Health & Care
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What Is a Dog Tooth Abscess?

What exactly is a dog tooth abscess, and can you ever treat a dog tooth abscess at home? Let’s learn more about the signs, causes and treatments for dog tooth abscesses.

Stephanie Osmanski  |  Sep 12th 2018


Could your four-legged friend be suffering from a dog tooth abscess? While an abscess can occur on any part of your dog’s body, a dog tooth abscess is the No. 1 cause of dog tooth infections. Let’s learn more about a dog tooth abscess — including its causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatments … and even how to prevent a dog tooth abscess in the first place!

First, what is a dog tooth abscess?

Dog mouth opening showing teeth and gums.

What exactly is a dog tooth abscess? Photography © BraunS | E+ / Getty Images.

When bacteria penetrates the root of a tooth, an abscess can form. Bacteria gets trapped in a pocket, causing a build-up of nasty pus. This can lead to pain, bad dog breath and, ultimately, a worsened infection.

“A tooth abscess is an infection that often forms around the root of a dog’s teeth — hence the other names for the condition, a tooth rot or periapical abscess,” explains Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM and member of the Pet Life Today advisory board. “Pus accumulates in the area as the infection worsens.”

What causes a dog tooth abscess?

A dog tooth abscess usually does not develop out of nowhere. If your dog has dental issues, a broken tooth, or does not have his teeth brushed often, any one of these could heighten her risk for a developing a dog tooth abscess.

“Broken teeth and periodontal disease are two common causes of tooth root abscesses in dogs,” says Dr. Coates.

A broken tooth in dogs is actually a common health issue. Dogs can break a tooth doing many seemingly normal doggie activities: chewing on hard objects, getting accidentally hit in the mouth, running into an object, rough playing, etc. You might notice your dog has broken a tooth if she is babying her teeth — for example, she’s avoiding dry food or chewing anything hard. Or, if the issue is more advanced and therefore severe, you may notice intense drooling, swelling around the eyes or a wound around the eye area.

Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection of the mouth that involves progressing stages of plaque, the inflammation of gums, gingivitis, and loss of bone and gum tissue around the tooth. Periodontal disease occurs when food particles and other bacteria congregate on the dog’s gum line and transforms into plaque.

You can avoid both of these medical issues — broken teeth and periodontal disease — by taking proper care of your dog’s teeth, brushing them frequently and monitoring what your dog chews on.

What puts a dog at risk for a tooth abscess?

A dog’s breed is not a factor in developing a dog tooth abscess. Any dog can develop an abscess (or myriad other dental issues) if the owner is not taking care of the dog’s teeth. This means brushing the dog’s teeth frequently and bringing the dog to the veterinarian for regular checkups.

“Dogs who are aggressive chewers are at a high risk for breaking teeth, particularly if they have access to cooked bones, hard plastic toys, etc.,” explains Dr. Coates. “Any dog can develop periodontal disease, particularly if they don’t receive adequate dental care at home and routine dental cleanings with their veterinarian.”

What are the symptoms of a dog tooth abscess?

Some symptoms of a dog tooth abscess include avoiding dry food, avoiding treats that are hard in texture, dropping food while eating, avoiding chewing on certain toys and bad dog breath. Your dog might also exhibit symptoms of a dog tooth abscess if she doesn’t want her face or mouth touched, and/or is constantly scratching or rubbing her face against the floor.

Other symptoms of a dog tooth abscess include extensive drooling and a wound around the eye.

“Dogs with a tooth abscess experience pain and can have bad breath and difficulty eating,” says Dr. Coates. “Pus may drain into the mouth or to the outside of the face, often underneath an eye.”

Can you treat a dog tooth abscess at home?

Some dog abscesses are treatable at home — but only if they are visible skin abscesses. (Need more information on at-home treatments for visible skin abscesses? Check out our guide here.) A dog tooth abscess requires a bit more medical expertise, so it’s important to consult a veterinarian.

“Home treatment is not an option for a tooth abscess since there is no way to get rid of the infection without surgery,” warns Dr. Coates.

How is a dog tooth abscess diagnosed?  

If you notice your dog is suffering from symptoms of a dog tooth abscess (mentioned above), take her to the veterinarian for an examination.

“Severe tooth root abscesses can often be diagnosed with just a physical and dental examination,” explains Dr. Coates. “Dental x-rays are needed to determine the extent of damage that has occurred under the gum line and for abscesses that have not yet started to drain externally or into the mouth.”

How is a dog tooth abscess treated?  

How a veterinarian treats a dog tooth abscess depends specifically on the cause of the abscess. Is a broken tooth to blame? Periodontal disease? The vet will use a physical and oral examination to ascertain the answer, then decide how to move forward with treatment of the dog tooth abscess.

“If a broken but otherwise healthy tooth is the cause of the abscess, a root canal can be performed to save the tooth,” shares Dr. Coates. “In all other cases, the tooth will need to be removed. Antibiotics are prescribed to resolve the infection in surrounding tissues.”

What’s the prognosis for a dog tooth abscess? 

It depends on the severity of the dog tooth abscess, says Dr. Coates.

“With timely and appropriate veterinary treatment, dogs with tooth abscesses should completely recover,” says Dr. Coates. “If the condition is ignored, however, the infection can spread throughout the body and potentially be fatal.”

What you can do to prevent a dog tooth abscess before it happens

Brushing your dog’s teeth frequently is one of the most effective ways to prevent a dog tooth abscess.

“To prevent tooth abscesses, don’t let dogs chew on hard objects and keep their teeth healthy by brushing them regularly and scheduling dental cleanings with your veterinarian,” says Dr. Coates.

Thumbnail: Photography © vadimguzhva | Thinkstock. 

Plus, don’t forget about the dangers associated with tooth infection for humans >>

Read more about dog health and care on Dogster.com:

Read more about your dog’s dental health on Dogster.com: