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What is Endodontic Disease?

Teeth, whether canine or human, contain a core of living tissue known as the pulp. When this tissue sustains damage, it typically develops a condition known as Endodontic disease or Pulpitis which is a swelling of the living tissue. In many cases, the tissue inside the tooth does not survive and may develop an infection as it decays.

This usually causes varying amounts of discoloration of the affected tooth and occasionally causes severe oral pain. In situations where the pulp is damaged, but not yet destroyed, the tooth might still be saved. For the large majority of canine cases, however, either a root canal or an extraction of the affected tooth will be required.

Endodontic disease, more commonly known as pulpitis, refers to the damage or death of the pulp of the tooth. Disorders of the teeth should be evaluated by a veterinary professional even if they don’t appear to be painful.

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Symptoms of Endodontic Disease in Dogs

Symptoms of Endodontic disease in dogs can include:

  • Discoloration of the tooth or teeth (black, gray, pink, purple)
  • Excessive drooling
  • Foul breath
  • Loss of appetite

Although people who experience endodontic disease report that it is a painful condition, many dogs maintain a hardy appetite and may not exhibit any obvious signs of pain from the inflammation of the pulp. This is one reason that regular dental exams are a must for our canine companions. 

Types

Reversible

Endodontic disease may be considered reversible when pulp inside the tooth is damaged but not dead. Pulpitis is typically caught late for canines as cavities and minor traumas frequently go unnoticed. When damage to the tooth is caught early, the tooth might be saved.  

Irreversible

Endodontic disease is typically considered irreversible once the pulp inside the tooth has begun to die. Once the pulp has died and begun to decay, the tooth is no longer sustainable. The dead pulp will need to be extracted to prevent any further infections, either by root canal or by the total extraction of the tooth.

Causes of Endodontic Disease in Dogs

The most common cause of endodontic disease in dogs is trauma to the tooth, most often accompanied by fractures. The trauma may occur from chewing on objects that are too hard for their teeth or from a blow to the face or jaw. Cavities are less common in canines, but when they do occur, they may trigger endodontic disease.

Diagnosis of Endodontic Disease in Dogs

Although some people are lucky or observant enough to notice the discoloration, in most cases, either your veterinary dentist or your veterinarian will notice the discoloration of the tooth while performing a routine examination. Although the veterinarian may choose to use a wait and see approach with a slightly discolored tooth; most situations will require more information to adequately assess the health of the tooth. A process known as transillumination will generally be employed to more clearly inspect the tooth. This process utilizes a strong light being shone through the tooth in order to assess the health of the pulp. An undamaged tooth will show an even illumination of the core of the tooth, but the core of a necrotic tooth will block the light completely. 

Mild trauma that doesn’t cause fracturing, particularly in the early stages of the disease, may not be detectable utilizing x-ray imaging. In some situations, it may be employed to expose fractures in the teeth that are too small to see with the naked eye, and this type of imaging also frequently reveals that the root of the tooth has been reabsorbed or that the pulp cavity has either narrowed or widened abnormally.

Treatment of Endodontic Disease in Dogs

Irreversible endodontic disease usually requires either a full extraction of the tooth itself or a root canal treatment to remove the dead and decaying material. Although some teeth will only require cosmetic bleaching, more often, teeth that have undergone a root canal are capped with a full coverage crowns. There are situations in which surgical extraction may be recommended, but it commonly leads to complications and frequently requires a lengthy recovery period, particularly when removing the larger pre molar teeth.

If the endodontic disease is deemed to be reversible and the tooth is salvageable, then the veterinarian may suggest utilizing a technique known as vital pulp therapy in order to keep the remaining living tissue alive. This technique requires first removing the damaged or infected tissue, then administering a medicated dressing which is specifically designed to protect the tissue and encourage healthy pulp growth. This treatment is most effective when completely in conjunction with antibiotic therapy and is rarely effective for dogs that are older than two years old.

Recovery of Endodontic Disease in Dogs

Canines that are subjected to anesthesia for surgical and dental procedures may be confused and disoriented first awaken, and when they return home, they may experience coordination difficulties. A calm and quiet environment will help encourage a speedy recovery, and fresh water should be kept within easy reach to prevent dehydration.

Dogs whose teeth are extracted may require a diet of dry food moistened with broth, unseasoned human grade food such as chicken, or commercial wet dog food in order to facilitate eating, but dogs that were treated with a root canal are typically able to return to their normal eating habits relatively quickly. New radiographs will be needed around six months after the surgery to ensure that the dog is healing properly.