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What is Caries Treatment?

A dental cavity, termed caries, is the erosion of the outer layers of the tooth caused by acid produced after carbohydrates have been digested by the regularly healthy bacteria found inside the canine mouth. If the cavity is caught early, the affected area can be cleaned out and filled to maintain the use of the tooth. However, if the cavity has eroded down to the root of the tooth, the affected tooth may require extraction or a root canal. Caries treatments that do not require extraction or alteration of the dental arcade are commonly handled by a member of the technical staff. However, true cavity/caries treatments for canines are reserved for veterinary dentists, specialists, or an in-clinic veterinarian. 

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Caries Treatment Procedure in Dogs

Prior to the treatment of cavities or caries, the veterinarian will request blood work including a CBC (complete blood cell count) and biochemistry profile to ensure the canine’s organs (specifically the kidneys) are working properly. He or she will also review the canine’s medical history for current medications and current illnesses that may interfere with the anesthetic needed for the procedure. On the day of the dental cleaning and repair, you will be asked to withhold food and water from your dog. Anesthesia often causes nausea and a full stomach may result in vomiting. 

A cavity can be noted with unusual eating habits, but is commonly found during a routine dental cleaning. Therefore, the veterinarian may fix the caries on the day it was detected with no pre-visit necessary. X-rays of the dog’s mouth are often required prior to treatment to know how severely the cavity has affected the tooth. 

Cavity Repair – No extraction

  • Intramuscular/intravenous pre-anesthetic sedative or mask gas anesthesia (less common)
  • Pre-operative pain medication and antibiotic (common) 
  • Monitor report of vital signs (heart rate, respiratory rate, capillary refill time) 
  • Placement of an esophageal tube 
  • Administration of oxygen 
  • Administration of gas anesthetic 
  • Monitor report of vital signs 
  • Placement of patient on dental table (warm blankets maintain bodily temperature during the procedure) 
  • Teeth will be cleaned
  • Antiseptic oral cavity solution
  • Supragingival calculus removal using an ultrasonic scaler
  • Periodontal probing and charting 
  • Subgingival cleaning using a curettage dental tool 
  • Irrigation 
  • The cavity will be removed using a sonic drill 
  • A restorative material will be placed in the drill out area (amalgam, resin-based, gloss ionomer, or a combination of materials) 
  • A fluoride overcoat treatment may be placed over the teeth to strengthen the teeth and prevent future cavities. 

Cavity Repair – Extraction

In addition to the steps above, with the exception of a filler element, a dog will undergo the following in an extraction procedure:

  • Extraction of the affected tooth using extraction forceps and/or a dental elevator. 
  • The dental socket may require stitches (canine teeth) 
  • The area is packed with gauze to promote a blood clot to form

Efficacy of Caries Treatment in Dogs

Caries treatment for dogs is highly effective in attaining the overall goal, which is halting the erosion of the tooth surface. Corrective treatment of caries in dogs, drilling and filling the eroded area, will likely need a second treatment in the future. Whereas the removal of the tooth eliminates the problem completely, but is only required in severely staged caries.

Caries Treatment Recovery in Dogs

After the cavity has been corrected, the patient will be taken off of gas anesthetic and oxygen. The canine will be placed in a bedded kennel to wake up comfortably once the anesthetic has worn off. The patient will be allowed to return home approximately an hour following surgery. 

If the tooth was extracted, take-home medications likely include pain drugs and a broad spectrum antibiotic to prevent infection. The duration these medications are to be given lies dependent on the veterinarian’s judgment. For extraction treatment, a soft food diet or water/milk additive to the kibble will be required for the next couple days. You will also be asked to rinse the dog’s mouth out with an antiseptic solution to keep the dental socket clean. 

Cost of Caries Treatment in Dogs

The cost of canine cavity treatment greatly depends on where you have the dog treated, pre-treatment requirements, the cost of anesthesia and your dog’s specific needs. An average, a dental cleaning can cost between $50-$300 and dental filling or extraction could cost anywhere from $200-$700 or more.

Dog Caries Treatment Considerations

The risk of caries treatment is mainly in the use of anesthesia. Talk to your veterinarian about anesthesia usage and your dog. The veterinarian will calculate the anesthetic dosage and pre-sedative medication to meet your dog’s specific needs. Very young and older dogs will require specialized anesthetic treatment, as high dosage of anesthetic can be fatal. The benefits of a caries or cavity treatment is the saving of an affected tooth and/or preventing bacteria from reaching the blood supply inside each tooth. A condition called septicemia can occur if a cavity eats down to the inner root of the teeth and the live bacteria enter the bloodstream. Septicemia can make a canine very ill and is potentially life-threatening.

Caries Treatment Prevention in Dogs

Caries/cavities can be prevented through proper at-home dental care and routine dental cleanings. Ask your veterinarian about proper cleaning technique for your dog’s teeth to prevent plaque buildup and tartar that leads to cavities. Your dog’s diet can promote cavities, as dogs feed a soft food or raw diet have had a higher cavity report rate than those fed a kibble diet.