Just like people, dogs need consistent dental care in order to maintain the health of their gums. Here, our San Mateo 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
Similar to humans, when dogs eat, bacteria in their mouth feed on leftover food debris and form plaque. Plaque is the white substance that adheres to teeth throughout the day. It is slightly acidic and sticky, gradually eroding the protective outer layers of your dog's teeth. This process can lead to mild-to-severe bad breath, particularly in middle-aged or senior dogs.
If your dog's teeth are not regularly cleaned, the acidic plaque can eventually cause cavities, tooth decay, or dental caries by creating small or large holes in the enamel.
In addition to the lack of routine cleanings, certain pre-existing oral conditions can increase the likelihood of cavities in dogs. These conditions 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
The level of pain or discomfort your dog may experience due to their cavities depends on the severity of the condition. Cavities are categorized into five stages to indicate their extent of damage, ranging from stage 1 (enamel damage) to stage 5 (significant loss of crown with exposed roots).
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 San Mateo 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 treatment for your dog's cavity will depend on how severe it is. If the cavity is caught early, your vet may use a fluoride wash or bonding agent to protect the affected area and keep an eye on its progress.
For more advanced cavities that have reached the enamel, dentin, or pulp, additional treatment will be necessary. This may involve removing the damaged tissue and restoring the tooth with a filling, root canal, or other restorative measures. In severe cases (stages 4 or 5), the tooth may be beyond repair and extraction may be required to prevent further oral health issues.
Recovery from filling or tooth extraction procedures is usually quick, but it's important to provide proper after-care to prevent any harm to your dog's mouth or the treated area. Your vet can provide instructions on how to care for your dog during the recovery period.
Routine Care to Prevent Cavities
The most effective way to keep your dog's teeth and overall health in good condition and prevent cavities is to establish a regular routine of oral hygiene care at home. Use specialized toothbrushes and toothpaste designed specifically for dogs, available in textures and flavors that cater to their preferences.
In addition to home care, it's important to schedule an annual professional dental exam and cleaning with our veterinary team at San Mateo. During this visit, we can perform a comprehensive cleaning of your dog's teeth and identify early signs of cavities for timely prevention. This thorough approach ensures your dog's dental health is well-maintained.