Dental Dilemma: Dogs and Cavities

dog-cavityLarge cavity in  upper molar of
a dog. Photo by

Bacteria cause what we call dental “cavities.” Poor dental hygiene leaves behind bacteria that set off a chain reaction inside the mouth. These bacteria produce acids that eat away at teeth, weakening the enamel and causing teeth to begin rotting – for lack of a better word.

The good news is that true cavities (or caries as dentists and veterinary dentist call them) are rare in dogs.

Dogs typically don’t get cavities for several reasons:

  • Canine oral bacteria are different from ours. They tend not to cause acid build up that harms teeth.
  • Most dogs don’t consume many sugary or acidic foods that lead to the bad bacteria’s growth.
  • Canine teeth are mostly narrow and pointy, not flat and grinding, which give bacteria fewer places to take root and do damage.
  • Dogs live shorter lives, giving the bacteria less time, overall, to do damage.

What a Dog Cavity Looks Like

Again, dog cavities remain quite rare. However, German Shepherd Dogs seem more prone than other breeds to developing cavities.

Typical canine dental stains appear lighter in color than a true dog cavity, which will look dark brown or black on the tooth’s surface. If they are going to happen, dog cavities typically form on upper molars or incisors.

If a Dog Does Get a Cavity

In the rare cases when dogs do get a true cavity, veterinary dentists use many of the same techniques a human dentist would:

  • Taking dental x-rays to determine the extent of damage to the tooth, both above and below the gums
  • Drilling and filling the cavity to stop further decay
  • Doing a true root canal (in some cases) to clean out and seal the tooth and root
  • Removing the tooth entirely (in extreme cases) to extract severely diseased teeth

Preventing Dental Trouble in Dogs

Good at home dental care and regular veterinary dental exams and cleanings can prevent or uncover canine dental disease before it gets too bad.

Prevention strategies include:

  1. Brushing your dogs teeth regularly
  2. Providing the opportunity for dogs to chew on safe toys or dental treats
  3. Not feeding your pet sugary junk food

It’s best to teach dogs when they are young to allow dental care at home for a couple of reasons. First, you can be sure a puppy has a healthy mouth, which rules out pain as a reason for a dog not tolerating a toothbrush. Second, puppies learn so quickly and easily. Make it fun, and you’ll set your dog up for a lifetime of healthy teeth.

Tip: Soft, toddler toothbrushes work just as well as special dog toothbrushes.

Never use human toothpastes, however. They often feature ingredients harmful to pets, including artificial sweeteners that can be toxic. Find dog toothpaste instead. Ask your veterinarian if you have any questions.

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