Canine Caries Prevention And Treatment Options

Caries, also called cavity or tooth decay, is a plaque-caused destruction of the hard tissues of the tooth. It starts as inorganic demineralization of the enamel, the white, compact and very hard substance covering and protecting the dentin. Dentin is hard portion of the tooth surrounding the pulp, covered by enamel on the crown and cementum on the root, which is readily abraded when left unprotected. Once the enamel has been destroyed, the process extends into the dentin. Caries is caused by a combination of genetic susceptibility, the presence of bacteria (usually Streptococcus mutans, other Streptococcus species, and Lactobacillus species) and an available source of fermentable carbohydrates. Caries can only develop in areas which can develop plaque and accommodate stagnant food particles.1,3

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Dogs and cats do not have serious problems with caries because most of their teeth are built for shearing and tearing rather than grinding. Unlike humans, they do not usually pack food between their teeth and the grinding surfaces of their molars have few pits and fissures that make it easy for bacteria to cling to the enamel and start a colony. Also, the average pH of the human saliva is 6.5, whereas the cat or dog saliva is 7.5, which discourages the growth of caries-causing bacteria. Another reason that dogs have few problems with caries is that the urea content of their saliva is significantly higher than that of the human saliva, so the teeth are constantly bathed in ammonium carbonate, an excellent acid-neutralizing agent. Moreover, Streptococcus mutans is not a common inhabitant of the canine mouth.1,3

Occasionally, caries occurs on grinding surfaces of the molar teeth and the sides of the teeth that face towards the adjacent teeth. Root surfaces also can develop caries. It looks like a dark brown or black spot in the enamel that covers a large cavern of decaying dentin. Diagnosed caries requires treatment. The options are tooth extraction or referral to a restoration specialist. If the process involves the pulp tissue carrying a tooth's nerve and blood supply, a special therapy prior to restoration is required.2 Fluoride treatment will not, of itself, stop caries lesions development. The causative agent, the microbial plaque, has to be removed. Frequent plaque removal, exclusion of easily fermentable carbohydrates (mostly sugar) from a dog's diet and frequent topical application of low concentration fluoride preparations will prevent caries and periodontal disease in most dogs.4 Daily brushing is invaluable in removing plaque and preventing calculus buildup. The ideal toothbrush for a dog should have soft bristles with rounded tip ends to minimize abrasion of the teeth and injury to the gums.5


  1. Johnny D. Hoskins. Geriatrics and gerontology of the dog and cat
  2. Cecilia Gorrel. Small animal dentistry
  3. Brook A. Niemiec. A Color Handbook of Small Animal Dental and Oral Maxillofacial Disease
  4. M. Eric Gershwin. Nutrition and immunology: principles and practice
  5. Cody W. Faerber, Cody W. Faerber, DVM, S. Mario Durrant, DVM,Jane Fishman Leon, DVM, S. Mario Durrant. Canine Medicine and Disease Prevention

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