Bacterial diseases

Tooth Decay in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Laura García Ortiz
By Laura García Ortiz, Veterinarian specialized in feline medicine. July 8, 2022
Tooth Decay in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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Bacteria naturally reside on the tongue, tooth surface, oral mucosa and saliva of our dogs. When the bacteria feed on the food debris that the dog leaves on or between the teeth, they release acids that dissolve the enamel that protects the teeth from decay. When this enamel is weakened, the bacteria can form plaque and penetrate more and more into the tooth surface, eventually causing tooth decay.

The following AnimalWised explains everything you need to know about tooth decay in dogs, its causes, symptoms, and treatment.

You may also be interested in: Abscess on a Dog's Gum - Causes and Treatment
  1. Tooth decay in dogs
  2. Causes of tooth decay in dogs
  3. Symptoms of tooth decay in dogs
  4. How to diagnose tooth decay in dogs?
  5. How to treat tooth decay in dogs
  6. How to prevent cavities in dogs

Tooth decay in dogs

Dental caries, also known as cavities or cavities, is a dental disease that affects our dogs' teeth. It consists of the breakdown and demineralization of the tooth enamel. It occurs because the bacteria in the mouth release different types of acids to break down the carbohydrates that remain in the dog's mouth after each meal. These acids are also able to demineralize the enamel and dissolve the calcium salts in the tooth.

This enamel is the layer that protects the teeth from external attacks. Whenever it is altered, disappears or is weakened, germs can multiply and damage deeper structures such as the dentin and pulp, which can range from minor injuries to complete tooth death. In dogs, caries most commonly occurs in the central fossa of the maxillary first molar and in the areas between adjacent teeth.

Caries is not as common in dogs as it is in humans. This is because Streptococcus mutans, the main bacterium that causes tooth decay in humans, is not found in dogs. In addition, the composition of dog saliva differs from that of human saliva: dog saliva is more alkaline than ours and has a greater ability to neutralize the action of acids produced by some bacteria.

Tooth Decay in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment - Tooth decay in dogs

Causes of tooth decay in dogs

Dental caries or tooth decay in dogs has a multifactorial origin, meaning that there are several factors that can trigger it. These are:

  • Presence of oral bacteria
  • Inadequate or poor dental hygiene
  • Hereditary predisposition
  • Advanced age
  • Inappropriate diet
Tooth Decay in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment - Causes of tooth decay in dogs

Symptoms of tooth decay in dogs

To determine if your dog has tooth decay, all you need to do is examine their mouth. There are other clinical signs of caries you should be aware of even if you are not able to see them directly.

Tooth decay is often discovered in an advanced stage, with multiple teeth affected, secondary infections, or even more serious complications. To prevent these problems, you should inspect your dog's mouth regularly and take him to the veterinarian if you spot any of these signs:

  • Anorexia
  • Mouth pain
  • Tartar
  • Bad breath or halitosis
  • Receding gums
  • Hypersalivation
  • Bleeding
  • Inflammation of the gums or gingivitis
  • Difficulty biting or chewing
  • Rejection of toys for biting
  • Less activity

If we notice blood on our dog's gums and teeth, it could be related to gengivitis, a progressive inflammation of the gums. Continue reading the following article to learn more about gengivitis in dogs and its treatment.

Tooth Decay in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment - Symptoms of tooth decay in dogs

How to diagnose tooth decay in dogs?

As we mentioned earlier, tooth decay is often not detected until it is very advanced. The early stages of caries can be difficult to detect, as they show no symptoms and are often missed by caretakers unless their veterinarian examines their mouths during a general examination. For this reason, it is very important that regular veterinary exams are scheduled and a thorough inspection of the mouth is performed. You also need to keep an eye out at home to see if the dog is showing any of the clinical signs mentioned above.

When inspecting the teeth, you may find small areas of demineralization that are dark brown if they are old, in which case they will be harder. Recent or active cavities are light brown and the enamel and dentin are softened.

Imaging techniques such as radiography are required to determine the degree of involvement of the internal structures of the teeth.

Tooth Decay in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment - How to diagnose  tooth decay in dogs?

How to treat tooth decay in dogs

If an x-ray shows that the pulp of the tooth is affected, the only treatment is extraction of the tooth, although root canal treatment or reconstruction of the tooth may also be considered if possible. The disadvantage of these surgeries is that they require general anesthesia. There is a higher risk of anesthesia in dogs with caries, since they tend to be older and have concomitant pathologies.

However, if the caries has not impacted deep structures and is limited to the enamel, a filling can be made to reconstruct and remineralize the affected tooth without having to extract it. In any case, this should always be evaluated by a veterinarian who will take into account your dog's history, physical condition and risks.

To keep your dog's teeth healthy, you need to prevent tartar from forming. Continue reading this other article to learn more about tartar in dogs and how to prevent it and how to remove it.

Tooth Decay in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment - How to treat tooth decay in dogs

How to prevent cavities in dogs

Besides causing the bothersome and painful signs we have discussed, tooth decay can also cause serious illness if bacteria enter the bloodstream and spread to organs such as the kidneys and heart.

In order to avoid caries in dogs, it is essential to maintain proper dental hygiene from the puppy stage. To do so, it is necessary to get them used to brushing their teeth, something that is not always easy. The best measures to prevent tooth decay in dogs are:

  • Frequent brushing of teeth with a dog brush and paste.

  • Dry food that encourages the removal of food debris between and on the teeth, which stimulates the formation of bacterial plaque.

  • Dental exams and routine checkups with the veterinarian.

  • Use of specific treats are designed precisely to prevent the accumulation of bacteria in the outer layer of the teeth and gums.

  • Professional dental cleaning at the veterinary clinic.

If you want to know more about how to best clean your dog's teeth to avoid dental problems in the future, check out this other article, where we explain different ways to clean teeth in dogs.

Tooth Decay in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment - How to prevent cavities in dogs

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Tooth Decay in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment, we recommend you visit our Bacterial diseases category.

  • Desachy, F. (2018). Dog care day by day . DVE publishing.
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Tooth Decay in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment