An abscessed tooth is an advanced form of an infected tooth, and is most commonly seen on the upper jaw just below the dog or cat’s eye. This condition is usually caused by a fractured tooth that has been infected by the oral bacteria and the tooth eventually dies. The bacteria will travel through the infected root canal system and gain access to the jaw through the bottom of the roots. Once the infection reaches the jaw, it also has access to the entire body through the blood vessels.
The bacterial infection causes bone destruction at the area of root tip. If allowed to progress without treatment, the infection can travel through the bone of the upper jaw and break out as an abscess either on the gums over the tooth, or on the skin under the eye. This is the only time that a root canal infection is usually noticed by the owner, as there is a visible wound on the pet’s face under the eye. With most dental infections, most dogs and cats do not show any outward signs of disease.
Appropriate treatment of the infected tooth will almost always resolve the condition. Appropriate treatment involves either root canal therapy or extraction. Extraction is a good option for any abscessed tooth. For large teeth (like canines and the big chewing teeth), root canal therapy is also an option.
It is important to understand that treating this condition with antibiotics alone will not resolve this problem, but will suppress the symptoms temporarily. The infection almost always returns, and is still infecting the body between visible flare-ups. This means the pet is still in pain, and their body is still suffering with infection, even if no external signs are present. Furthermore, the bacteria may become resistant to the antibiotics if the infection is not completely resolved.
The reason the infection returns, is that the tooth protects the bacteria within it. The pet’s immune system and the antibiotics cannot get into the tooth (it is like a fortress). So when the antibiotics are gone, the bacteria leave the tooth again and the infection resumes.
For these reasons, it is imperative to treat the inciting cause of the infection by dealing with the infected tooth. Ideally, this occurs before the antibiotics run out. Do not assume that the infection is cleared because the swelling is gone. The problem will not be cured until the tooth is definitively treated.