Ask The Dentist: 'Do My Pets Get Cavities?'
Have you ever wondered why, despite all the dental care you receive throughout life, it’s still possible for you to end up with cavities, while your pet (who has never been to a dentist), doesn’t seem to have a single tooth concern whatsoever? Well, the truth is, your pets can and do get cavities, but in far lesser a number than humans. Sharks, on the other hand, never get cavities, and are in a whole league of their own. Want to know why?
There are three big reasons why our furry little friends are able to avoid the drill: diet, the type of bacteria that lives in their mouth, and their proximity to veterinary dental care. Let’s take a look at how this plays out:
1) Diet: Choice is a wonderful thing. Especially when it comes to the food we choose to eat each day. And, truth be told, most of us are hardly mindful of our teeth when doing so. Just ask people what they’d prefer for dinner tonight to find out. Most will end up asking for pizza, burgers, ribs, and cereal – all of which come with a wallop of sugar. Or, carbohydrates more specifically. And we all know that sugar is no good for our teeth, right?
Your pet, on the other hand, doesn’t have the luxury of choice. The result is a diet tailored to their health, with very low levels of fermentable carbohydrates. And a diet low in sugar means healthier teeth. Some pets, of course, do get cavities (maybe the table-scrappers), but the numbers are very low – somewhere around five percent. So, diet is the number one reason. In fact, if you think about it, even without the option of choosing their own dinner, pets might have it better than us! Seriously. Pets, in a sense, have a personal nutritionist in the form of the pet food companies, who whip up a meal in a can for them specifically designed to cater to their health needs. Then you do the shopping for them, serve it, and do the dirty work of cleaning up afterward. What a deal!
2) Their Bacterial Microsystem: The other big reason pets tend to live their life cavity-free (which you’ll see goes hand-in-hand with diet), has to do with the types of bacteria that set up home in a pet’s mouth. Just like a human’s, your pet’s mouth is teeming with bacteria – some good and some bad. In humans and animals, the main cavity-causing culprit is a bacterium known as Streptococcus mutans. But because animals aren’t consuming a lot of carbohydrates, their mouths aren’t inundated with this specific bacterium. The result, then, is fewer cavities. They do, on the other hand, have a higher volume of Porphyromonas, a family of bacteria responsible for causing gingivitis and periodontal disease. Why do they have more of this type of bacteria in their mouth than humans? Because they’re not brushing. Which leads us to the “dentist.”
3) Doggie Dental: Frankly speaking, pet owners don’t really plan for their animal’s oral health because it rarely comes up in veterinary care. Most vets don’t have the equipment or the expertise to fill cavities, and so a watch and wait approach is often employed. Unfortunately for most animals, cavities tend to progress to a point where your only warning comes when a doctor recommends extraction because of inflammation surrounding a tooth. Because of this, our vets aren’t usually speaking with us about cavities; they’re speaking about infected teeth – which blinds us to the real reason for the required surgery, reinforcing the belief that pets don’t get cavities. Dental care for pets is only now starting to gain some momentum, so if you have a vet who is bringing it up to you, you should thank them for their attention to your pet’s health. Also, be on the lookout for bad breath in your pet. They shouldn’t really have a foul mouth.
How You Can Help
Now that you understand your pet is set up pretty well to avoid cavities because of the diet you so kindly supply to them, the real question is how to help them avoid gum disease. And the answer is as simple as it is for humans: regular teeth cleaning, either by the vet, the groomer, or by you at home. Ask your vet for advice at your next visit, or give them a ring today.
Lastly, we promised a little tidbit about sharks and their teeth … wanna’ know their secret for avoiding cavities? Would you believe, fluoride? Yes, indeed. It turns out that a shark’s teeth are covered in a shell of 100% fluoride – how’s that for cool?