Protecting your dog’s teeth

Protecting your dog's teeth

Dental care is crucial for your dog’s health but a decade ago, canine dental options were limited. Today, you can choose from a variety of solutions to keep your dog’s teeth and gums healthy.

Even though your dog’s mouth looks very different from yours, canine dental diseases are similar to those that afflict humans, and we often share the same bacterial populations. Plaque induced disease is the main reason dogs lose teeth, and is the primary cause of systemic illness in dogs as well as people. Chronic dental disease is a smouldering low grade inflammatory illness that affects the whole body through the release of cytokines that can impact the joints, heart, kidneys, liver and spleen.

The good news is that you can prevent conditions such as caries, plaque, calculus, gingivitis and periodontal disease – all you need is a little commitment. The best way to encourage dental health is through home dental care and diet. Veterinary intervention is also crucial for picking up poor dental health early on. The general recommendation is to have your dog’s teeth professionally cleaned every 12 to 18 months if the teeth are healthy, and every six to 12 months if there is ongoing dental disease.

Brushing his teeth

Tooth brushing is important for dental hygiene but not always easy to perform. Starting a dog at a young age and in a relaxed manner is ideal, but an older animal can be trained to accept brushing if it’s done correctly and without stress and anxiety. If the dog insists on biting your fingers, then an alternative needs to be considered. Bites from dogs with plaque disease can result in serious infections in humans. Begin with a soft bristled toothbrush. It can be a small child’s brush or one provided by your veterinarian. Apply an appropriate toothpaste, angle the bristles 45º to the gum line and brush in a gentle circular motion.

Hand in glove

Instead of a brush, you can consider a toothbrush glove. Often made of rubber or some other soft, waterproof material, these gloves fit over the hand or sometimes just one finger, and feature soft spikes that can be used to gently clean your animal’s teeth and gums by removing food debris and plaque. Many people prefer gloves to toothbrushes because they’re literally more “hands-on” and are easier to use with some animals.

Just add water

Animal care companies have been hard at work formulating no-brush products that are easy for people to use at home on their own. A number of these products can be added to your dog’s water dish, and contain enzymes or essential oils, which help break down food films before they can turn into plaque. The products usually involve adding a capful of liquid to water more frequently for the first four to six weeks to help break down existing plaque, and then less frequently once you switch to a maintenance dosage.

Spray AWAY!

Herbal spray products can help reduce plaque-forming bacterial populations. The formulas mix with the dog’s saliva to soften and loosen tartar from teeth, and control plaque. Just open your dog’s mouth and spray directly on the tongue.

Meat and bones

For good dental health, try a raw meat, ground bone and vegetable fibre diet. The addition of soft young bones allows your dog to use his teeth the way they were designed to be used, and aids in keeping them clean and healthy. This diet, on its own, can prevent dental disease. You should consult your veterinarian first.

Bones need to be introduced under your supervision. They should be immature bones from lamb or chicken feet to prevent choking or breakage of the larger back molars. (You can get these from a trusted butcher.) Leave some meat on the bone. I often advise people to boil water and submerge the meaty bone for five to ten seconds before feeding. This kills off some bacteria without changing the protein matrix of the bone. Make sure you always supervise your dog with bones.

Pass the paste

A number of veterinary dental pastes are available. Some include enzymes to dissolve plaque and are often flavoured with poultry, beef or malt, which makes them more acceptable to the dog.

Avoid human toothpaste. Most contain xylitol, which helps control bacteria but can be toxic to dogs. There is also too much fluoride – a toxic halogen – in human toothpastes.

After brushing, open a capsule of a high quality probiotic containing lactobacillus. Place some on your finger and rub the gums. This may provide some normal flora to compete with the plaque promoting bacteria, and reduce their numbers.

If your dog’s teeth are clean and healthy, you can brush them three times a week. If there is dental disease, daily brushing is recommended.

Make your own toothpaste

You can make your paste from baking soda, a 50:50 dilution of 3% hydrogen peroxide with water, and a drop of essential oil such as lavender, eucalyptus or rosemary (the label should be marked “For internal use”). For a flavour your dog will love , try adding a few drops of concentrated beef stock or the water from a can of fish.

This paste addresses the acidic pH and bacterial population, and provides some oxygen to the anaerobic environment under the plaque and gum line. Taking a well-rounded approach to your dog’s dental health will help ensure his teeth and gums stay in good condition for years to come. It’ll add immeasurably to his well being and quality of life.

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Dr. Cindy Kneebone received her DVM from the Ontario Veterinary College. She received diplomas in homeopathy from the British Institute of Homeopathy; in Chinese herbal medicine from Huang Di College of Traditional Chinese Medicine; and in veterinary acupuncture at the Michener Institute. She is certified with the IVAS. Dr. Kneebone practices at the East York Animal Clinic in Toronto.