Dog Tooth Infection: Causes and Treatments

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Dogs aren't so different from us. They require proper dental care to keep their teeth and gums healthy. Dogs typically lose their baby teeth when they're four to six months old, and the adult teeth must be cared for. They're susceptible to toothaches and infections caused by periodontal disease, bacteria, and trauma without proper care. If you notice your dog isn't eating or they're only chewing on one side, they may have a tooth abscess, which is an infection that can cause swelling on the face. 

Unfortunately, you can't completely prevent painful tooth infections because they can be caused by trauma if a tooth gets broken. Since dogs don't always vocalize their pain, they might accidentally break a tooth by chewing a bone or playing outside. However, gum disease is the most common culprit of dog tooth infections, so it's important to check your dog's teeth and mouth regularly. 

Symptoms of dog tooth infections

Symptoms of Dog Tooth infections 

Tooth infections in dogs can be very painful, but unfortunately, your dog can’t just tell you they're in pain. Instead, you may notice behavioral changes or display subtle signs. If your dog is experiencing more than one of these conditions at the same time, they are at risk of having a tooth infection:

  • Bad breath: Believe it or not, dogs with healthy teeth and gums shouldn't have bad breath. Of course, your dog's breath changes throughout the day. You may notice their breath gets worse after eating dog food because dog food has an unpleasant odor to humans. However, in general, healthy dogs should not have bad breath, and bad breath is a sign of bacteria or infection. 
  • Drooling: Drooling typically occurs in dogs with severe tooth infections, indicating gum disease or tooth decay, which causes the tartar to rub against the lip and cause drooling. 
  • Not eating: Dogs with tooth pain typically still eat because they have to. However, dogs with advanced tooth infections may avoid eating altogether if the pain is severe. Lack of appetite is also a sign of dog ear infections and several other serious health conditions, so you should take your dog to the vet for diagnosis as soon as possible if they stop eating. 
  • Rubbing their face: Since tooth infections can cause swelling in the face, dogs may rub their face on the floor or against furniture for relief. They may also paw at their face to ease their discomfort. 
  • Swollen lymph nodes: Swollen lymph nodes indicate an infection that the body is trying to fight. There are many causes of swollen lymph nodes in dogs, including various illnesses, so if your dog's lymph nodes are swollen, take them to the vet as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment. 
  • Chewing on one side: Dogs with tooth infections may avoid chewing on the painful side of their mouth. Of course, many dogs only chew with one side of their mouth, which you can see when they chew bones and toys, so if your dog changes which side they chew with, it could indicate pain or something wrong with the other side. 
  • Not wanting their face touched: When dogs are in pain, they don't want other people touching them. Therefore, when your dog is experiencing pain in their mouth and around the face, it may growl at you when you try to pet them. 
  • Preferring soft food and treats: Since hard food and treats are harder to chew, dogs with dental infections may prefer soft food and treats to ease their discomfort. 

Common causes of dog tooth infections

Causes of Dog Tooth Infections

Dog tooth infections or tooth abscesses can be caused by several things, including bacterial buildup in the mouth and trauma from a broken tooth. Dog tooth abscesses are severe infections that occur when bacteria get into the root of the tooth, causing painful inflammation. It's most commonly caused by a broken tooth or dental disease. 

Broken teeth are common in dogs, with one in four pets having a traumatic dental injury that can result in fractured or broken teeth.1 Dogs can break their teeth doing anything, including chewing on hard materials or due to trauma from getting hit in the mouth. However, some dogs can also break their teeth when the tooth rots due to poor dental hygiene. 

When the tooth gets broken, it allows bacteria to get into the root, which can then travel into the jaw and surrounding tissue, causing an abscess.

Periodontal disease is another common cause of dog tooth infections because it causes inflammation, making it easy for bacteria to enter the gums and into the root.2 Periodontal disease is dangerous to your dog's health because it allows bacteria to enter the bloodstream through the gums, potentially causing other diseases and even death. Proper dental hygiene can prevent periodontal disease, so it's important to brush your dog's teeth every day and have their teeth examined by a vet regularly. 

How Dog Tooth infections are Treated

It's fairly easy for vets to diagnose tooth infections in dogs by looking in their mouths. However, if your dog doesn't like having their teeth examined by a vet, you may be able to use infected dog tooth abscess pictures you take at home to show your vet the degree of the infection and let them make a proper diagnosis. If your vet suspects an abscess, they will recommend further treatment to prevent the bacteria from entering the bloodstream or causing more pain and discomfort in the dog. To confirm a tooth abscess, your vet will take dental x-rays to find its position and decide whether or not to extract the tooth. 

