Dental cavities in dogs: fact or fiction?

Did you know that our four-legged friends can suffer from dental problems just like people? Dental cavities are possible in dogs too, but they are rare when compared to other more common dental afflictions seen in pets. Many simple solutions are at your disposal to keep your pet’s teeth and gums healthy.

Dental problems commonly affecting dogs

1. Cavities

Cavities in dogs can occur on any tooth, but are most common on premolars, molars, and canines. They are caused by dental plaque which is formed by a mixture of saliva, minerals, salts, bacteria, and food debris. Dental plaque can promote the destruction of the tooth enamel, leading to the formation of a cavity.

This phenomenon is relatively rare, affecting only 5,8% of dogs. However, dental cavities can lead to severe complications for those unlucky few: pulpitis (inflammation of the sensitive inner pulp of the tooth, which can become very painful), complete destruction of the enamel crown, abscesses, etc. If you notice a decrease in your dog’s appetite, or if he seems to have difficulty when chewing, have your veterinarian examine your pet for dental cavities.

2. Tartar and bad breath

Tartar consists of a calcified layer of bacteria, cells and food debris accumulating on the surface of teeth. Tartar appears as a yellow-brown crust on the visible surfaces of teeth, especially noticeable on premolars, molars, and canines. These clusters of bacteria cause bad breath and gingivitis (redness along the gumline.) If left untreated, tartar will continue to accumulate, increasing inflammation of periodontal tissues and leading to bone loss, recession, and tooth loss. Your veterinarian will recommend the best course of action for your pet.

3. Dental abscess

Dental abscess are diagnosed more commonly in older dogs. This infection of the alveolar bone usually affects larger upper molars, and owners will usually notice a soft, warm, painful bump under their dog’s eye. A dental abscess requires a visit to the veterinarian, where antibiotics must be prescribed, in preparation for eventual extraction of the affected tooth. Luckily, dogs recover quite well once the infected tooth has been removed.

Preventing dental disease with proper dental hygiene

Dental disease, including cavities, can be prevented by practicing good oral hygiene on a regular basis. The main goal is to reduce the accumulation of plaque and tartar before they can damage teeth and gums.

How to brush your dog’s teeth

Toothbrushing is the most effective way to prevent dental problems from taking hold. Many solutions are readily available:

  • Pet-sized toothbrushes or finger cap brushes can be used 2 to 3 times per week.
  • Long-acting enzymatic toothpastes that can be deposited onto gums.
  • Dental chews that release enzymes that destroy plaque and prevent bacterial formation.
  • Special dental diets to help clean your pet’s teeth as he chews.
  • Liquid solutions that can be added to your dog’s drinking water.

Your veterinarian can also complete a thorough dental cleaning, safely removing any traces of dental plaque and tartar, even below the gumline. This very safe procedure will help prevent the development of dental cavities, as well as many other dental problems.