Root Canal vs. Extraction of Dog or Cat Teeth

Broken Dog Tooth Needing Root Canal - Veterinary Dentistry

A broken dog tooth needing endodontic or root canal therapy.

Pet owners are often unaware that in some cases they have the option to choose veterinary endodontic treatment (root canal) as opposed to an extraction of a broken or dead tooth. This may sound strange and not necessary for a pet, but there are some things you might want to consider before opting to have a dog or cat’s tooth extracted without further evaluation from a veterinary dental specialist.

  1. Some teeth are more important including the pre-molars, back molars and canine teeth. Pre-molars and molars are very deeply rooted and extraction is painful as the roots must be extracted from the bone. The canine teeth are also extremely important and extraction of these may compromise the jaw bone or weaken nasal structure.
  2. Teeth are vital in your pet’s ability to chew effectively. When important chewing teeth are extracted the teeth don’t work together for both chewing and cleansing, which significantly increases the chances for future periodontal disease.
  3. Certain upper canine extractions may lead to the lip folding over the gum line, which in turn may be traumatized by the lower teeth hitting the lip while chewing.
  4. Certain teeth may have an abnormal root structure (dilaceration). This makes an extraction very difficult with potential complications from root fracture, inability to remove root tips, bone fracture and excessive bleeding.
  5. Excessive bleeding, root fracture, jaw fracture and lip trapping are all possible complications of extraction, especially for certain deep rooted teeth.
Radiograph x-ray of dog root canal - vet dentistry

Radiograph (X-ray) of endontic files in dogs tooth to prepare for fillings.

What does a root canal on a dog or cat involve? In short, one to two small holes are drilled in the tooth, infected pulp (nerves and vessels within the tooth) is removed, the inside of the tooth is cleaned, and filled with material that won’t support bacterial growth (infection).  The final step is the placement of a filling to prevent bacteria from entering the treated tooth. Following the root canal, a crown may be recommended to strengthen the treated tooth.

Pet root canals are not always recommended and there are certainly cases where an extraction is the optimal treatment for a particular dog’s or cat’s tooth. However, the only way to adequately assess the dead or broken tooth is with dental radiographs (x-rays). This provides a complete picture of both the tooth as well as the root and bone structure. Without an x-ray, a veterinarian would have no idea what lies below the tooth and to proceed with an extraction leaves the door open for numerous complications and costs to the pet owner.

Dr. Tony Woodward, DVM, AVDC discusses root canals in pets.

Expense is always a consideration, however, a root canal may not be much more cost than a surgical extraction of a tooth particularly in the case of larger teeth or those with complicated root structures. In addition, preservation of your pet’s tooth may prevent costs related to future periodontal disease or bone loss. A veterinary dentist will be able to provide you a thorough exam and detailed treatment plan with explanation of costs involved.

Root canal treatments are very successful and many times a far better solution than an extraction, which can be painful to the pet and involve significant bone loss. Board certified veterinary dentists have performed thousands of root canals on dogs, cats and even exotic animals. You can count on knowing that they will provide an accurate assessment and discuss your pet’s individual situation and whether saving the tooth with root canal therapy is an option.

Ask your local board certified veterinary dentist about root canal options for your dog or cat: