Root Canal Therapy for Pets

Feb 10, 2020

Root Canal Therapy for Pets

Most of your pet’s dental needs, such as annual cleanings, can be fulfilled by your family veterinarian; however, some dental problems require the care of a veterinary dentist. As your personal dentist may refer you to a specialist for complicated procedures or surgeries, your family veterinarian may refer your pet to our board-certified veterinary dentist and oral surgeon for specialty dental care

Tooth fracture is one of the most common dental injuries that pets sustain, and when this occurs, the injured tooth must be extracted, or treated with root canal therapy. Extraction is acceptable if the affected tooth does not affect your pet’s everyday function, but root canal therapy is the better option if the tooth plays a key role in things such as chewing and eating. By performing a root canal, we can preserve your pet’s tooth so full function can be maintained long-term.

Pet Tooth Anatomy

Your pet’s teeth are composed of three layers:

  • Enamel — This is the outermost, shiny, white layer of each tooth, which is one of the body’s hardest substances. 
  • Dentin — Beneath the enamel is a thick layer of dentin, composed of microscopic pores called “tubules”. 
  • Pulp cavity — The pulp cavity, or root canal, is in the center of each tooth, and contains sensitive blood vessels and nerves. 

The outer layer of your pet’s  teeth has no sensation, but if an injury reaches the pulp cavity, and even the dentin layer in some cases, the sensitive, exposed nerves can cause your pet significant pain. 

Indications for Pet Root Canal Therapy

Most pets 1 year of age and older who have a fractured tooth can be treated with root canal therapy. Pets under 1 year of age may require treatment with either vital pulp therapy or apexification depending on whether there is a fully formed apex (bottom of the root) at the time of fracture occurrence.

Fractured teeth may present in various forms, including:Veterinary Root Canal Xray

  • A broken tip
  • A crack in the enamel
  • A missing piece
  • Discoloration 

Dental X-rays will be required to determine the damage extent, and to confirm that a root canal will be helpful. Occasionally, pets with a badly damaged tooth, or other concurrent dental problems, may not be a root-canal candidate, and require an extraction instead; for example, cats with feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs) will need their affected teeth extracted.

Anesthesia is required for root canal therapy, so your pet will also need pre-anesthetic testing to confirm they are healthy enough for anesthesia. 

Pet Root Canal Procedure

During a root canal procedure, the pulp cavity is treated in several important steps, including:

  • Cleaning — The pulp cavity is cleaned of all blood vessels and nerves, which often are dead or dying from trauma and exposure.
  • Disinfection — The empty pulp cavity will be disinfected to ensure no microorganisms that could cause future infections or complications remain.
  • Reshaping — Hand files or a rotary drill may be used to reshape the root canal so it can be entirely filled. 
  • Internal sealing — An endodontic sealer is applied to the pulp cavity walls.
  • Filling — A sterile, inert, rubber-like material that conforms to the canal’s shape is used to completely fill the pulp cavity.
  • External sealing — The tooth’s surface is sealed with a restorative filler, which is typically a white, light-cured material that closely matches your pet’s normal enamel. 

Teeth treated with root canal therapy do not always need a crown, or cap. Exceptions include patients such as working dogs, whose teeth are subjected to high traumatic forces and who may require a metal crown to prevent tooth re-fracture, and pets who are avid chewers, who may also need a metal crown to prevent re-injury. Placement of a metal crown may also be useful in young dogs where the tooth layers are immature or fragile, as well as in other instances.

Pet Root Canal Success Rates

A root canal procedure allows us to save, rather than extract, a pet’s tooth, which preserves normal chewing function, prevents bone deterioration, and is more cosmetically pleasing. Root canal therapy is successful for the pet’s lifetime in more than 90% of cases. Re-injury is typically due to aggressive chewing, or chewing on inappropriate items, such as bones or rocks. To protect your pet’s teeth, provide only rubber chew toys that will not cause tooth fractures. 

If your family veterinarian has referred your pet to our veterinary dentist for root canal therapy, or another advanced dentistry procedure, contact us.