Does My Cat Need a Root Canal?

What is a root canal?

The center of the tooth is referred to as the root canal and contains soft tissue called pulp. The pulp is made up of the nerve, blood vessels and lymphatics that nurture a healthy tooth.   

Root canal therapy is a treatment which involves removing the pulp from the center of an injured tooth, sterilizing the canal, and then replacing the removed pulp with dental materials which are intended to prevent bacteria from penetrating the center of the tooth. Finally, a filling (restoration) is placed in the crown of the tooth to prevent further access of bacteria to the root canal.


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

1_right_upper_canine_fractureIf your cat breaks a tooth to the extent that the pulp tissue is exposed, bacteria and oral debris enter the tooth. As a result, a painful inflammation of the pulp (pulpitis) develops eventually causing the nerves and blood vessels to die.

"If your cat breaks a tooth to the extent that the pulp tissue is exposed, bacteria and oral debris enter the tooth."

The bacteria then move out of the bottom of the root (the root apex) and infect the bone surrounding the root (apical periodontitis). This is also painful. Once a tooth is broken with the pulp exposed, there are only two choices for treatment: root canal therapy or extraction.

Root canal therapy permits your cat to keep the structural integrity of the tooth root and for functionally important teeth such as the canines, this is the desired treatment. 


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’s structural integrity for the rest of the cat’s life. To extract a tooth requires incisions made through the gums (gingiva) to the supporting bone. The gum tissue is lifted up to expose the underlying bone which is then removed to expose the root to facilitate extraction. The gum tissue is then replaced and the wound sutured closed with absorbable suture material. 


Is root canal therapy painful?

Just the opposite. Root canal therapy removes the infected and inflamed pulp and disinfection of the canal kills bacteria. By filling the root and restoring the crown, root canal therapy prevents (and in some cases resolves) the destruction around the bottom of the root (the root apex).

 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 advanced training and specialized equipment, materials, and expertise, which most veterinarians do not have. To find a board-certified veterinary dentist to perform root canal therapy for your cat, visit or speak to your veterinarian.

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