Some dogs are lucky enough to have almost no dental disease. Others, especially small ones, seem to be plagued by it. The more you do to prevent tooth and gum problems, including the use of dental health-supportive nutrients, the better off your dog’s oral and overall wellness will be.
Dental disease can cause pain and interfere with your dog’s ability to chew. But did you know it can also affect the rest of his body? Periodontal disease is a source of chronic inflammation, which in turn is associated with illnesses such as arthritis and cancer. It is also a constant source of infection, and can even infect the valves of the heart. It is easier and cheaper to prevent dental disease than to fight it once your dog’s teeth are compromised. The best way to do this is to know what’s going on in his mouth. The canine mouth differs in some ways from human mouths, but the end result of inadequate dental care is similar.
While human saliva tends to be acidic — which means it eats away at teeth and contributes to cavities — canine mouths are usually neutral or alkaline. In dogs, alkaline mouths contribute to a faster buildup of plaque (the soft stuff) and tartar (the hard stuff) than in humans. The bacteria that live in plaque and tartar contribute to gum disease. If there is enough plaque and tartar, they can change the mouth from alkaline to acidic; this means the dog’s mouth can experience the worst of both worlds, going from too alkaline to too acidic.
The hundreds of strains of bacteria in your dog’s mouth are mostly different from the bacteria in your own mouth. Bad bacteria in the mouth multiply especially fast when food remnants build up and create soft tartar. Starchy foods that stick to the teeth are a big problem, but any soft food that stays around the teeth is bad news. The bacteria that grow in those remnants produce a film that protects them from the immune system. Bacteria change as plaque or tartar buildup gets worse. Acid-producing bacteria increase in number at the gum line. Acid can dissolve calcium compounds, which isn’t good considering teeth are dense with calcium. The acid can eat away at the teeth, especially at their bases.
You can’t make your dog’s mouth sterile, but you can control plaque and tartar buildup by:
- Decreasing the amount of food remnants in the dog’s mouth
- Changing his mouth from acid or alkaline to neutral
- Decreasing the number of bad bacteria
- Decreasing inflammation
- Dissolving the film generated by the bacteria.
Nutrients that can be used to help fight dental disease
Antioxidants offer helpful anti-inflammatory action. They work best internally, not topically. Two of the best are vitamins E and C. Make sure you give your dog the type of C that also has bioflavonoids. Rose hips are a good source of both vitamin C and bioflavonoids. When it comes to vitamin E, 50 IU per day is plenty for a small dog. Vitamin C works better when used twice a day — 125 mg twice a day works well for that same small dog. These vitamins work best when both are given, not just one or the other.
Zinc is especially important for strong gums, and it can inhibit plaque – 0.5 mg per day is enough for a small dog, or 50 mg for a really big guy.
3. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is also important for healthy gums. Too much can cause problems, though, so it is often easiest to give your dog a food that’s high in A or beta carotene. Liver and fish oil have vitamin A, and carrots have a lot of beta carotene.
4. Fish oil
Fish oil itself can help with gum disease. It’s not just the vitamin A, but the two Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA – just 300 mg per day for a 10 lb dog is helpful for this and many other things, especially arthritis and cancer.
5. Folic acid
Folic acid can also help with gingivitis, at 200 mcg per day for a 10 lb dog.
6. Bromelain and papain
Bromelain and papain are two protein-dissolving enzymes that work to weaken the protective film in the plaque. Bromelain is found in pineapple juice. Papain comes from the papaya. Proteolytic enzyme capsules work best if applied right where they are needed — in the mouth. Open a capsule (not enteric-coated), mix the contents with water, and squirt it into your dog’s mouth on the areas you most commonly see plaque.