Pet Care Blog

How To Spot & Treat A Dog's Tooth Abscess

Ricky Walther, DVM
Dr. Ricky Walther
vet examines dog tooth abscess

If you've noticed swelling develop beneath your dog's eye, it could be a tooth abscess, or an infection that forms around the root of the tooth. It can happen for a number of reasons, but they are all associated with intense pain, and if left untreated, it can cause serious medical conditions.

In this post, we'll explain why a dog tooth abscess is so dangerous and how they form, along with treatment and prevention strategies to promote your pet's optimal health.

Table of Contents:

What is an abscessed tooth in a dog?

A tooth abscess – also known as a dentoalveolar abscess, root abscess, or simply tooth infection – is an infection stemming from the tooth's root. In essence, it is a pus-filled pocket brought on by bacteria.

Untreated, dog tooth abscesses result in pain, discomfort, edema, inflammation, and other serious health issues. If your dog has an infected tooth, it needs to be treated as soon as possible. Prompt and suitable treatment will almost always take care of the problem and prevent further complications.

What causes a dog tooth abscess?

The most common causes of a dog tooth abscess include:

  • Trauma to the tooth, such as a broken tooth, which can let bacteria enter the root canal and leak out through tiny pores near the end of the root;
  • Periodontal disease, a disease caused by bacteria in the mouth that damages the gums and supporting structures of the teeth;
  • Dental cavities, especially deep ones, can allow bacteria to enter the innermost part of the tooth;
  • Dentigerous cysts are generally not infected, but when they are, they become abscesses. Dentigerous tumors are very rare, but they can also sometimes lead to abscessed teeth.

Can a tooth abscess kill a dog?

If left untreated, abscesses can become quite dangerous. When an abscess develops, the body finds it difficult to fight the infection on its own, and an abscess can result in a deeper and more pervasive infection.

An oronasal fistula can also be created with a hole from the oral cavity to the nasal cavity. The hole will allow food particles that can be inhaled, travel to the lungs, and result in pneumonia. The serious consequences that could result from this could kill your dog.

What does a dog tooth abscess look like?

If you check inside your pet's mouth, there will often be redness and swelling from the abscess on dogs' gums surrounding the impacted tooth. If you try to open your dog’s jaws, they may react with a painful response.

There may also be a swelling under the eye as well as pus draining from the surface of the swelling if the abscessed tooth is the upper first molar or fourth premolar. This occurs as a result of the tooth roots' proximity to the eye, and when they develop an abscess, the infection swiftly spreads to the nearby tissues.

If you suspect an infected dog tooth, be sure to make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.

What are the symptoms of an abscessed tooth in dogs?

An infected dog tooth might present one or more of the following symptoms:

Physical signs

  • Swelling along the lower jaw or under the chin (if the abscess involves the roots of the lower molar or premolar teeth)
  • Swelling beneath the eye (if there is an abscess on the roots of the first upper molar and fourth upper premolar teeth)
  • Pain
  • Favoring chewing on one side of the mouth over the other
  • Pawing at the face
  • Bad breath
  • Red gums
  • Drooling or not eating due to pain
  • Reluctance to chew kibble
  • Swollen lymph nodes near the abscessed tooth

Behavioral signs

  • Excessive scratching at the face or mouth area
  • Refusal to be petted or touched, especially on the face
  • Refusal to eat or drink
  • Whining or crying
  • Aggression

How to recognize an infected dog tooth

Knowing and understanding the above-listed symptoms will help you determine whether your dog has an abscessed tooth. If your pet is in pain and you suspect they might have a tooth abscess, it's essential to get them to the vet as soon as possible.

Keep in mind, however, that although abscessed teeth are very painful, some dogs might not show obvious signs of pain. Even dogs who are experiencing excruciating discomfort will eat due to their strong survival instincts.

Ideally, dogs should be socialized to mouth handling from a young age, and you should be familiar with what the inside of their mouth looks like from regular teeth brushing.

How do vets diagnose a tooth root abscess in dogs?

In order to determine whether there is an abscess present and whether rotten dog teeth must be extracted, your vet will likely perform the following:

  • Preliminary visual exam to check for signs of infection
  • Dental X-rays to visualize the abscess and see if other teeth are impacted

Treatment often occurs at the same time as confirmed diagnosis.

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How to treat an abscess tooth on a dog

If the pus buildup has progressed to the point where a veterinarian must intervene, your four-legged friend will require a comprehensive dental cleaning and polishing, as well as the removal of tartar buildup on the teeth and gum lines. In the worst-case conditions, root canal treatment, subgingival curettage, and tooth extraction may be some of your dog’s options.

Treatment for abscessed teeth in dogs typically includes antibiotics, pain medication, root canal therapy, and extraction of the affected tooth.