Dog tooth infections are typically treated with tooth extractions because they're the most effective method. During an extraction, your dog is put under general anesthesia. The vet will remove the entire infected tooth and clean the area before stitching the gums closed to prevent further infection. The dog's gums typically heal after a few weeks with minimal pain since vets will prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection and pain medication to make them more comfortable while they are healthy. 

Since tooth infections in dogs can be painful and require anesthesia, which many pet parents are hesitant of, it's crucial to prevent tooth abscesses at home. Tooth infections typically occur because of periodontal disease and broken teeth, both of which are mostly avoidable. To prevent broken teeth, ensure your dog doesn't chew on anything too hard. While there are tons of dog bones out there, many of them are made out of plastic, which can break a dog's tooth. Therefore, some bones, antlers, and hard plastic toys should be avoided. Instead, look for softer toys and bones that won't break their teeth, or ask your vet for recommendations. 

Of course, dogs can break their teeth on other things. For example, a puppy trying to escape their crate might bite at the bars, or dogs will chew on furniture when they're suffering from separation anxiety. If your dog is chewing on things they shouldn't be, consider obedience training to teach them more desirable behaviors. If they're chewing due to anxiety, consider talking to your vet about anxiety treatment that will prevent them from engaging in destructive and dangerous behaviors. 

Another way to prevent tooth abscesses in dogs is to prevent periodontal disease. The best way to prevent gum disease in dogs is to brush their teeth daily with a dog toothbrush and toothpaste. You can also supplement their dental health routine with water additives, dental treats, or a dental diet. In addition, you should schedule a professional cleaning with your vet at least once a year to allow them to completely examine your dog's mouth and clean the teeth to remove plaque and tartar buildup. 

A dog tooth abscess is a medical emergency because it can lead to an infection of the bone and tissue

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is a dog abscess an emergency?

A dog tooth abscess is a medical emergency because it can lead to a painful infection of the bone and surrounding tissue. In addition, this very painful condition allows bacteria to enter the bloodstream, leading to other serious health problems. Call your vet immediately for examination and treatment if you suspect your dog has a tooth abscess. 

How can I treat my dog's tooth infection at home?

Dog tooth infection home treatment is never recommended because you could make matters worse. Once your dog has an infection, you can't start brushing their teeth, hoping that will solve the issue. Instead, your dog already has an infection that a vet must treat. In addition, if you're worried about the smell of your dog's breath, fixing bad dog breath isn't possible when there's an existing infection because the odor is due to the buildup of bacteria. The best treatment for tooth infections is extraction, which will remove the infected tooth and clean the area to eliminate the bacteria causing the infection. 

Even though you can't treat dog tooth infections at home, you can prevent them at home by brushing their teeth daily. In addition, you should check their mouths periodically for signs of infection, which include bad breath, inflammation, a broken tooth, or bleeding. 

Can a tooth abscess kill a dog?

Dog tooth abscesses are medical emergencies because they can be fatal when left untreated. Tooth abscesses allow bacteria to eat away at the bone, leading to pain and discomfort. This bacteria can enter the bloodstream, spread to other vital organs, and cause organ failure. Periodontal disease is fairly common in dogs, affecting over 80% of them over the age of three.3 Therefore, you must brush your dog's teeth regularly, starting from a young age. Training your dog to tolerate having their teeth brushed at home can prevent painful and potentially harmful tooth infections. 

Dog getting their teeth brushed

Final Notes

Tooth infections in dogs are painful yet common. Luckily, painful tooth abscesses can be treated through tooth extraction and antibiotics. It's important to get your dog treated for tooth abscesses as soon as possible to prevent the infection from spreading, letting harmful bacteria enter the bloodstream and causing serious illnesses. 

After the tooth is extracted, dogs heal fairly quickly and, within two weeks, will return to their normal activities. Worried about your dog's teeth? Talk to a Dutch vet. Our veterinarian telemedicine providers can diagnose and treat various illnesses in dogs to ensure they live happy, healthy lives. 

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References

  1. Soukup, Jason W, et al. “Classification and Epidemiology of Traumatic Dentoalveolar Injuries in Dogs and Cats: 959 Injuries in 660 Patient Visits (2004-2012).” Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26197685/.

  2. Reiter, Alexander M. “Dental Disorders of Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, 18 Oct. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/veterinary/dog-owners/digestive-disorders-of-dogs/dental-disorders-of-dogs#v3202066.

  3. Enlund, Karolina Brunius, et al. “Dog Owners' Perspectives on Canine Dental Health-A Questionnaire Study in Sweden.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 1 Jan. 1AD, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2020.00298/full.

Frequently Asked Questions

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