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The criteria for determining if a dog needs a root canal vs leaving the tooth and doing nothing is exposure of the root pulp, if it exposed and open. They will use a probe to test the root if the patient will allow during a dental exam. If the crown of the tooth is sealed and the root pulp is not open, then often sealant can be applied to the tooth. A dental x-ray is vital, though, in the final diagnosis of the health of the tooth, though, because the dentist will be able to assess the diameter of the pulp canal and determine if there is an abscess at the root tip that will need to be dealt with as well.
So, the answer to your question is yes and no. A thorough dental exam can make a dentist very suspicious that a dog would need a root canal, but the final decision is only made after dental x-rays.
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