What is Root Canal?

The tooth is comprised of three layers, the outer enamel, the middle dentin, and the inner pulp. The inner pulp is a living dental tissue formed by blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, connective tissue, and nerves. Its function is to support and nourish the tooth, as well as help it respond to stress. This critical and sensitive pulp tissue is located in a tunnel shaped hollow area inside the center of the tooth, which is called the endodontic system or root canal system.

When the tooth is damaged by fracture or trauma, this root canal system is exposed, becomes painful, and can get infected.

Endodontic therapy or root canal therapy is a surgical treatment that involves the removal of the infected inner pulp, the sterilization of the root canal, and the replacement of the infected tissue with dental material to provide antibiotic action. This treatment can restore the tooth to function.

Although any licensed veterinarian can perform root canal therapy in dogs, the procedure requires specialized equipment, materials, and expertise, so treatment from a qualified veterinary dentist is recommended.

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Root Canal Procedure in Dogs

A veterinarian will gently check the canine teeth for any visible signs of damage and will be able to observe the dog's reaction to the inspection of a certain tooth.  If the dog shows any sign of pain, the dog is referred to a qualified veterinary dentist.

A dental X-ray will be needed to determine the condition of the tooth. Due to the dynamic nature of dogs, anesthesia will be required to perform an X-ray.

With the result, the veterinarian dentist will be able to assess the impact of the injury, as well as the treatment, which is determined based on the tooth affected, the type and severity of the fracture, and the time elapsed between the trauma and the detection.

If a root canal therapy is chosen, the procedure can usually be performed under the same anesthetic period used for the X-ray.

Once the dog is under general anesthesia and local anesthesia, the veterinary dentist will drill a couple of small holes into the tooth and use a series of nickel titanium files for internal root canal shaping and cleaning.

As sterilization, the infusion of a diluted bleach solution is used to destroy bacteria. Once cleaned, the canal space is flushed.

Finally, the root canal is sealed to prevent bacteria from leaking back in. The seal is made with a synthetic rubber, a mixture of epoxy resin cement and gutta percha filling, which is a rubber-like substance that does not support bacterial growth. An adequate seal will form itself to the curves and the shape of the inside of the canal.

Efficacy of Root Canal in Dogs

Most dogs’ teeth can be saved with root canal therapy. However, for the root canal therapy to be successful, a radiograph must be taken immediately after completion, to confirm that the root canal has been properly filled.

Not so long ago, the only available treatment for dog teeth that were infected or dead was extraction. It still is an alternative to root canal therapy.

Extraction is a surgically invasive procedure that leaves a deficit in the jaw since the root of a dog's tooth is longer than the part above the gum line. Before extraction, a significant amount of bone must be drilled away. Sutures are required.

Extraction brings more discomfort for the dog and causes complete loss of function since the tooth is no longer there. Root canal therapy is much less traumatic and maintains the normal function of the tooth.

Root Canal Recovery in Dogs

Following a root canal therapy, the animal is usually able to go home the same day. Pain medication and sometimes antibiotics are prescribed.

The veterinarian dentist may suggest a soft food diet for the first several days as the gums may be sensitive.

After a week, a check-up is scheduled. Further complications are uncommon, although dental radiographs should be performed to confirm the success of the root canal therapy at four to six months, a year, and two years.

Many dog owners will notice a positive change in their pet’s behavior shortly after the endodontic problem has been treated.

Cost of Root Canal in Dogs

Root canal therapy in dogs costs roughly the same as it does for humans. 

The main variations that influence cost are the location of the clinic, the size of the dog and the tooth affected since each tooth's root canal comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and the root canal therapy technique is not the same for every tooth.

Other things to consider are the orientation of the tooth, the patient's age, and the type of fracture because that determines the number of materials and time that may be required. Sometimes, even the materials used may differ for individual cases.

Additionally, the number of roots the tooth has will influence the cost of the procedure since all the roots need to be properly treated.

The cost range falls within $1,500 to $3,000, with an average of $2,000. However, the cost can climb as much as $5,000 for a canine tooth in a large dog.

Dog Root Canal Considerations

Dental fractures are common in veterinary medicine. Dogs are susceptible to a wide variety of dental fractures which are often the result of excessive chewing behavior.

The owner must consider that root canal therapy will not eliminate the dog's desire to chew. Unless measures are taken, the dog's excessive chewing can damage the restoration treatment since the tooth will never be as strong as it was before the fracture.

A root canal therapy enables the patient to keep the tooth, and the trauma and recovery from an extraction procedure are avoided. However, root canal treatment requires periodic radiographic follow-up.

Root Canal Prevention in Dogs

All breeds of dogs can suffer dental fractures, although brachycephalic breeds (short-headed, snub-nosed) may be predisposed to sustain fractures of their prominent fourth premolars.

Prevention of dental fractures requires owners to avoid external forces or objects that can damage the dog's teeth. A fracture can develop after falling onto hard surfaces or due to chewing on objects such as toys, furniture, fence posts or rocks.

For crated pets, owners should avoid the varieties with bars if their dogs chew on them, especially with anxious dogs.

Rubbery, plastic toys are considered safe. However, owners should not assume any dog toy is good for their dog. Cow hooves, animal bones, hard nylon toys, and ice cubes are potentially problematic. A veterinarian can advise on which toys are appropriate for a particular dog.

It is important to consider that animals rarely show visible signs of discomfort. Pets tend to hide their pain to avoid being singled out by a predator. This absence of obvious signs leaves most owners unaware of the problem, or if detected, minimizes the severity since the animal doesn't seem too bothered by it. The truth is, the dog is affected locally as well as systemically, and ignoring the problem is not a good option.

A good advice is to brush the dog's teeth regularly. Doing so will help the dog and will make detection of any fractures easier.