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Can my dog get cavities?

When we think about our own dental health, we often think of cavities. By age 40, most of us have at least a few fillings. But dental health in dogs is a little different. And while dental disease affects as many as 60% of adult dogs, cavities are less common than in humans.

Why Do Dogs Get Fewer Cavities than Humans?
Cavities (or caries) form when food particles become trapped on or near the surface of a tooth. These particles become magnets for bacteria, which break down the particles slowly, and in the process release acids that attack the enamel surface of the tooth. Once these acids penetrate the enamel, they then begin to attack the next layer (the dentin) that lies below.

Because a dog’s teeth are primarily conical (for cutting and tearing), they tend to have fewer surfaces where bacteria can become trapped. Human teeth (such as molars and premolars) have many flat surfaces (for grinding), where food and bacteria can collect. Consequently, humans tend to get more cavities than do our canine companions.

How Care Cavities in Dogs Diagnosed?
In their early stages, cavities are difficult to spot. They generally appear as a dull or gray spot on the surface of the tooth. As the cavity advances, it may take on a dark, tobacco-brown color or form a recessed area in the tooth. If you suspect that your dog has a cavity, a dental exam and x-ray at the vet can confirm the diagnosis.

How Are Cavities in Dogs Treated?

Cavities in dogs are treated much in the same way as dentists treat human cavities. Early-stage decay can usually be removed and the lost enamel replaced by an amalgam filling. More advanced decay that has reached the root capsule will require a root canal to preserve the tooth. Advanced decay may require removal of the affected tooth and a follow-up visit to the vet.

Much of your dog’s dental care also depends on your animal’s gum health. Disease that has advanced to the gum (or further, to the bone) will usually require dental surgery.

What Factors Increase Cavity Risk?

Several factors can contribute to your dog’s risk for developing cavities: poor oral hygiene, poor diet (including lots of fermentable carbs), tightly grouped teeth, gaps between the teeth and gums, and poor overall health all increase a dig’s risk for tooth decay.

Also, some breeds tend to display a higher prevalence of cavities. These include several short-nosed breeds like the bulldog, French bulldog, Shih Tsu, Yorkie, Pomerania, and Chihuahua. The Jack Russell terrier and Dachshund are also more prone to cavities than are other breeds.

Preventive Pet Dental Care

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to reduce your dog’s risk for developing cavities:

  • Brush your dog’s teeth daily. A quick brushing is the surest way to dislodge food particles that can serve as fuel for tooth-destroying bacteria.
  • Don’t feed your pet human food or sweets. The human diet includes many carbs and sweets that dogs would not encounter in the wild. Known as “fermentable carbs,” these foods are excellent food for destructive bacteria.
  • Include a dental checkup in your pet’s next wellness visit. When you take your dog to the vet for a regular wellness check, ask the vet to check your dog’s teeth for signs of decay.

Editor’s Note: Dental issues are a common cause of health problems in dogs. Here’s what you need to know to spot the signs of disease early and tips to prevent it.


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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