Dog: Tooth Root Abscess

General information

Other common/scientific names: apical abscess

A dog’s tooth is composed of the inner pulp which provides nutrition and nerve supply to the tooth and the dentin or middle layer. The dentin is covered by enamel on the crown or top part of the tooth and it is covered by cementum in the root of the tooth. The root portion of the tooth sits in a bony socket of the jawbone and is held in place by the periodontal ligament which attaches the cementum layer to the bone.

A tooth root abscess is the accumulation of infection or pus in the bony socket. The carnassial tooth or fourth upper premolar is most commonly affected.

Abb. GGUGZHJN: Schematic illustration of the canine tooth, its roots, gum and jaw bone.
In a tooth root abscess, pus accumulates in the bony socket surrounding the tooth root.


Inflammation to the tooth, tooth root and tissues surrounding the root lead to a bacterial infection and resulting abscess. Bacteria gain access to the tooth root either from the gum at the base of the tooth or via the bloodstream. Periodontal disease and trauma to the tooth from frequent chewing can precipitate an abscess. Dogs with diabetes mellitus are more susceptible to tooth root abscesses.

Cardinal symptom

Tooth Pain


Dogs with a tooth root abscess show tooth pain by refusing to eat (especially hard kibble) or chewing on one side. Other signs include halitosis (bad breath), swollen, bleeding, draining gums and facial swelling. When the carnassial tooth is affected, the swelling is located just below the eye. This swelling can become quite large, painful and drain thick, yellow pus. Abscesses involving the canine (fang) teeth can cause a nasal discharge. Undiagnosed abscesses can cause weakening of the jawbone leading to fractures of the bone.

Abb. GGNF89QI: Tooth Root Abscess.
This is a photograph of a draining carnassial tooth abscess.


A presumptive diagnosis of a tooth root abscess can be made from a physical and dental examination. However, intraoral radiographs can help determine which roots are affected.

Abb. GGNFAS9C: Tooth Root Abscess.
This is a radiograph of the bottom jaw of a dog. The arrows are indicating pus in the root sockets.

Abb. GGNFC2OF: Fractured Jaw.
This is a radiograph of the bottom jaw of a dog. The arrow indicates a fracture of the mandible (jawbone) after the affected teeth were extracted.

Abb. GGNFE1WM: Surgical Repair.
This is a radiograph of the mandible after the fracture was surgically repaired.


Treatment of a tooth root abscess involves either extraction of the affected tooth or endodontic therapy (root canal). While endodontic therapy is more costly, it does save the tooth. Antibiotics are usually necessary to treat the infection of the surrounding tissue.


If the tooth root abscess is diagnosed and treated early, the prognosis is good for a full recovery. However, severe abscesses can cause deterioration of the jawbone if not treated.


Preventing periodontal disease can help to prevent tooth root abscesses.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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