Antibiotics will be prescribed along to control the infection, as well as NSAIDs for pain relief. However, these medications will only heal the symptoms without addressing the underlying tooth damage, and antibiotics by themselves won't get rid of a tooth root abscess.

Root canal treatment or extraction

Depending on the state of the tooth and the level of infection, either root canal therapy or tooth extraction is required for the treatment of an abscessed tooth in dogs. Extraction may be a good choice for smaller teeth, including incisors.

However, because root canal therapy causes less trauma and preserves the function of larger teeth like molars and canines, it can be just as successful as tooth extraction in these cases. These procedures are performed under general anesthesia.

vet performs dental surgery on dog

Follow-up care

In the weeks following a tooth extraction, your pet will need softened food and should refrain from rough play or chewing on hard objects. The healing time is greatly shortened by root canal therapy. Your pet can resume regular activity and nutrition the following day.

Dental x-rays should be obtained on a tooth treated with root canal therapy six to 12 months following treatment and then on an ongoing basis anytime their teeth are cleaned in order to make sure the procedure was successful.

Regular dental check-ups

All dogs should get a dental examination by a vet at least twice a year. The vet might advise more frequent dental checkups for a dog that has previously experienced a tooth abscess.

How much dental oral surgery cost for dogs?

The prices for each item involved in the procedure can vary greatly but dog owners can expect to pay:

  • $55 to $90 for an oral exam
  • $125 to $250 for dental x-rays
  • $600 to $1200 for anesthesia, dental cleaning, and tooth extractions
  • $1,500 to $3,000 for root canals

Pet insurance can help offset pet dental costs. However, not all pet insurance providers cover expenses resulting from dental issues, which is why it is important to take a closer look at dental benefits when comparing pet insurance plans. Use Pawlicy Advisor to compare pet insurance policies side-by-side and find the best dental coverage for your four-legged friend.

Related: Budgeting For Pet Dental Costs: Vet Bills, Insurance & More

Can I treat my dog's tooth abscess at home?

There’s no effective home remedy that will help your pet with the infection and pain. The only way to get rid of a dog's tooth abscess is to seek care as quickly as possible.

If you've ever had a tooth infection, you know just how painful it can be. Antibiotics and pain meds alone will not cure a tooth root abscess in dogs; pain will recur until the problem is resolved via surgery.

How to relieve pain for an infected dog tooth

While waiting for the dental appointment, here are some home remedies to relieve pain for a dog tooth infection:

  • Apply a compress to the affected area to stop the formation of more white blood cells around the affected area;
  • Use pet-safe antiseptic mouth rinse (or salt water) to keep the animal's mouth clean;
  • Prevent the dog from scratching the area;
  • Remove any harmful objects that the dog might chew on (such as wood that could splinter).

You can also help relieve infected tooth by giving your pet special NSAIDs prescribed by your veterinarian, given their approval of pain relief for dogs.

Related: Pain Relief For Dogs: What Can I Give My Dog For Pain?

Be sure to take follow-up care seriously after your dog's dental surgery to prevent secondary infections and the root abscess from recurring.

How to prevent tooth root abscess in dogs

The best way to prevent the pain caused by a tooth root abscess in dogs is by maintaining a good oral care routine at home. This includes:

  • Brush your dogs' teeth regularly
  • Schedule annual dental cleanings
  • Examine your pet's mouth at home
  • Serve high-quality dog food
  • Avoid hard bones
  • Provide safe dental chews

Find out more about dog teeth cleaning costs and how you can save on vet bills by enrolling in pet insurance with dent

Shop Pet Insurance wit How to Find the Best Dental Insurance For Dogs

Frequently Asked Questions

Do dogs get abscessed teeth?

Yes, just like humans, dogs often get abscessed teeth, which is essentially a severe infection around the root of the tooth.

What does a dog tooth abscess look like?

The most common signs of a dog tooth abscess include redness and swelling on the gums surrounding the affected tooth and swelling under the eye. In some cases, there could be pus draining from the surface of the swelling.

Can a dog die from a tooth abscess?

Yes. A tooth abscess is an infection and, if left untreated, it may spread to the bloodstream. Your pet may become ill as a result, and it could even die from a tooth abscess.

Can a dog's tooth abscess heal on its own?

No, a dog’s tooth abscess won’t heal on its own. It is a very painful condition and needs to be treated by a professional as soon as possible.

How can I help a dog with an abscessed tooth?

There’s no effective home treatment to help a dog with an abscessed tooth. The best course of action is to talk to your vet and follow their advice.

Can I give my dog ibuprofen for tooth pain?

No, some medications that are safe for people, including Ibuprofen, can be toxic to dogs and can even kill them.

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Ricky Walther, DVM

Dr. Ricky Walther

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor "The Pet Insurance Marketplace") that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

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