What to Expect When Your Veterinarian Recommends a Root Canal
Oral health is a very important factor in a pet’s quality of life and, the more we learn, the more it becomes obvious that oral health can affect overall health. You are making a wonderful commitment to your pet’s oral care and we want you to know what to expect when you come to visit with us! Please be aware that each patient is different and the mouth is a difficult place to predict, however we will do our best to derive as close of a treatment plan as possible during our initial visit.
What is a root canal?
A root canal is a procedure designed to eliminate pain and remove infection from within the tooth (endodontics) and around the base of the tooth at its apex, which is deep within the bone. If you have ever had an abscessed tooth, you know how painful these infected teeth can be! The painful nerve fibers and infected material inside the tooth are carefully removed to create a clean, hollow space. The canal is filled with a sealant and a rubberlike material (gutta percha) in an effort to prevent any communication between the tooth and surrounding bone. The original fracture site (and/or any additional access points that we created) are then sealed to prevent any contamination from oral bacteria in saliva using the same materials your dentist would use. The filling is polished and shaped to make as smooth and attractive of a surface as possible.
What is a crown?
The colloquial term for a crown is a “cap.” Essentially, a crown is a covering (typically metal in dogs and cats, although tooth colored versions are available) on a tooth that has been previously treated with a root canal and specially prepped to accommodate the crown. A tooth that has been treated with a root canal (or any non-vital tooth) is considered more brittle and breakable than a living tooth. As such, a crown will help disperse the very strong bite forces that a dog or cat places on their teeth and help minimize any ongoing risk for breakage thereby protecting the tooth.
Who should receive a crown?
A crown is designed to help minimize the risk of fracture recurrence in any patient, however due to their occupation, police dogs and military dogs should absolutely receive a crown in order to protect their precious and strategic weapons! Working dogs, hunting dogs, and/or dogs that are particularly hard on their teeth should also be considered for crown therapy. Some veterinary dentists feel crowns should be placed on every tooth that has had root canal therapy, however this decision is based on each individual pet, the affected tooth, and their behavior regarding oral play, chewing, and how the fracture occurred in the first place.
Why not just extract the tooth?
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as “just extract” when it comes to an animal’s tooth, especially strategic teeth. Even more so than our own, a dog or a cat’s teeth are designed to stay in the mouth under extreme forces (think of a lioness taking down a zebra!). When otherwise healthy (i.e. not affected by concurrent diseases such as periodontal disease), it is very difficult to extract an animal’s tooth. Often, extraction involves major oral surgery. The canines, upper fourth premolar and lower first molar in particular are considered strategic teeth as they are very large, functional teeth. Besides the pain and discomfort associated with surgery, complications such a hole extending from the mouth to the nose, jaw fracture and a change in lip conformation leading to painful ulcers are not uncommon. Consequently, when appropriate, we do our very best to preserve these strategic teeth.
Learn more about this disease by contacting our Dentistry service at your nearest BluePearl veterinary hospital. Here are our hospital locations.
© BluePearl Veterinary Partners 2012
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