Importance of dog dental health

Dental health is important for all dogs. A wholesome meaty diet along with energetic balancing are two effective ways to help treat and prevent periodontal disease.

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. Conditions such as caries, plaque, calculus, gingivitis and periodontal disease are preventable in both species — but that prevention requires commitment.

Plaque-induced disease is the main cause of tooth loss and systemic illness in dogs as well as people. Chronic dental disease is a smoldering low grade inflammatory illness that affects the whole body through the release of cytokines that can affect the joints, heart, kidneys, liver and spleen.

Healthy salivary pH in the dog varies from 7.34 to 7.8. Plaque and calculus form on the tooth surface through interactions between saliva, food and oral bacteria. The formation of plaque is called a biofilm disease, something that’s been studied extensively in humans but has only been recently recognized and studied in animals. This bacterial biofilm allows for the buildup of tartar on the tooth and under the gum or gingival area, and results in a local alteration of the pH toward an acidic, oxygen-depleted environment.

The best way to encourage dental health is through brushing 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.

Open wide

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. The first case of human pasteurellosis came from a dog bite.

Begin with a soft bristled toothbrush. It can be a small child’s brush or one provided by your veterinarian. You can also use a clean sponge as long as it has not been impregnated with cleaning agents. Apply an appropriate dentifrice, angle the bristles 45º to the gum line and brush in a gentle circular motion.

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. My favorite natural dentifrice is a paste made 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. You can also add 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. Aerobic oxygen products can be used in place of hydrogen peroxide – they are designed to provide stable oxygen attached to a chlorine molecule.

Avoid human toothpaste. Although there are some excellent toothpastes containing lactoferrin, which is very beneficial to gum health, xylitol is added to most of them because it helps control bacteria. Xylitol can be toxic to dogs, affecting the liver and causing a drop in blood glucose. 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.

Alternatives to brushing

If used daily, dental spray or gel products can help reduce plaque-forming bacterial populations. Using a concentrated solution of green tea as a mouthwash has been shown to reduce bacteria. It also contains catechins and polyphenols, antioxidants that improve gum health.

Meat and bones

For good dental health, try a raw meat, ground bone and vegetable fiber 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.

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. 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.

Natural therapies

Although the following therapies have not been studied, they are used by many integrative veterinarians to help control or treat dental disease. Work with a veterinarian who is trained and experienced in these types of therapy, so you can ensure correct use and dosages.

• The complete 12 Schuessler tissue salts are used to encourage proper tooth maturation and calcification. You can use an individual salt but I prefer to use them all so the body has access to all the physiological mineral elements required for tooth building.

• Homeopathy can play a big role in easing dental problems. Use the remedy three or more times a day. If the gums are bleeding, dose every few minutes and stop once the bleeding stops.

  • Dental abscesses may respond to Hepar Sulf, Pyrogenium, Thiosinamonum, Silica and Gun Powder.
  • Try Mercurius Solubilis if there’s a foul odour coming from the mouth.
  • Red, inflamed or bleeding gums may respond to Arsenicum Album or Phosphorus.
  • For painful teeth, try Aconite, Belladonna, Bryonia Chamomile or Hypericum.

• Natural herbal washes applied with a cotton ball are my preferred antibacterial therapies. These are very important because antibiotic resistance is increasing around the world and is known to develop quickly in a biofilm disease. Herbs such as coptis, neem, fennel and chamomile can be applied to a cotton ball in a dilution of one to two drops of herbal to 50 drops of water, and dabbed on sore gums. Honey is also an effective antimicrobial. These herbals must be used several times daily to be effective.

• The following antioxidants have been found helpful for gingival disease in humans, and although studies have not yet been done in animals, they can be used for dogs as well.

  • Vitamin C (such as the scorbatate form) can improve collagen production for improved gum health.
  • Cracked cell wall chlorophyll can help clean the mouth and reduce odors.
  • Coenzyme Q 10 reduces gingival disease in a number of human studies and can benefit dogs as well.

• Crab Apple is a Bach Flower remedy that can cleanse the teeth. Dilute it with water and apply it with a cotton ball to reduce plaque-forming bacteria.

Taking a well-rounded approach to your dog’s dental health will help ensure his teeth and gums stay in good condition throughout his life. It’ll add immeasurably to his well being and quality of life.

Previous articleGoathouse Refuge for cats
Next articleWhat to do when you find a lost dog
After completing an Herbalist diploma, Dr. Kneebone attended the Ontario Veterinary College. Upon graduation in 1981 she turned her focus towards natural medicine, and subsequently obtained diplomas in Homeopathy, Chinese Herbal Medicine and Veterinary Acupuncture. She is certified with the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society and is also a certified Ozone Therapist and member of The American Academy of Ozonotherapy. Dr. Kneebone has been with East York Animal Clinic in Toronto, Ontario since 1998.