I wish there was a magic pill to make me lose weight! What does this have to do with dental health, you ask? Well, unfortunately there is no magic kibble that will make your dog’s teeth clean and sparkly! It takes both work and a healthy diet to have a fit body and a fit mouth.
Without proper dental care, most dogs already have gum disease by the age of 3! This is one of the few conditions that as pet parents, we can prevent.
Brushing and caring for your dog’s teeth not only gets rid of bad breath, but actually prevents many serious health issues. Bacteria that builds up along the gum line can spread from simple inflammation of gum tissue (gingivitis) to destruction of the tissues that support the tooth and the surrounding bone (periodontal disease). This is not just a cosmetic problem. Once the bacteria get under the gum line, it can circulate to internal organs like the heart, lungs and kidneys.
The bacteria that live in the mouth form a film on the surface of the teeth. This sticky film attracts minerals from the saliva to produce plaque or tarter. The hard tarter lifts the gum and allows even more places for the bacteria to grow leading to pockets of infection. To make matters worse, these bacteria also produce toxins which further damage the tooth and bone and can enter the bloodstream too.
Not only does regular brushing prevent this growing problem, it also gives you the opportunity to check your dog’s mouth for other issues like growths or cysts. Malignancies can be aggressive and spread beyond the tooth to the liver, lung or brain. They can extend to the nose, eye or jaw. Naturally, the earlier we can see these changes, the better. If you are caring for your dog’s mouth on a regular basis, you can notice subtle changes and respond before things get out of hand.
So how do you care for your dog’s mouth? The first step is to remove the sticky film from the surface of the teeth. This has to be done on a daily basis.
It’s always a good idea to start as early as possible with your puppy to get him used to his mouth being touched. Trying to get a puppy to stay still can be a challenge, but you don’t have to clamp her down. Just slowly and patiently lift the lips and put your finger in her mouth. Give lots of praise! Once she has become accustomed to this, you can use a dental wipe or finger brush. Eventually, introduce a baby, soft bristled toothbrush. Never force the jaw open. All you need to do is lift the lip to expose the teeth. Start with the upper, back teeth and gently rub along the tooth-gum line. Work your way forward, always giving lots of praise. Trust is the key. The same approach is true for older dogs too.
Do not use toothpastes designed for people. They contain artificial sweeteners and additives that your dog cannot spit out. I personally only use a brush, but a small amount of baking soda or a canine toothpaste can also be used.
In an older dog with existing periodontal disease, do not attempt to brush a very dirty mouth. This can spread bacteria. If your dog has advanced gum disease, a professional de-scaling is needed. Yes, he will have to have a general anesthetic but discuss the risks with your veterinarian. Afterwards, you can start your daily dental routine.
Several factors contribute to dental disease: age, breed, genetics, chewing behavior, general health status and diet. Please be aware that kibble does not clean teeth! You wouldn’t eat crackers to clean your teeth, neither should your dog!
There are several natural ways to help.
Dry dog food contributes to poor dental health. Moisture in the mouth helps wash away bacteria.
Keep lots of fresh, clean water available at all times and make sure the water and food bowls are washed daily. Even bacteria on these bowls can contribute to poor dental health.
Want to provide a healthy treat? Raw vegetables and fruits are great sources of vitamins and minerals and keep the teeth clean. Try raw pieces of apples, broccoli, carrots, Brussel sprouts and my dogs love the ends of asparagus!
Your pantry is full of herbs that also provide teeth cleaning ability. Sprinkle some parsley, oregano, basil or sage onto a whole food based diet. Herbs act as effective germicides.
My mother always liked to add fresh cheese and yogurt to our dogs’ diets. She didn’t know that these help keep the mouth at a healthy pH and reduce the numbers of unwanted bacteria.
Knowledge is power. If your dog is off her food, is pawing his mouth or has stinky breath, take a good look at his mouth. With a little work, patience and change in diet, you can help your best friend give lots of slurpy kisses for a long, long time.