Similar to people, dogs can develop cavities and other dental issues that may become painful enough for them to stop eating. Our Concord vets explain the causes, symptoms and treatment of tooth decay and what happens if your dog has a cavity.
Can Dogs Get Cavities?
If dogs' mouths aren't routinely cleaned and cared for, they can develop numerous oral health issues — and cavities. Without an at-home oral hygiene routine coupled with regular dental checkups, a range of problems from gum disease to tooth decay can arise.
The Cause of Cavities in Dogs
You may have wondered to yourself, "Do dogs get cavities?" and considered whether your pooch needs dental care. The answer to both of these questions is a resounding yes.
Just like us, food debris can build up on your dog's teeth after they eat before it's consumed by bacteria that grow naturally in the mouth and 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. Sticky, mildly acidic plaque slowly destroys the outer layers of a dog's teeth over time. While many a dog owner thinks of their older pup's bad breath as normal, it's not — this is actually a sign of dental disease.
If your dog's gums and mouth remain uncleaned for long enough, acidic plaque can grow on the teeth and cause small or large holes to form in the enamel. These holds are referred to as tooth decay, dental caries or cavities.
Pre-existing conditions in your dog's mouth and a lack of routine cleanings can leave your pup at higher risk of developing cavities. These conditions include:
- Gaps between teeth and gums due to gum recession
- Weaker than normal tooth enamel due to poor mineralization
- Crowded or misaligned teeth in your dog's mouth
- A diet with lots of fermentable carbohydrates (often found in high-carb table scraps or poor-quality dog food)
- A low pH level in the dog's saliva
- Poor general health
Symptoms of Canine Cavities
Depending on the severity of their cavities, your dog may experience varying levels of pain or discomfort. Veterinarians gauge how bad a dog's cavity is using a scale with 5 stages of severity, from 1 where only the tooth enamel has been damaged to 5 where most of the crown has been lost and roots are exposed.
These are some of the most common symptoms that are caused by or accompany a dog tooth cavity:
- Noticeable tartar buildup
- Abnormal drooling, chewing or dropping food from the mouth
- Bad breath
- Discolored teeth
- Pain or swelling in or around the mouth
- Reduced appetite or refusal to eat
- Bleeding from the mouth
For some dogs, the pain and discomfort of a cavity is enough to stop them from eating as much as they should (or eating at all). If you notice any of the above symptoms, bring your dog to your Concord 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 Concord 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.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.