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Does My Cat Need a Root Canal?

What is a root canal?

The root canal is a tunnel in the center of the tooth holding the tooth’s pulp (nerve, blood vessels and lymphatics).  Root canal therapy is a treatment which involves removing infected contents from the center of the tooth, sterilizing the canal, and replacing the removed material with dental material which provides antibiotic action. The tooth is then restored to function.

 

How can I tell that my cat needs root canal therapy?

1_right_upper_canine_fractureWhen cats break their teeth (see right) and the pulp is exposed, bacterial and oral debris enter into the center of the tooth, eventually causing the nerves and blood vessels to die. The bacteria then move down the nerve and destroy the tooth support. This can be painful. Once a tooth is broken with the pulp exposed the only two choices for treatment are root canal therapy, which usually saves the tooth, or extraction.

 

Why would I want my cat to have a root canal instead of an extraction?

Root canal therapy is less invasive than extraction, and in most cases, root canal therapy saves the tooth for the rest of the cat’s life. To extract a tooth that has good periodontal support, incisions are made through the gums to the supporting bone, the bone on the outside of the tooth is removed and the tooth extracted. Sutures are placed to close the wound.

 

Is root canal therapy painful?

Just the opposite. Root canal therapy removes the infected pulp and fills the canal with a material which kills bacteria. In most cases the destruction to the surrounding tooth support tissues stops and resolves after root canal therapy.

 2_x-ray_showing_root_canal_exposure 3_root_canal_therapy

Left: Root canal before therapy; Right: after root canal therapy.

Is it expensive to have my cat’s teeth fixed with root canal therapy?

Performing root canal therapy requires similar equipment, materials and expertise as in human dentistry. Fees are similar to what human dentists charge. Many pet insurance policies cover part of the expense.

 

Will my veterinarian do a root canal on my cat or do I have to see a specialist?

Although any licensed veterinarian can perform root canal therapy, the procedure requires specialized equipment, materials and expertise, which most veterinarians do not have. To find a board certified veterinary dentist to perform root canal therapy in your cat, visit www.avdc.org.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Jan Bellows, DVM, Dipl. AVDC, ABVP

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