Abscessed Pet Teeth

What is it?

An abscessed tooth is an advanced form of an infected tooth and is mainly seen on the upper jaw just below the dog or cat’s eye. This condition is usually caused by a fractured tooth that has become infected. The bacteria will travel through the infected root canal system and gain access to the jaw through the bottom of the roots. Once the infection reaches the jaw, it can also access the entire body through the blood vessels.

Why is it an issue?

A bacterial infection causes bone destruction in the area of the root tip. If allowed to progress without treatment, the infection may travel through the bone of the upper jaw and break out as an abscess either on the gums over the tooth or on the skin under the eye. This is the only time that a root canal infection is usually noticed by the owner. As with most dental infections, most dogs and cats do not show any outward signs of disease.


Appropriate treatment of the infected tooth will almost always resolve the condition. This can be either extraction or root canal therapy. For small teeth like incisors, an extraction is a good option, but for large teeth (like canines and big chewing teeth), root canal therapy is recommended. In our practice, the prognosis for patients with root canal therapy for abscessed teeth is as good as for never-infected teeth.

It is essential to understand that treating this condition with antibiotics alone will not resolve it; it will temporarily suppress the symptoms. The infection almost always returns and is still infecting the body between visible flare-ups. This means the pet is still in pain, and its body is still suffering from the infection, even if no external signs are present. Furthermore, the bacteria may become resistant to antibiotics if the infection is not entirely resolved. Definitive care is needed because the tooth protects the bacteria within it. The pet’s immune system and the antibiotics cannot get into the tooth (like a fortress). Thus, when the antibiotics are gone, the infection can spread again.

Abscessed Tooth
Abscessed teeth are most seen in the upper jaw.
Weak Mandible
Example of a weak mandible requiring treatment.
Pre-Op Radiograph
This is a pre-op dental radiograph of an abscessed upper canine in a dog. The black area at the tip of the root is bone destruction caused by bacterial infection.
Post-Op Recheck
This is the six month root canal recheck of the case. As you can see the bone has grown back indicating a successful therapy. The long term prognosis is excellent.

At VDS we offer these services to address abscessed teeth

Dental extractions are typically performed to remove an infected and/or painful tooth in dogs and cats.
Pet Orthodontics
AT VDS we focus on correcting the various traumatic malocclusions (overbite, underbite, displaced teeth, and crowded canines) with the right orthodontia methiods.
Root Canal Therapy
Root canal therapy involves the removal of the pet's diseased or infected root canal system (nerve). The most common indication for pet root canal therapy is a fractured tooth. Other indications are discolored (dead) teeth or abscessed teeth.

Learn More

Learn More About Abscessed Teeth
Watch as Dr. Brook Niemiec discusses abscessed teeth also called "carnassial abscesses".
Treatment of mandibular first molar teeth with endodontic-periodontal lesions in a dog
A two-year-old spayed/female Miniature Pinscher was treated for mobility of the left and right mandibular first molar teeth. Periodontal probing and intraoral dental radiographs indicated severe periodontal attachment loss. It was determined that both teeth had endodontic-periodontal lesions based on restoration of periodontal attachment and partial resolution of radiolucent periapical lesions following treatment which emphasized endodontic therapy.
PubMed Case Study