Dog Tooth Abscess: Symptoms & Treatment

Dog Tooth Abscess: Symptoms & Treatment

Dogs rely on their teeth for various tasks, including prehension of objects, chewing, biting, and even defending themselves. Just like humans, dogs can suffer from dental problems, one of which is abscessation of a tooth.

A dog tooth abscess can be a painful and potentially serious condition if left untreated. This blog post will explore the symptoms and treatment options for this dental issue to help you better understand how to best care for your pet’s oral health.

Understanding Tooth Abscesses in Dogs

A tooth abscess in dogs occurs when an infection develops within a tooth. It typically starts as a localized infection within the pulp of the tooth, which a fractured tooth, periodontal disease, or trauma can cause. If left untreated, this infection can spread to the surrounding tissues, forming an abscess. Tooth abscesses are painful for dogs and can lead to severe complications if not addressed promptly.

Common Causes

  • Periodontal Disease: One of the primary causes of tooth abscesses in dogs is periodontal disease. Periodontal disease occurs secondarily due to the buildup of plaque and calculus on the teeth. This promotes bacterial growth and bone recession, which can create pockets for abscesses to form.
  • Trauma: Dogs can experience dental trauma, such as chipped or fractured teeth, exposing the pulp and providing an entry point for bacteria. This will commonly lead to a peri-apical abscess, or abscess surrounding the apex of the tooth.
  • Foreign Objects: In some cases, foreign objects like splinters or bones can become lodged between the teeth, leading to infection and abscess formation.


Six Symptoms of Dog Tooth Abscess

Recognizing the symptoms of a tooth abscess in your dog is crucial to providing timely treatment and relief. Some common signs to watch out for include:

  1. Pain: Dogs with tooth abscesses often experience significant pain, which may manifest as reluctance to eat, pawing at the face, or vocalization when attempting to chew.
  2. Swelling: The area around the affected tooth may become swollen and tender to the touch. This swelling can sometimes be visible as a lump on the dog’s face, often on the top of the muzzle or just below the eye.
  3. Halitosis (bad breath): An unpleasant odor from the mouth may be noticeable, even if your dog’s breath was previously OK.
  4. Drooling: Excessive drooling can occur due to pain and discomfort.
  5. Inappetence: Dogs with tooth abscesses may lose their appetite or only eat on one side of the mouth to avoid the painful area.
  6. Changes in Behavior: You might observe changes in your dog’s behavior, such as increased irritability or malaise.

All that said, most dogs show NO signs of oral pain! Pet owners often report that their pet “is eating and is not painful.” That they are eating is likely true- dogs rarely stop eating due to oral pain. That they are not in pain, however, is false. Dogs feel pain like humans do; they just don’t show it. This is why routine dental care is essential for animals! We are often surprised by the painful disease we find on anesthetized oral exams and imaging in dogs showing no overt signs of oral discomfort.


If you suspect your dog may have a tooth abscess, it is important to consult a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis. The vet will thoroughly examine your dog’s mouth, including anesthetized dental X-rays or more advanced imaging to assess the extent of the infection. Once diagnosed, the veterinarian will recommend appropriate treatment options.


Treatment for a tooth abscess in dogs typically involves a combination of medical and dental care. The specific approach will depend on the infection’s severity and your dog’s overall health. Here are the most common treatment options:

  1. Extraction: If the abscess is severe or the tooth is badly damaged, the affected tooth may need to be extracted. Extraction is a very effective way to remove the source of pain and inflammation.
  2. Root Canal Therapy: if a very strategically important tooth (such as a canine tooth or particular premolar or molar) is affected with an abscess, there may be a possibility of saving this tooth with root canal therapy. Teeth to be treated with root canals do need to be otherwise periodontally healthy, so not all abscessed teeth are candidates.
  3. Antibiotics: Your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics before an anesthetized dental evaluation with imaging to address the infection. It is important to note that antibiotics alone will not treat a tooth abscess, but they will likely help with the symptoms. Still, if the tooth is not treated with extraction or a root canal procedure, the swelling and pain will almost certainly return after cessation of antibiotics.
  4. Pain Management: To alleviate your dog’s pain and discomfort, your veterinarian may provide pain management options, such as pain-relief medications. Again, it is important to note that while pain medication may help with some of the pain, addressing the underlying cause is the only way to remove the source of pain and infection entirely.
  5. Follow-Up Care: After treatment, your dog will require post-operative care, including medications and monitoring for any signs of complications or recurring infections.


Preventing Tooth Abscesses in Dogs

Prevention is always better than treatment, and there are several steps you can take to help prevent tooth abscesses in your dog:

  1. Regular Dental Care: Establish a routine for regular dental care, including brushing your dog’s teeth, providing dental chews, and using dental rinses recommended by your veterinarian.
  2. Dental Check-Ups: Schedule annual dental check-ups with your veterinarian to identify and address dental issues early.
  3. Appropriate Chewing Toys: Provide your dog with appropriate chew toys to help maintain dental health and prevent dental trauma. A suitable chew toy is something that you can make a depression in with your fingernail and can be bent without splintering. Items that very commonly cause tooth fractures include antlers, sterilized bones, and rawhides.


Dog Dentist in Colorado Springs

A tooth abscess in a dog can be painful and potentially serious if left untreated. Recognizing the symptoms and seeking prompt veterinary care is essential to ensure your pet’s well-being. Maintaining good dental hygiene and taking preventive measures can reduce the risk of tooth abscesses in your dog. If you notice any of the symptoms of a tooth abscess or other dental issues in your dog, please don’t hesitate to contact Animal Dental Care & Oral Surgery. 

Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (11/22/2023). Photo by Anna Dudkova on Unsplash