This article was updated on August 13th, 2023
If you look into your dog’s mouth and examine their teeth, you might be concerned if you see black spots on them. There are a number of reasons that a dog may have black spots on their teeth. Cavities (dental caries) are possible but are much less common in dogs compared to humans. More commonly, you are seeing discolored tartar, attrition, and abrasion, or pulpitis. Let’s review the top causes, with pictures:
1. Discolored tartar can turn black
When your dog eats, the food mixes with bacteria that are found in the mouth and forms a sticky film known as plaque. With time, the plaque hardens and becomes tartar. Because dogs rarely brush their teeth in a timely fashion, tartar buildup can occur quite rapidly in some dogs. Tartar can cause black spots on the crown of the teeth and needs to be removed during a professional dental cleaning with your veterinarian.
2. Abrasion can create black spots
Dogs that chew on inanimate objects often (toys, balls, bones, fences, cages) or who play games such as fetch with balls or frisbees, are likely to have signs of abrasion on their teeth.
Abrasion of your dog’s teeth is a wearing down of the top layer of the tooth, the enamel. The teeth affected will become shorter and often flat on top, and there will be a small black spot in the center where the pulp cavity is exposed. The pulp cavity contains the inner components of the tooth, the nerve, and the blood vessels. “Attrition” is the same condition, but is caused by the teeth contacting each other in the mouth.
3. Pulpitis can result in tooth discoloration (including black spots)
If the tooth itself has an area of discoloration, the dog may have injured the tooth, and the pulp inside is severely damaged or dying. This is an extremely painful condition and should be addressed as soon as possible. These teeth may turn black just at the tip, or the entire tooth may be affected.
A root canal with crown restoration is the preferred treatment option, but extracting the tooth is curative as well. These teeth are dead and, if left untreated, can be a source of chronic mouth pain as well as a site for abscess formation.
4. Cavities (dental caries)
Cavities are possible in dogs, though due to their relatively sugar free diet and lack of flat occlusal surfaces, they are rare. Cavities occur when the enamel on the outside of the tooth is worn away or has an erosion in it due to bacterial invasion.
Though sugar itself isn’t causing the cavities, it feeds and allows the bacteria that cause cavities to proliferate on the teeth. If your dog eats human food with sugar in it (cookies, cakes, bread), they are more prone to cavities.
A cavity will need to be assessed by your dog’s veterinarian. Treatment consists of removing the damaged area of the tooth and then placing a filling. In some cases, the entire tooth will require extraction.
Care for dog’s teeth with black spots
Dogs are, of course, unable to speak and therefore are unable to tell us when they are in pain. A dog can have a very diseased and painful tooth and show no outward signs. In severe cases of dental disease, the owner may see a reluctance to eat hard food, dropping food from the mouth, and drooling. However, I am constantly amazed by the level of dental disease some dogs deal with without showing signs. This does not mean they are not in pain!
Diagnosis and treatment of black spots on dog teeth
Dental disease is extremely common in dogs, and by the time they are 3 years old, about 75-80% of dogs will be suffering from periodontal disease. If you notice black spots on your dog’s teeth, you should make an appointment for them with your veterinarian as soon as possible.
To diagnose and treat the issue, your dog may require a dental cleaning and exam, with dental x-rays, under general anesthesia. At this time, your veterinarian may be able to treat the tooth, or they may refer you to a board-certified veterinary dentist.
Learn more about common dog teeth problems (with pictures).