True bacterial cavities (called caries) are fairly rare in animal patients, but they do occur in dogs. The breed that is most often affected is the German Shepherd dog, although any breed can develop cavities. The most common area of the mouth for cavities to occur is on the flat, top surface of the molar teeth, but they can occur anywhere.
A cavity will appear as a dark brown to black discoloration on the pet's tooth surface. Tooth staining secondary to wear can look like this as well, although this tends to be lighter in color. If you see dark staining on your pet’s teeth, or if your veterinarian has diagnosed a “cavity”, an exam and consultation by one of our veterinarian dentists is very important. We can determine if it is truly a cavity and recommend the appropriate and best treatment for your pet. Wear spots that do not involve the root canal are generally not treated. Treatment of bacterial cavities in pets is similar to the fillings performed for humans.
The best way to diagnose a cavity is by feel. A sharp explorer when placed into a true cavity will stick and resist removal. In contrast, a worn area of tooth will typically not allow any sticking at all. Dental x-rays of the area are also important to ensure that the root canal system is not infected.
The veterinarian will start by taking a dental radiograph to determine if the tooth is endodontically involved. If this were the case, then root canal therapy is necessary prior to doing the restorative procedure (filling). If the tooth appears vital, the veterinarian prepares the tooth for the filling which is done with a dental drill (like in humans). This is done by first outlining the edges of the future restorative, and then removing all the diseased tooth structure. The veterinary dentist will then place the filling. Currently we are using only non-toxic resin based composite (white) fillings. If the tooth is severely diseased or endodontic (root canal) therapy is not an option, then extraction should be considered.