We are happy to provide comprehensive dentistry care for your cat or dog here at Mercer Island Veterinary Clinic. From routine preventative care (called a COHAT – comprehensive oral health examination and treatment, see the Wellness Dentistry tab for details) to root canals and crown therapies, we perform specialist level care right here on Mercer Island. Dr. Crocker is in the final stages of a residency program to work toward meeting the requirements for Board Certification in Veterinary Dentistry and Oral Surgery.

Root Canal Treatment for dogs and cats: Saving teeth at MIVC

Tooth fracture and injury are common in dogs and cats. Here at Mercer Island Veterinary Clinic we offer accurate diagnosis and treatment options for dental problems beyond the scope of most general practices. The ability to offer and deliver advanced dental care allows us to save teeth that would otherwise need to be extracted. An example of advanced dental treatment is root canal therapy for injured or dead teeth.

Canine tooth in a dog treated with a root canal procedure and full titanium crown for protection

There are several very important, functional teeth among the 30-42 teeth that cats and dogs have. It would be wonderful if every patient could keep every tooth for life, but this is often not possible for human or veterinary patients. Gum infection (gingivitis) and subsequent bone loss is the most common problem leading to extraction or periodontal therapy. A close second is tooth damage from chewing hard items or traumatic injury. It is important to properly assess the damaged tooth under anesthesia and with dental x-rays to determine the best treatment. We take this individualized and thorough approach with every injured tooth. If a large, important tooth is severely damaged, many times MIVC can offer root canal therapy to save the tooth.

Teeth with severe crown injury which exposes the pulp (living tissue inside the tooth) must be extracted or have root canal therapy due to the fact that 100% of these teeth will be very painful (even if the patient acts as if it doesn’t hurt). In addition to causing pain, the tooth will become infected inside and lose the nerve and blood supply and become dead or non-vital. Some teeth will have no visible injury to the crown, but have changed colors. (purple,grey,brown,yellow) When the color inside the tooth has changed, there is a 96% or greater chance the tooth is dead, or non-vital. This color change is usually caused by trauma or other insult killing the pulp tissue inside the tooth. These teeth require treatment because they too will harbor infection and pain deep inside the jaw where only x-rays can see the true extent of the disease.

What is a root canal procedure?
Simply explained, a root canal removes the soft tissue inside a damaged tooth, replacing it with a clean solid substance which will stop pain and decrease the risk of infection in the future. Root canals save teeth which would otherwise require extraction.

To do a root canal, we access the interior portion of the tooth, removing the diseased soft and hard tissues in the canal and pulp chamber with special files. We then sterilize the canals with disinfectant irrigation liquids, seal and fill them with an inert, solid substance to prevent bacteria from re-entering the canal or pulp spaces. It is critical that each step be performed as perfectly as possible for a successful outcome since each step enables the next to be done more easily. Finally, we place a composite restoration to repair and fill the access sites in the crown (this is the same material used to perform “fillings” for human cavities.) After a root canal, many damaged teeth can benefit from metal crown placement to better protect these against future injury and loss. To make crowns for our patients, we work with a local human dental lab with many years of experience making crowns for dogs and cats. The local lab team really enjoys the challenge of helping pets by fabricating crowns many times larger than those made for humans.

My Dog or Cat has a fractured tooth, what should be done?
The best thing to do in this situation is to seek our advice. We can help determine the best course of action based on an examination of the broken tooth. If you see a fracture happen or notice a fresh injury, call us right away! Fresh fractures, particularly in young animals, can be a dental emergency and prompt attention improves the prognosis for a tooth in certain situations.

Sometimes a fracture may look like a small chip off the tip of a tooth, all the way up to a large chunk of the crown being missing. Tiny chips are especially important to notice for cats. A cat’s canine tooth (the “fang teeth”) can only sustain 1 millimeter of tooth loss before the pulp is opened and damaged. Even tiny fractures in cats should be treated as soon as they are detected.

Sometimes fractured and discolored teeth are detected during a checkup or at home, but most often they are discovered when patients are in for professional dental care (COHAT) procedures. In many cases, pet parents cannot tell us when the fracture occurred. This is yet another very good reason for timely dental preventive care as it allows us to diagnose and treat painful problems our pets hide from us.

For more information about Root Canal Procedures click here.