Cavities can be uncomfortable for humans, but did you know your dog can also develop a cavity? Today, our West Salem vets discuss the causes, symptoms and treatments of dental decay in dogs.
Do Dogs Get Cavities?
If their mouths aren't routinely cleaned, maintained and cared for, our pooches can develop a range of oral health issues from gum disease to cavities (also referred to as tooth decay). So, the answer to the question, "Can dogs get cavities?" is a resounding "Yes!".
The Cause of Cavities in Dogs
Similar to people, leftover food debris can become stuck in our dog's teeth. Bacteria that naturally live in their mouths can accumulate, then turn into plaque.
You might recognize plaque as the white substance that attaches to your teeth over the course of the day and makes your mouth taste unclean. Plaque is mildly acidic and quite sticky, and it will slowly erode the protective layer of your dog's teeth over time (as well as causing bad breath we often think of as normal in older dogs).
If your dog's mouth is left unclean for long enough, the acidic plaque on their teeth can cause small or large holes in their enamel known as dental caries, tooth decay or cavities.
A lack of routine cleanings can combine with certain pre-existing conditions in your dog's mouth to leave them with an increased risk of developing cavities. These include:
- A diet with too many fermentable carbohydrates (often found in poor-quality dog food or high-carb table scraps)
- Bad overall health
- Crowded or misaligned teeth in your dog's mouth
- Gum recession causing gaps between teeth and gums
- A low pH level in your dog's saliva
- Weaker-than-normal tooth enamel (due to 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 at all). If you notice any of the above symptoms, bring your dog to your West Salem 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 West Salem 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.