help assess your dog’s overall health status and ensure they are fit for anesthesia and the dental procedure.


Treatment of tooth root abscess in dogs often requires careful planning due to the need for anesthesia and scheduling considerations. Veterinarians must ensure that pets have fasted since the previous night before administering anesthesia for evaluation and treatment. Due to this preparation time, dogs suspected of having a tooth root abscess may initially receive pain medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, and antibiotics.

Although medical management can alleviate clinical signs such as facial swelling or pain during eating, it’s important to understand that antibiotics alone cannot eliminate the abscess. These abscesses, characterized by pockets of pus causing tooth decay and tissue death, persist despite antibiotic therapy. Bacteria remain trapped within the root and tooth where antibiotics cannot effectively reach. Consequently, even if dogs show improvement during antibiotic treatment, the swelling, pain, and other signs are likely to return after completing the antibiotics.

The primary treatment options for a tooth root abscess are root canal therapy and extraction. Root canal therapy aims to preserve the tooth’s structure while eliminating the infection by hollowing out its internal structure, which would otherwise harbor the infection. Various criteria, including tooth and surrounding damage, extent of periodontal disease, and jaw bone health, determine a dog’s suitability for root canal therapy. Should you consider this option, your veterinarian may refer you to a dental specialist for further evaluation.

Extraction, the more common treatment option, involves removing the affected tooth. Most general practice veterinarians can perform this procedure, which may include administering a nerve block and conducting post-extraction x-rays to confirm complete removal of the tooth. In some cases, a gingival flap may be created and sutured in place with dissolvable oral stitches. Dogs are typically discharged on the same day with antibiotics, pain relief medications, and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Recovery and Management of Tooth Root Abscess in Dogs

Prompt diagnosis and treatment of tooth root abscesses are crucial for favorable outcomes and to reduce the risk of complications such as the spread of infection to the jawbone, soft tissues of the face and neck, and in rare instances, to the heart (endocarditis) or brain (bacterial meningitis). If you suspect your pet has a tooth root abscess, it’s imperative to have them assessed by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Following dental cleaning and extraction procedures, most dogs are discharged on the same day. They may experience drowsiness for the remainder of the day but are likely to return to their usual selves by the following day. Typically, they will require a canned or softened diet for 5-7 days post-discharge. Kibble can be softened by adding warm water and allowing it to soak for 5 minutes before feeding it to the dog. Additionally, refrain from offering hard treats or toys to the dog for a week to allow the gums to heal.

With proper care, most dogs with a tooth root abscess recover fully and resume their normal activities. It’s essential to adhere to all discharge instructions provided by your veterinarian regarding your pet’s care.

Prevention of Tooth Root Abscess in Dogs

Preventing tooth root abscesses in dogs primarily involves proactive dental healthcare measures. The cornerstone of veterinary dental care is prophylactic dental cleanings, typically recommended every 12 months to uphold your dog’s oral health. Consult your veterinarian to schedule one of these cleanings.

Regular toothbrushing is another effective method to maintain your dog’s dental hygiene. To be impactful, it’s advised to brush your pet’s teeth at home at least two to three times weekly, alongside their annual dental cleaning performed by the veterinarian.

Furthermore, the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) comprises veterinary dentists and scientists who establish standards for pet dental care. They have curated a beneficial list of approved dog products, including treats, chews, and kibble, designed to diminish tartar buildup and promote fresh breath for your pet.

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