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Breed & Health Resources

Dental Dilemma: Can Dogs Get Cavities?


brown lab with toothbrush

The cause of dental cavities is bacteria. Poor dental hygiene leaves behind bacteria that sets off a chain reaction in the mouth. These bacteria produce acids that eat away at teeth, weaken the enamel, and cause teeth to begin rotting.

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

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

What Does a Dog Cavity Look Like?

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

German Shepherd Dogs seem more prone than other breeds to develop cavities.

What to do if Your Dog Gets a Cavity

In the rare case a dog does get a true cavity, veterinary dentists use many of the same techniques a human dentist would:

  • Take dental X-rays to determine the extent of damage to the tooth, both above & below gums
  • Drill & fill the cavity to stop further decay
  • Do a true root canal (in some cases) to clean out & seal the tooth & root
  • Remove 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. Brush your dog’s teeth regularly
  2. Provide the opportunity for dogs to chew on safe toys or dental treats
  3. Don’t feed your pet sugary junk food

Note: Never use human toothpastes – they often feature ingredients harmful to pets like artificial sweeteners, including xylitol, that can be toxic. Use only dog-friendly toothpaste instead. Ask your veterinarian if you have any questions.

It’s best to teach dogs when they are young to allow dental care at home for a couple of reasons. First, puppies mouths are healthy, so pain won’t prevent them from 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.

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