Cavities, or caries as they are also known, are an extremely common dental problem in humans, and the reason behind countless visits to the dentist every year. Unless you are a very experienced owner, you probably haven’t given a great deal of thought towards the ability of your dog to develop a cavity. In fact, many pet parents don’t even consider the dental health of their precious pet until it is pointed out to them by their veterinarian. Nevertheless, there are various dental issues that can affect our animals, and while periodontal disease is the primary tooth-related problem affecting our canines, your furbaby could potentially develop a cavity at some point during her lifetime too. Canine cavities are rare, but certainly not impossible.
What are dental cavities?
Dental cavities are the same whether they occur in humans or in dogs. They occur when the bacteria that is present on your dog’s teeth come into contact with carbohydrates in the food that your pet eats. When this happens, a reaction occurs that causes the bacteria to produce acid. It is this acid that, if not cleared away through brushing, slowly erodes the enamel of your dog’s teeth, de-mineralizing them and causing areas of decay and damage.
If left untreated, the decay can slowly eat away at each layer of your dog’s teeth, eventually reaching the tooth root. As it does so, it exposes nerve endings that can cause your dog to experience intense pain when eating and drinking. When decay penetrates the root, it affects the ability of the root to deliver blood and nutrients to the tooth, and eventually it will die and fall out.
One of the biggest misconceptions about dental decay is that is always begins at the top of the tooth and works its way down. This isn’t accurate. Decay can occur on any part of the tooth, even along the gum line. If decay begins in this area, it often penetrates the root even more quickly since there is less enamel to go through.
Why is my dog less likely to develop a cavity than I am?
The reason that dogs are less prone to developing cavities than human lies primarily in their diet. Human foods, especially fast and convenience food, is usually very high in sugar. We often think that sugar is only found in sweet produce, but carbohydrates are also a form of sugar, meaning that there is a lot more in our diet than we probably expect. This means that there is plenty to interact with the bacteria on our teeth, making decay more likely.
However, most dogs have fairly low amounts of carbohydrate in their food, particularly if they consume wet, meaty foods rather than dry kibble. This means that they have less sugar to react with the bacteria in their mouth, and decay is rare.
The physiology of your dog’s teeth will also go some way to help protect her from dental cavities too. If you look in her mouth you will notice that most of her teeth are pointed rather than square or flat. This shape creates far less tiny spaces for bacteria and food debris to become trapped. The natural excess salivation of many breeds of dog will also help to neutralize acids, wash away any bacteria and food debris and keep your canine’s teeth much healthier overall.
How do I know if my dog has a cavity?
Most animals, including dogs, are predisposed to hiding any vulnerabilities they may have, and this includes any pain that they might feel. Often this makes it difficult to spot potential health problems until they are fairly well developed. Nevertheless, there are some signs that might indicate that your furbaby is experiencing dental pain that could be caused by a cavity. These include:
- Drooling more than usual
- Dropping her food
- Loss of appetite
- Obvious pain / whimpering
- Discoloration of the teeth along the gum line
If you think that your dog may be suffering from dental pain, regardless of whether you think the cause is a cavity, you should seek the advice of our veterinarian as soon as possible. No responsible and caring owner likes to see their animal in pain, especially when it is possible to seek prompt treatment.
Fortunately, there are a few methods that our vet can use to prevent the decay from getting any worse, including dental bonding to help encourage the tooth to remineralize or an amalgam filling, much like you would see in a human dental cavity. Our veterinarian will be able to advise you on the best course of action for your dog. Contact us today for further information.