If you've ever developed a cavity in one or more of your teeth, you know they can be uncomfortable. Dogs can actually develop cavities too and here, our Novato vets explain the causes, symptoms and treatments of cavities in dogs.
Cavities in Dogs
It's possible for our pups to develop a whole host of different oral health issues if their mouths aren't routinely cared for and cleaned, from gum disease to cavities (also known as tooth decay).
The Cause of Cavities in Dogs
Just like in people, as our dogs eat, the leftover food debris residue is consumed by bacteria that naturally live in their mouth and turned into plaque.
You may recognize plaque as the while substance that sticks to your teeth over the course of the day. Plaque is mildly acidic and quite sticky, slowly eating away at the protective outer layers of your dog's teeth over time (as well as causing the mild-to-severe bad breath we often think of as normal more middle-aged or senior dogs).
If your dog's mouth is left uncleaned for long enough, the acidic plaque on your dog's teeth and cause large or small holes in their enamel, called cavities,m tooth decay, or dental caries.
Certain pre-existing conditions in your pup's mouth may make them more likely to develop cavities in addition to a lack of routine cleanings. These include:
- A diet with lots of fermentable carbohydrates (often found in poor-quality dog food or high-carb table scraps)
- Poor general health
- Misaligned or crowded teeth in your dog's mouth
- Gaps between teeth and gums caused by gum recession
- A low pH level in your dog's saliva
- Weaker-than-normal tooth enamel (caused by poor mineralization)
The Symptoms of Canine Cavities
Depending on the severity of your dog's cavities, they may experience varying levels of pain or discomfort caused by their tooth. Cavities are rated on a scale of 5 stages to describe their severity, from 1 (where only your pup's enamel has been damaged) to 5 (where the majority of their crown has been lost and their roots are exposed).
The following are some of the most common symptoms that are caused by or accompany a dental cavity in a dog:
- 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 altogether). 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 early in their development or before they have a chance to arise 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 disease 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 pup's mouth to prevent further degradation of their oral health.
Recovery from filling or tooth removal treatment are often quite quick, but you may have to provide specialized after-care to your dog in order to prevent 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 regular routine of oral hygiene care at home, 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.