Root Canal Treatment (Endodontics) in the Dog and Cat

Root canal therapy is commonly performed and recommended to save fractured, injured, or infected teeth rather than surgical extraction of the tooth.

When these conditions occur in us, they are extremely painful and eventually cause localized (tooth abscess) and systemic infection. Most pets, however, do not show obvious signs of pain. Due to their “pack-instincts,” they hide the oral pain. A recent study showed that 10% of dogs have teeth with fractures exposing the pulp (blood vessels and nerves of the tooth) and are experiencing pain and infection.

All teeth are important in the animal, but there are eight teeth (canines, upper fourth premolars and the lower first molar) that are considered “strategic” teeth that are functionally and structurally important for the dog. These teeth are used for picking up items, important for chewing, shape the face, give strength to the lower jaw, and help keep the tongue into the mouth. In the cat, the canine teeth are considered “strategic”. Because these are important, we always try to save them with root canal treatment if possible.

What is root canal therapy?

A root canal is a procedure that removes the pulp (nerve and blood vessels) of the dog or cat’s tooth. The pulp canal is cleaned and “sterilized”. The canal space is then filled with dental materials to prevent bacteria from reentering the tooth. The advantage of a root canal procedure is two-fold: 1) The patient is able to keep the tooth. 2) The trauma and recovery from an extraction procedure is avoided. The disadvantage of a root canal is that root canal treatments require periodic radiographic follow-up and the tooth is never as strong as were still normally alive.

Following root canal therapy, a permanent crown may be recommended to improve the strength of the damaged tooth.

Vital Pulp Therapy

Vital Pulp Therapy is a procedure to keep the root canal system of a tooth with direct pulp exposure alive. This treatment is typically used to treat a recently fractured adult tooth or when reducing the tooth crown to prevent pain and discomfort to soft tissue and other teeth.