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What are Pulpitis?

A dog’s tooth, like our teeth, contains a core of living tissue. When this tissue, referred to as the pulp of the tooth, becomes damaged it can eventually decay and can get infected. This typically causes discoloration in the affected tooth and may also cause oral pain.

In a few cases, the pulp inside the tooth is damaged but not dead, and the tooth can be saved, however, the large majority of canine cases require either a root canal or extraction of the affected tooth.

Pulpitis refers to the damage or death of the living tissue in the core of the teeth, also known as the pulp. This condition should be evaluated by a veterinary professional.

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Symptoms of Pulpitis in Dogs

The most obvious symptom of pulpitis is the discoloration of the tooth as bleeding inside the tooth may cause the tooth appear pink, black, purple, or gray. Although people with pulpitis report that it is a painful condition, dogs typically maintain their regular appetite and don’t exhibit any obvious signs of pain from the pulpitis. If the pulp is exposed to the open air, it may cause the animal to hypersalivation and be reluctant to eat, and infections in the pulp may also cause a foul odor to emanate from the mouth. 

  • Tooth discoloration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bad breath
  • Drooling

Types

  • Reversible - Reversible pulpitis is a condition in which the pulp inside the tooth is damaged but not dead; pulpitis in dogs is rarely caught when it is reversible as cavities and minor trauma may go unnoticed, but when it is caught early, the tooth may be saved
  • Irreversible - When the pulp inside the tooth begins to die the pulpitis is considered irreversible (in the case of irreversible pulpitis, the tooth is no longer viable); this means that either the tooth will require removal or a root canal will need to be done to remove the dead pulp to prevent infection in the tooth

Causes of Pulpitis in Dogs

Pulpitis can occur for a number of reasons, but the most common cause in dogs is due to trauma to the tooth, often accompanied by a fracture. The trauma may occur from a blow or from chewing on objects that are too hard. Pulpitis may also be caused by cavities, although this is less common in canines.

Diagnosis of Pulpitis in Dogs

Your veterinarian or veterinary dentist will most likely notice the discoloration of the tooth during a routine examination. While in some cases, the veterinarian may choose to wait and see what happens with a discolored tooth, in most cases more information will be needed to assess the health of the tooth. The examining doctor will usually start by inspecting the tooth while shining a strong light through it, a process known as transillumination. A healthy tooth will show an even illumination of the core of the tooth, but the core of a necrotic tooth will block the light completely.

Radiographic imaging will be utilized in order to examine the teeth more closely. Although x-rays may expose fractures in the teeth that are too small to see with the naked eye, and frequently reveal the reabsorption of the root and a widened or narrowed pulp cavity, they also may appear completely normal particularly in the earlier stages of damage.

Treatment of Pulpitis in Dogs

If the pulpitis is reversible and the tooth is deemed to be salvageable, then a technique known as vital pulp therapy may be utilized to keep the remaining living tissue alive. This procedure is completed by first removing the damaged or infected tissue, then administering a medicated pulp dressing designed to protect the tissue and encourage healthy growth. This treatment is rarely effective in dogs over two years old and is most effective when combined with antibiotic therapy as well.

Irreversible pulpitis is typically handled with either a root canal treatment or the extraction of the tooth itself. Teeth that are treated with a root canal are frequently capped with a full coverage crown although in some situations the tooth may only require bleaching for cosmetic purposes. Surgical extraction may be recommended in some situations, however, it can lead to complications and often requires a lengthy recovery period, particularly when removing the larger premolars.

Recovery of Pulpitis in Dogs

Dogs that undergo anesthesia for surgical procedures may be confused and disoriented when they return home and may experience coordination difficulties. A calm and quiet environment will help to speed the animal's recovery, and fresh water should be kept within easy reach. Dogs that have a root canal will be able to return to their normal eating habits fairly rapidly, but dogs whose teeth are removed may require a diet of commercial wet dog food, dry food moistened with broth, or unseasoned human grade food such as chicken is recommended to facilitate eating. A follow-up visit for new radiographs will typically be completed around six months later to ensure that the dog is healing properly.

Pulpitis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Koda
Mountain Cur / whippet
1.5
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Licking more sometes
A little more watery around mouth,
A little more watery around mouth
Licking more sometimes

My dog has pulpitis is eating and playing as medicine to prevent infection and a pain killer. I am so worried she's suffering even tho I don't see signs of it, just a little discomfort here and there. We can't afford her surgery for another couple weeks. Doing all I could to make it happen sooner. How can I tell if she's in extreme pain? She's eating and playing as normal.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3314 Recommendations
If Koda was in severe pain, she wouldn’t be eating as much due to the pain of chewing; you should make sure that she is eating a soft food to reduce pain on the affected tooth. Behaviour is usually a good indicator of pain as a dog which is suffering will generally be less active and will hide away from the family group (in general). Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Jack
Labrador Retriever
6 Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

no symptoms

Medication Used

Augmentin

My 6 year old lab, Jack, has discoloring from damage to the pulp. I have seen two dental specialists; one says to extract/root canal and the other says that the tooth is intact, shows no signs of fracture and unless Jack is having signs of infection or pain, that it is okay to leave the tooth in place. Initial treatment included a course of antibiotic therapy for gum irritation.
Help!!
Will a damaged pulp absolutely lead to infection and pain? or is it okay to not treat a damaged tooth unless necessary?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1604 Recommendations
Some teeth that have damaged pulp remain quiet and don't need to be extracted, but some do cause infection and pain. Dental x-rays can help to determine the level of disease, and it may be a situation that needs to be monitored.

Oh, I forgot the biggest part. It did turn out that, after removal and inspection, Jack's canine tooth had a posterior fracture that could not be visualized. So, I was glad I went with my gut feeling regarding extraction of the canine tooth. The tooth could have become infected even though it wasn't loose or show initial signs of fracture.
.

Thank you for the input. After research and discussion, I decided to remove the the damaged teeth to prevent infection. Jack had a successful canine and small tooth extraction about ten days ago - I have lovingly given him the nickname "Gretsky".
He is doing well and has learned to eat on the other side of his mouth. He is adapting well and is still my rough and tumble boy.

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Belle
Yellow Labrador
6 Days
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Discoloration of tooth

I just noticed my yellow Labs tooth is discolored I Monitor her oral health quite frequently so I know this is new. I also am a dental professional for humans... I palated the area with no Tenderness or swelling. Tissues surrounding the tooth look healthy, no issues eating or drinking and her personality seems normal. The tooth is purple ish grey .

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1604 Recommendations
Damage can happen to teeth that can be transient and not serious, or very serious and affecting permanent teeth. You have listed Belle as 6 days old, which would make having teeth unlikely. Depending on her actual age, it would be best to have the tooth examined by a veterinarian to determine whether the discoloration is a problem or something that needs to be monitored.

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