Can dogs get dental cavities?

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Can dogs get dental cavities? - A small dog smiling as it stands in a field.

Dental care is important for dogs as much as it is with people, as dogs also can develop dental diseases when their teeth are not properly taken care of. Unlike people, cavities are rare in dogs. Read on to learn:

  • How do cavities form?
  • Are there obvious signs of cavities in dogs?
  • What is the treatment of cavities for dogs?
  • What kind of preventative care can I provide my dog to fight cavities?

When there are dental concerns, dogs are more likely to show symptoms of periodontal disease, such as bad breath and tartar buildup. In more severe cases, they might show tooth pain, difficulty eating, and excessive drooling. Cavities are less common in dogs than people, but the majority of dogs develop some form of dental disease in their lifetime.

What are cavities?

Cavities, also known as dental caries, occur when bacteria found in dental plaque combine with saliva and sugar to form an acid that eats at the tooth enamel. While extremely common in people, cavities are rare in dogs. There are five stages of cavity formation:

  1. Enamel affected stage - only the enamel surface is affected
  2. Dentin affected stage - the cavity has invaded the dentin of the tooth
  3. Pulp chamber affected stage - the tooth decay has penetrated the inner pulp chamber
  4. Structural crown damage stage - the structural crown of the tooth has been affected
  5. Abscess formation - the tooth’s roots are exposed, and an abscess forms

Even though they’re rare, tooth cavities in dogs can cause dental pain and tooth loss if left untreated. If your dog happens to develop cavities, they're likely to also have other, more severe forms of dental disease that can lead to other health problems. Good oral health is essential for your dog’s overall health and well-being.

What causes tooth decay in dogs?

Though dogs can have cavities, they are much more likely to develop tooth decay due to endodontic disease, a fractured tooth or other tooth injury, or enamel deformities. Cavities begin when food becomes trapped in the pits of the molars or premolars. If the food is not removed, the bacteria in the trapped food and plaque form an acid that eats away at the tooth. “If your dog’s teeth are turning brown, getting loose, or falling out, it’s unlikely to be cavities or tooth decay,” explains Vetster veterinarian Dr. Jo Myers. “It’s almost always due to severe periodontal disease caused by the accumulation of plaque and tartar.”

What are the common signs of cavities in dogs?

Canine cavities are rare and are rarely spotted by dog owners due to their small size and location in the mouth. Cavities look like small dark spots on the teeth, usually found in the pits of molar teeth. Once cavities are visible, they cannot be reversed. Complete oral X-rays under anesthesia are necessary to identify the full extent of dental disease in dogs.

Tooth decay and cavities are very uncommon symptoms of dental disease in dogs. Instead, a dog is more likely to experience symptoms of gum disease, such as:

Dental disease affects nearly 80% of dogs before the age of two. One of the first signs owners often ignore is bad breath. Foul-smelling breath that is not caused by recently eating something smelly is never normal in dogs.

Are cavities in dogs common?

While dental disease is very common in dogs, cavities are rare and affect less than 5% of adult dogs. The rarity of cavities in dogs is due to a low level of sugar and carbohydrates in a dog’s diet, the shape of a dog’s teeth, and the pH level of a dog’s saliva. A human’s diet contains a higher amount of sugars that are necessary for bacteria to produce the acid that eats away at a tooth’s protective enamel. Some dogs are genetically predisposed to developing cavities or develop them due to a tooth injury or poor diet. A dog with cavities is likely to have other symptoms of severe dental disease that also require attention.

How do veterinarians treat canine cavities?

To diagnose and treat any type of dental disease, veterinarians use a thorough oral exam and dental X-rays under anesthesia. Severe periodontitis and cavities often require the affected tooth to be extracted. After a tooth extraction, a vet usually recommends pain medication. Antibiotics are usually not necessary, but may be included. Small cavities, if caught early, can sometimes be treated by cleaning out the lesion on the tooth surface and restoring the tooth’s crown. Because they are so rare, dogs with cavities may be referred to a board-certified veterinary dentist.

Is anesthesia safe for my dog?

While all medical procedures have risks, anesthesia is considered very safe for the majority of dogs. Vets reduce the risks of anesthesia by running pre-anesthetic diagnostic blood tests and monitoring dogs closely while they are under anesthesia. The health risks posed by severe dental issues outweigh the risks of anesthesia.

Can I prevent dental disease in my dog?

Forms of dental disease such as periodontal disease and cavities can be prevented with consistent dental care. Daily brushing at home and routine dental cleanings remove plaque and prevent tartar buildup that causes dental disease. Food and treats high in sugar and carbohydrates should be avoided or given sparingly to avoid cavity formation. In between regular cleanings, dental treats and chew toys can help remove plaque from teeth when used alongside regular brushing. Only use products recommended by the Veterinary Oral Health Council to ensure they are safe and effective. Even with regular brushing, regular dental exams and cleanings are necessary for the dental health of dogs. If you have questions about your dog’s oral hygiene and health, you can talk to an online vet quickly and easily from home.

FAQ - Can dogs get dental cavities?

How do I know if my dog has a cavity?

Cavities are rare in dogs and, due to their small size and location in the back molars, usually go undetected without an anesthetic dental exam from a veterinarian. Dogs are far more likely to develop other oral health issues, such as periodontal disease.

What does a cavity look like in a dog?

Cavities appear as very small dark spots in the pits of molar teeth. However, dog owners are unlikely to ever see one because they are very rare, small, and located in hard-to-see areas in the mouth. Brown teeth are more likely to be caused by tartar buildup than tooth decay from cavities.

Do vets fill dog cavities?

When a dog has a cavity or other rare dental problem, their regular vet may refer them to a veterinary dental specialist who has been trained in filling cavities. A board-certified veterinary dentist is better trained for filling cavities and root canal procedures.

Is it normal for dogs to have rotten teeth?

Diseased teeth are more likely to be caused by severe periodontal disease than cavities or tooth decay. Rotten teeth and bad breath are never normal in dogs and can be prevented with regular brushing and dental cleanings. Talk to a vet if you notice signs of poor dental health, such as tooth discoloration or oral pain.