Can Dogs Get Cavities?
Dogs can develop cavities due to numerous oral health issues if their mouths aren't routinely cleaned and cared for. From gum disease to tooth decay, a range of problems can arise without at-home oral hygiene and regular dental checkups with our veterinarians at Bel Marin Animal Hospital.
The Cause of Cavities in Dogs
Most pet owners considering dental care for their dogs ask themselves, "Do dogs get cavities?". The answer is a resounding yes.
As our dogs eat, the remaining food debris left on their teeth is consumed by bacteria that grow naturally in the mouth, then converted into plaque.
Almost everyone recognizes plaque as the white substance that sticks to your teeth over the course of the day and makes your breath stink. Plaque is quite sticky and mildly acidic, and it slowly destroys the protective outer layers of a dog's teeth over time. While we think of bad breath as normal in older dogs, it's not - this is actually a sign of dental disease.
If your dog's mouth and gums remain uncleaned for long enough, acidic plaque on the teeth can cause small or large holes to form in their enamel. These holes are known as cavities, dental caries or tooth decay.
A lack of routine cleanings combined with other pre-existing conditions in your pooch's mouth can leave your dog more at risk of developing cavities. These conditions include:
- Weaker than normal tooth enamel caused by poor mineralization
- A low pH level in the dog's saliva
- Gaps between teeth and gums due to gum recession
- A diet with lots of fermentable carbohydrates (often found in high-carb table scraps or poor-quality dog food)
- Crowded or misaligned teeth in your dog's mouth
- Poor general health
The Symptoms of Canine Cavities
Your dog may experience varying levels of pain or discomfort depending on the severity of their cavities. There are 5 stages of severity when it comes to determining how bad your dog's cavity is (from 1 (where only the enamel has been damaged) to 5 (where most of the crown has been lost and roots are exposed).
Here are some of the most common symptoms that are caused by or accompany a dog tooth cavity:
- Abnormal chewing, drooling, or dropping food from the mouth
- Discolored teeth
- Noticeable Tartar buildup
- Bleeding from the mouth
- Bad breath
- Reduced appetite or refusal to eat
- Pain or swelling in or around the mouth
For some pups, the pain and discomfort of a cavity is enough to stop them from eating enough (or eating at all). If you notice any of the above symptoms, bring your dog to your Novato vet for a dental checkup and treatment as soon as possible.
Treatments for Your Dog's Cavity
There are two broad categories of treatment that can be applied to cavities in dogs: professional treatment of existing cavities and preventive treatment of cavities before they have a chance to develop in your pup in the first place.
Restorative Dental Treatment For a Canine Cavity
The precise treatment for your dog's cavity will depend on its severity. If you have caught a cavity just as it was starting to form, your vet may use a fluoride wash or bonding agent to protect the site against further degradation and will monitor it in the future.
If your four-legged friend's cavity has progressed any further than that, the diseased enamel, dentin or pulp will need to be removed and the tooth restored with a filling, root canal or other restorative treatment. If the cavity has progressed far enough (to stages 4 or 5), the tooth may not be truly treatable and may have to be removed from your dog's mouth to prevent further oral health impacts.
Recovery from filling or tooth removal treatments is often quite quick, but you may have to provide specialized after-care to your dog to stop them from harming their mouth or their new filling.
Routine Care to Prevent Cavities
Far and away the most reliable way to preserve your dog's dental and overall health, as well as fight cavities, is to maintain a routine of oral hygiene care at home. This can be done with specialized toothbrushes and toothpaste in textures and tastes custom-made for dog mouths.
In addition to at-home oral health care, make sure you bring your pup into our Novato vets at least once each year for a professional dental exam and cleaning treatment. This will give us an opportunity to conduct a more thorough hygiene cleaning of your dog's teeth as well as to detect cavities as they are just starting to develop and when they can be prevented.