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What are Cavities?

While the shape of human’s teeth in horizontal crowns predisposes us to retain food deposits in our teeth, the cone-shaped teeth of a dog make it more difficult for cavities to form. While dental cavities are rare, with only around 5% of dogs affected with a cavity, it is a serious problem that should be watched for. No breed and neither sex are more likely to develop cavities, and cavities can develop at any age.

Cavities, also known as caries, is the term for infected areas of tooth decay caused by the loss of calcium in the enamel, or coating, of a tooth. While dental disease is an overwhelming problem in dogs and over 80% of dogs three and older are affected by a dental disease, tooth decay and cavities are extremely rare in dogs.

Cavities Average Cost

From 23 quotes ranging from $500 - $2,000

Average Cost

$800

Symptoms of Cavities in Dogs

The only symptoms are the visual appearance of cavities themselves, so it is important to examine regularly your dog’s teeth yourself and to bring your dog in for regular dental check ups. Cavities can form in teeth that are growing too close together (between teeth) and in pockets between the teeth and gums (at the root of the tooth). The most common site of cavities in dogs is the pit of both the top and bottom maxillary first molar because it features deep grooves in the surface and pits where the bottom molar meets the top tooth. When you hold your dog’s mouth open, the maxillary first molar is the second-to-last tooth in the back. The maxillary molars are the least sharp of your dog’s teeth and the ones most closely resembling human teeth.

Cavities in dogs look similar to human cavities and can be found in two different types:

  • Incipient cavities, or those about to form may be seen as a dull spot in the enamel.
  • Cavities already formed will appear as a structural defect on the surface of the tooth accompanied by an area of dark, decayed dentin (the layer just below the enamel).
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Causes of Cavities in Dogs

Oral hygiene is a constant homeostatic balance between the minerals in your dog’s tooth, enamel and the enzymes in your dog’s saliva, and the cause of cavities is retention of fermentable carbohydrates on the tooth surface, which leads to plaque and demineralization. Bacteria on the tooth surface ferments carbohydrates, causing demineralizing acids to develop and attack the tooth’s dentin and enamel. Eventually oral bacteria and white blood cells actually digest the tooth itself.

The development of cavities is caused by:

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Poor diet, high in fermentable carbohydrates—which can be very poor quality dog food, or excessive feeding of high-carb table scraps like bread
  • Poor overall health
  • Teeth formed abnormally close together
  • Gaps between the teeth and gums
  • Low salivary pH
  • Poorly mineralized tooth enamel

Because dental problems are so prevalent in dogs (even though cavities are not), all dogs can benefit from tooth brushing, special treats designed to clean teeth, and regularly chewing on tooth cleaning and strengthening toys. However, dogs with crowded teeth, gaps between teeth and gums carry a higher predisposition and an enhanced need for better oral hygiene. The above factors can be found in any dog; however, some small breeds and breeds with short faces are predisposed, such as:

  • Brussels Griffon
  • English Bulldog
  • French Bulldog
  • Shih Tzu
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Pug
  • Chihuahua
  • Pomeranian
  • Poodle (toy, miniature, and full)
  • Dachshund
  • Yorkshire Terrier
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Diagnosis of Cavities in Dogs

Diagnosis will require a thorough dental exam, very similar to your trip to the dentist and involving visual exploration as well as tapping on possible cavities with a sharp instrument in order to see if the area remains hard or yields. An x-ray will also be taken in order to determine the extent of the cavity. Cavities may accompany other dental issues, and the veterinarian will further examine for periodontal disease (gum disease) or fractured teeth. Cavities will be diagnosed according to the following schedule:

  • Stage 1

    : Only enamel affected

  • Stage 2

    : Enamel and dentin affected

  • Stage 3

    : Enamel, dentin, and pulp chamber affected

  • Stage 4

    : Structural crown damage

  • Stage 5

    : Majority of crown lost, roots exposed

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Treatment of Cavities in Dogs

Treatment of cavities will depend upon the stage. If you have caught a cavity before it has developed, the veterinarian may use a fluoride varnish or fluoride bonding agent in order to protect the tooth from cavity development. These cases are considered reversible, as the fluoride will encourage remineralization of the tooth until it can restore itself.

