abscessed tooth in dogsIf your dog has noticeable swelling below his eye and he’s been pawing at his nose, you might think he’s been stung by a bee or other insect. While that’s possible, these also happen to be two common symptoms of an abscessed tooth in dogs.

Like humans, dogs can suffer from abscesses, which are painful pus formations in the tissues surrounding a tooth.

What are the Symptoms of an Abscessed Tooth in Dogs? lists the following signs to watch for:

  • Facial swelling below the eye (it can be as large as a golf ball)
  • Bad breath
  • Loose teeth
  • A tooth that is broken or very discolored
  • Lack of ability to chew
  • Increased plaque on teeth
  • Pawing or scratching at his nose

Pet parents “often confuse this condition with an eye infection, insect bite or puncture wound,” writes Race Foster, DVM, on “They may consider it something that, if left alone, will heal on its own. The untreated abscess will, in fact, often spread to 1) the eye, causing a very serious and potentially blinding infection; or 2) other teeth, causing them to be lost also. This is fairly painful for the animal, especially when eating. In dogs that stay outdoors or those with long hair, it may remain unnoticed for a long period of time.”

In severe cases, notes that an abscess can eventually break through your dog’s skin, and pus will drain over the side of his face.

What Causes an Abscessed Tooth in Dogs?

According to, periodontal disease may be a reason for the abscess. Dogs that frequently chew hard objects may also be more at risk to develop an abscessed tooth.

“If left untreated, facial or mouth traumas, bacterial infections and diabetes can all contribute to the formation of an abscess,” adds.

Older dogs are more susceptible to abscesses in their fourth premolar, which is also called the carnassial tooth. This tooth, located about halfway back on their upper jaw, is much larger than the other teeth.

“In wild canines, it is the main tooth used to break up or crush hard material in their diet, such as bones or large pieces of meat,” Foster writes. “Today’s canine diets, even the all-dry ones, really do not require this big ‘work horse’ tooth for the animal to adequately break up his food before swallowing. Still, it is there, and it poses some unique problems for the older dog.”

How is an Abscessed Tooth in Dogs Diagnosed?

Your vet will examine your dog’s teeth and gums, and probably take an X-ray.

“Blood tests, on the other hand, can be used to determine if the abscess is caused by a more serious underlying medical condition,” according to

How is an Abscessed Tooth Treated?

In the past, the only way to treat an abscessed tooth was to pull it. But today there are more options available for pet parents.

Usually the fluid is drained around the tooth to get rid of the infection, notes.

If the tooth needs to be pulled, it is done so while your dog is anesthetized, and the tooth cavity is also cleaned and drained. Afterward, you can place cold packs on your dog’s mouth and give him antibiotics to help reduce the inflammation, along with pain medication to relieve his discomfort. You may also need to rinse your dog’s mouth with a chlorhexidine mouthwash.

To prevent infection, you should limit your dog’s chewing and avoid feeding him hard, crunchy foods.

About a week after the extraction, your vet will likely perform a follow-up exam to ensure your dog is healing properly.

The carnassial tooth is difficult to remove correctly, Foster notes. It must be split in half so all the roots can be removed along with the tooth. If any portion of a root remains, the abscess may reoccur.

Fortunately, carnassial abscesses can now be treated with a procedure that is like a root canal. “This can be fairly expensive, but it does save the tooth,” Foster writes.

Can an Abscessed Tooth Be Prevented?

Not only can brushing your dog’s teeth help prevent heart disease, it can help prevent your dog from developing an abscess.

“Limiting the amount of chewing on hard objects or pulling on the dog’s teeth (through tugging) will also help reduce the likelihood of an abscess,” adds.

A green tea supplement can also prevent the build-up of bacteria leading to periodontal disease. Green tea contains flouride, which helps prevent glucosyltransferase, a disease that encourages the formation of plaque and bacteria. You can help stop dental problems before they start by giving your dog i Love Dogs Green Tea supplements along with brushing his teeth. All i Love Dogs signature vitamins and supplements contain green tea.

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HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.

PHOTO: OakleyOriginals

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One Comment

  1. cathy williams at Dec 15, 2013 07:39:07

    my little dog has the infection carnassial tooth. i dont have the money to take her to the vets. she is 9 years old and i delivered will help? she is my little baby and i dont know what to do.

    • James at May 29, 2014 10:25:31

      How did things work out for you Cathy? I am in the same situation now.

  2. 5 of the most common tooth problems in dogs - Veterinary Services - Albuquerque Vetco - at Feb 21, 2014 12:03:47

    [...] any human will know who’s suffered a tooth root abscess, this oral problem can be amongst the most painful around. This issue can arise due to a number of [...]

  3. TB at Jun 06, 2014 02:53:43

    Going thru this with my dog (older and unable to be put under anesthesia) so we treated with antibiotics and pain meds (via the VET, i am disabled and on very limited funds; however, i knew the vet was the only way to help my gal, otherwise she’d end up dead as infection can go to heart), and we will do further rounds as needed. Also, along with the meds change to Moist & Meaty for diet, as it is NOT soft thus clogging the infected tooth/area NOR is it hard food which they can NOT eat due to pain.


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