We love our pets and want them to be healthy and happy. I've been worried about my dog's teeth because I am good at worrying and wonder if there is such a thing as a dog cavity, what I should be doing to prevent them.
Do Dogs Have Cavities?
Dogs can get cavities (the dental term is 'caries') much the same as humans. They also get other dental problems such as gingivitis and periodontal disease.
Dogs have lower rates of caries than humans; however, because their owners (us!) tend to feed them a better diet than we feed ourselves with lower rates of carbohydrates and sugars. It helps that dogs' mouths have low percentages of the type of bacteria, Streptococcus mutans, which is the main cause of caries.
The shape of a dog's tooth helps. Mostly they are cone-shaped rather than flat where food gets caught, and this shape means it is harder for bacteria to grow.
Finally, their saliva is more alkaline and reduces the possibility of any cavities occurring.
On the other hand, dogs' mouths have a higher percentage than humans of porphyromonas bacteria, which causes gingivitis and periodontal disease. This explains why they are susceptible to these diseases.
So yes, caries happen, but it is comparatively rare when they do, and it is usually in their maxillary first molars (their top central teeth).
Some breeds are more susceptible to caries than others - German Shepherds are one example.
What happens when they get a cavity?
While dogs have few cavities, if you notice one of your dog's teeth is dark, dark brown, or black, make sure you take your canine friend to be checked by your veterinarian.
If a carie is found, it will be treated in much the same way as human ones, except your dog will be given an anesthetic. If he needs any other medical procedures done, you could combine these with the dental work.
Most likely, he will first have his mouth x-rayed to work out the extent of the damage. Once this is determined, the veterinarian will drill the tooth and fill the cavity to stop any further decay. If the damage is more severe, it may be necessary to do a true root canal to clean and seal the tooth and root and prevent further damage.
In extreme cases, the dog's tooth will be removed.
Not all veterinary clinics do animal dental work, so check that yours has someone trained in this area and is experienced doing cavity filling, root canal, and extraction.
How will you know there is a cavity?
You probably won't notice much change if, or when, your pet has a carie. Like most animals, our dogs know how to hide their pain - they come from wild animals after all and do not want to let on that they have a weakness making them a target to other animals.
It is possible you might notice that they are having difficulty eating or pawing at their faces.
The best way to avoid your dog having any oral health problems is to brush his teeth regularly.
You don't need a fancy toothbrush for this as you can use a soft children's toothbrush, but you will need special pet toothpaste - human toothpaste has ingredients, such as artificial sweeteners, that are harmful to dogs.
It is best to start brushing your dog's teeth while he is still a puppy. He will become familiar with it and won't see it as an ordeal as he ages when it is more likely to become an issue.
Do other animals get cavities?
Yes, cavities can happen in most other animals, but like in dogs, they rarely happen because of the prevalent bacteria in their mouths.
An extreme exception to this is the shark (or so I am led to believe since I haven't looked.) Their teeth are covered in a shell of fluoride, which protects them against getting any cavities at all. If you are looking for a pet that doesn't ever need to go to the dentist for an oral checkup, your choice is obvious!
Can I treat my dog's cavities at home?
You can't treat your pet's cavities at home as it is a specialized area - something best left to your veterinary clinic to deal with. Besides, you need to know what you are looking for, and it is unlikely he will let you spend so much time in his mouth while you search around trying to work it out!
There are three crucial things you can do to protect your pet's oral health:
- Feed him a good diet.
- Brush his teeth every second day
- Provide him with bones and chew toys that are right for his size to help clean his gums and teeth. He should chew on this for at least 30 minutes per day.
Caries do occur in dogs, but not as often as they happen in humans because of the good diet they are fed - one low in carbohydrates and sugars and the shape of their teeth and the makeup of bacteria in their mouths.
You do need to look after your dog's oral health, however.
Have the veterinarian check his mouth when you take him for his routine visits or notice anything you are worried about.
Feed him well, brush his teeth, and give him chew toys or bones!
In doing this, you are keeping your pet healthy longer - and that is a great thing!