However, if a cavity or cavities have already formed, the case is considered irreversible, and treatment will depend upon the progression:

Stage 1 and 2

In the first two stages, the carious dentin and enamel surrounding it will be removed, and the crown will be restored with an amalgam filling.

Stage 3

Stage 3 cavities may be endodontic disease, in which a tooth dies as a result of blood being prevented from entering the root canal. This will be treated by a root canal, which involves removal of the diseased pulpal tissue, disinfecting and scrubbing of the root canal, filling of the root canal with inert material and the restoration and sealing of the crown. There may be cause to treat gum disease before it spreads to the bone. This will be done by treating the gum tissue itself through cleaning, rinsing, and reattaching to the tooth and root.

Stage 4 and 5

Stage 4 and 5 cavities will likely necessitate the total removal of the tooth, and a sealant may be used on surrounding teeth in order to ensure further cavities do not form. There may be cause to treat gum disease, which may have already spread to the bone. Depending upon the extent, estimated duration, and area of the bone loss, the veterinarian may open the gum flap, clean the diseased tissue and reattach it, or may remove the diseased tissue and then utilize therapy to encourage new gum tissue.

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Recovery of Cavities in Dogs

If a tooth has been removed, you will need to schedule a follow-up appointment. In any case, be sure to monitor the affected tooth or teeth yourself in order to watch for abnormalities, in addition to getting in the habit of regularly checking your dog’s oral health. Get to know your dog’s mouth, and in addition to checking the affected area, keep an eye on your dog’s entire mouth and watch for changes. Get in a regular habit, checking your dog’s mouth at the same time every week. The veterinarian will likely prescribe brushing with dog-specific toothpaste, and tooth-strengthening or cleaning toys and treats. Additionally, discuss your dog’s diet prior to developing cavities in order to seek the veterinarian’s advice and make sure you are adhering to a diet for your dog that ensures optimal dental health.

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Cavities Average Cost

From 23 quotes ranging from $500 - $2,000

Average Cost

$800

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Cavities Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Chihuahua

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Six Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Teeth

Can someone help me with my 6 year old chihuahuas teeth? With some advice or products? I’m devastated. As a dog mom my chihuahua goes everywhere with me. He’s always groomed, walked, given anything he wants and yet I never once realized teeth would be an issue until someone mentioned it today and it scared me. I looked at his teeth and he has all of them but they’re browning at the top. I don’t want him to lose his teeth. I don’t know if he’s in pain. I’m devastated. I want to solve this issue before it becomes terrible and he loses all of his teeth.

Nov. 11, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello, Most chihuahuas have dental issues. Your vet can clean their teeth just like you get done at your dentists. You can also try to brush his teeth at home with a toothbrush and doggie toothpaste. There are also dental chews that you can get at the pet store that will also help.

Nov. 11, 2020

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Luna

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Border collie lab

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2 Years

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Mild severity

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1 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Cavity
Black Tooth Spot

I have a border collie lab mix who is two and we just noticed a black spot on her back upper molar.Its in one of the grooves of her teeth. The black area seemed soft-ish. Is it urgent to get this fixed or can it wait a bit? She is eating normally and it doesn't seem to bother her.

Aug. 12, 2018

Luna's Owner

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1 Recommendations

You can wait a little while if it isn’t causing any issues yet, but I wouldn’t leave it months and months before getting to checked by your Veterinarian; when the cavity starts it is easier to fill or just to have the tooth pulled. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 13, 2018

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Cookie

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Poodle

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4 Years

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Mild severity

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1 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Teeth Black Near Gums

I asked a question yesterday about my dog Cookie-- I think I need to clarify, the color change and dark stains were on his teeth, not his gums. His teeth were black right by the gums. I used to brush his teeth and give him dental treats very often when he was little but the frequency of both has gone down in the past year. The last reply I got stated that it might just be tartar buildup, and that color change in gums may be normal. Should I still be concerned?

