The root canal is the hollow tunnel inside the root of a tooth. Contained within this canal are blood vessels, nerves and soft tissues called the tooth pulp. When a tooth is injured the pulp material may die. This dead pulp gives off toxins. Bacteria may invade the canal and infect the dead tissues leading to abscesses, bone loss around the tooth, pain and the spread of the infection to other parts of the body. Each time your pet eats, the bacteria from the infection at the root tip (apex) can be pumped into the blood stream and spread the infection to the joints, lungs, liver, kidney or heart. For this reason teeth injured in this manner should be treated by extraction or root canal therapy.
Damage to teeth which kills the pulp can be accomplished in different ways. Blunt force to a tooth from over aggressive playing, fighting, encounters with motor vehicles, etc. can cause the tooth to bleed inside the canal. This results in increased pressure within the canal and the pulp dies. Also, fractures of the teeth with exposure of the pulp chamber allow the introduction of bacteria into the canal thus leading to infection. Fractures can be caused by any of the above-mentioned ways or by chewing on hard objects such as bones, calf or goat hooves, hard artificial bones or ice.
There are two types of treatment for this condition. The first, and most traumatic, is extraction of the tooth. In addition to the trauma of the extraction, the function of the tooth is lost. There is also a cosmetic factor. Some teeth, the lower canines for example, act as guides for the tongue to keep it from protruding from the front or side of the mouth. Sometimes there is no other alternative to extraction. The second treatment option is endodontic or root canal therapy. There are six steps to a full root canal therapy. The first step is to make an access into the canal. Second, clean and shape the canal for its eventual filling. Third, the canal must be disinfected to kill the bacteria. The fourth step is to seal the apex or root tip to prevent reintroduction of bacteria into the canal. Fifth, the canal must be filled with cement. The sixth step is to seal the access site and repair the fracture site to make the crown as functional as possible. This final step may be done with the use of composites or placement of a full crown. Composite is an artificial tooth-colored material and is placed on the tooth at the time of the root canal therapy. Full crowns are placed on the tooth to protect it for a longer period of time. This requires additional treatment and anesthesia. Discuss with the doctor the best restoration option for your pet.
Home Care Following Root Canal Therapy
Remove the problem that caused the need for the root canal. If you fail to do this, additional broken teeth or re-breaking of the restored tooth can be expected. Give all antibiotics and/or pain medications prescribed by the doctor. Have the tooth checked and an Xray taken of the tooth in 6 months to make sure that all is well with the tooth. Brush the teeth daily to prevent periodontal disease. If your pet shows indications of pain, swelling, discomfort or bleeding, please let our office know so we can help.