Do animals get cavities? Yes they do, but not very often in the dog. This is due to the lack of sweets in their diet, and the different pH of the saliva in the mouth, as well as the wide spacing of the teeth that results in a decrease of decaying food substances being trapped between the teeth.
The shape of almost all of the teeth in the dog’s and more so in the cat’s mouth are pointed for the purpose of shearing their food. As a result, the self-cleaning mechanisms remove almost all of the food debris except from the upper, outside surfaces of the teeth. When a cavity does occur, usually to the occlusal surfaces of the lower first molars, the smooth enamel surface becomes “tacky” and thus is much more likely to accumulate food particles. Once the 1-2 millimeter thick enamel has been eroded away the soft dentin beneath will become exposed. The dentin is where the nerves of the pulp chamber communicate through a series of tubes. When this occurs the pain we know as a toothache arrives.
If a cavity is discovered early enough, that is before it penetrates into the pulp tissue, then it can be restored with a composite or amalgam filling. These are the only substances presently hard enough to withstand the great amount of pressure that exists in the dogs mouth. Careful monitoring in the future will be necessary for these individuals.
Cat’s get “cavities” much more often (as much as 20% of the population) than dog’s. Cats have a special problem since their “cavities” usually form at the neck of the tooth. In this case the erosion is much more difficult to see because it lies just below the gumline. In addition, because the cementum is softer than enamel it takes much less time for the cavity to penetrate into the pulp than going through the enamel. If left unchecked the erosion can reach the pulp and destroy the tooth before you may be aware of it. If this occurs then extraction is the option of choice in most cases.
As a means of adaptation for survival purposes neither the cat nor dog will typically show any visible evidence of pain or weakness when a cavity occurs, otherwise they would likely end up as some predators next meal. This does not mean, however, that they are not in pain when a cavity occurs— they definitely are in pain! If you are not convinced they are in pain just try gently touching that area and observe the response. Ouch!!! While national Pet Dental month is over at the end of Feburary, please don’t ignore your four footed friends dental health care needs.