July 23, 2018

Cookie's Owner

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1 Recommendations

Without examining Cookie’s teeth and doing a little scrape (like when you visit the Dentist) I cannot say for certain whether they are cavities, tartar build up or something else but the presence of cavities is not unusual to be found on a dog Cookie’s age and you may find some examples of cavities in the images linked below. Regular dental cleaning and checks by your Veterinarian are important in order to maintain healthy gums and teeth; you should visit your Veterinarian for an examination to confirm the presence of cavities and to discuss treatment. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.vgl.ucdavis.edu/services/images/FEHaffected.png http://files.dvm360.com/alfresco_images/DVM360//2013/11/11/bdad26f0-d04a-4133-bb04-e66a47155d5a/beckman1_1012_450.jpg www.ahna.net/sites/default/files/p1060013.jpg www.embracepetinsurance.com/images/water-bowl/dog-cavity.jpg https://iheartdogs.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/periodontaldz.jpg

July 24, 2018

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Cookie

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Poodle mix

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4 Years

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Mild severity

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1 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Dark Spots On Teeth

I just noticed my dogs teeth are getting dark spots. Some of them have brown spots and there is a black line where his canines and gums meet. The gum right next to the teeth also seems to be a little more puffy and pink than normal. Is he getting cavities? I used to brush his teeth very often when he was very little, and he's also eaten dental treats before bed but the frequency of both have gone down in the past year.

July 23, 2018

Cookie's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Cookie may be having a normal pigment change in his gums, but he may be having some tartar building up, especially if you have decreased the frequency of brushing his teeth. Puffy gums can be a sign of gingivitis. It would be a good idea to have him examined by a veterinarian, as I cannot see his mouth, to see if he has a mild problem or if his teeth need medical attention.

July 23, 2018

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Lilly

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Shih-Tzu

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5 Months

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Tooth Decay

I'm worried about my 5 month puppy. At first, I'm curious why she's bad breath and upon checking her mouth I found out that she has two decaying premolars. I don't know if it's her permanent or baby teeth. Will it shed by itself or it should be extracted by a vet? Please help me. She's just 5 months old. Thank you in advance!

June 1, 2018

Lilly's Owner

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1 Recommendations

Adult premolars generally erupt at four to six months, so if Lilly’s are decaying already something more serious is going on; you should visit your Veterinarian for an examination since a puppy shouldn’t be having decaying teeth at this age regardless of whether they are adult teeth or puppy teeth. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

June 2, 2018

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Cooper

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Cockeranian

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1 Year

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Licking

I am not sure if this is a dental issue or not. My Cockeranian this morning kept acting like there was something in this mouth, licking the air. I tried to do a finger sweep numerous times and am unable to locate anything in his mouth. Later I fed him a soft treat and he ate it a little funny, but no problem. I read that licking the air can indicate dental issues. He still has his top and bottom baby canines as well as adults on the left side of his mouth. In between the top two canines it looks as if there is some gunk or tartar. I tried to remove it with his tooth brush, but it seems very uncomfortable for him, but he doesn’t care for teeth brushing anyways. He is 1 year and 8 months and normally eats the Dog Chow Little Bits and loves to eat Minties Dental Chews and also eats the Nudges Soft Baked Treats.

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Maggie

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Pomeranian

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2 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Black Spot On Tooth

Maggie has had bad breath for a little while she’s only 2 1/2 I feed her Dentyne dog chewy treats and she has lots of goat ears to chew on as those are her favorite. She is on Stella and chews dehydrated turkey diet which I change up between beef and chicken also. It is a soft food its activated by adding boiling water. I am wondering if her food could be causing cavities? She still eats and seems fine. But curious if this black spot is a cavity? I didn’t think this would be possible to get with her being so young. Is this a cavity? And should I be getting this looked into? Is her food a problem? It is expensive, but wonder if I should be feeding her hard kibbles and not so much soft food?

Cavities Average Cost

From 23 quotes ranging from $500 - $2,000

Average Cost

$800

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