Question: I know people who brush their dogs teeth, but when it comes down to it, how important is keeping my dog’s teeth cleaned?
Answer: The short answer is: It’s pretty important.
Most of us have encountered a dog with really bad breath. The cause of this is always some level of periodontal disease, which ultimately can cause some serious health issues for your dog, just like it can for us. Untreated dental disease not only causes tooth loss, it can lead to painful abscesses and systemic infections throughout your dog’s body. Bacteria from bad teeth winds up in Fluffy’s bloodstream and can affect her organs in a dire way.
Every tissue and organ that has a blood supply – the lungs, the brain, the heart, her muscles, etc. – is potentially at risk from bacterial infection spread by blood. If tooth bacteria in her bloodstream gains access to her heart, this can be a serious problem. A condition known as “bacterial endocarditis” (infection of the heart valves) can ensue and is usually fatal.
Additionally, if a dog has periodontal disease, over time, the bacteria in her saliva will produce toxins that are easily ingested when she swallows. This again becomes a systemic issue and certainly shortens her life. So many dog owners don’t pay too much attention to their dog’s dental health.
This is why I can usually make a pretty good guess on your dog’s age by looking at her teeth. The first signs of potential oral problems start with plaque. Next comes tartar, which is a calcified deposit on her gum line. It’s usually brownish. Left unattended, this leads to decay. The next step in your dog’s deteriorating dental health, is gingivitis, meaning inflammation of the gums. Things go downhill from here.
So how do we head this off? I think it’s important to have kibble in your dog’s diet and also things to chew on that can aid in keeping the plaque and tartar down. Bully sticks, pigs ears, bones, rope toys and hooves are good for this. Most dogs who have lost teeth commonly have been on largely wet and canned dog food, but wolves and wild dogs typically don’t lose teeth. That’s because they have tons of roughage in their diet. Fur, feathers, bones and various plants.
Finally, it’s not a bad idea to brush Fluffy’s teeth periodically. You can get her used to the idea by briefly rubbing her teeth gently with your finger for a few days. After that, you can graduate to a finger brush from the pet store, and later a doggie toothbrush. You can find dog toothpaste at the pet store. (Human toothpaste is bad for your dog.)
They also make doggie dental wipes. In the beginning, keep the tooth brushing sessions brief and upbeat, with plenty of positive feedback. Many times a dog will come to enjoy having their teeth brushed.
I would caution against products you add to your dog’s water to help with dental health. These almost always have negative health repercussions. On the other hand, there are holistic products that you spray in your dog’s mouth that balance your dog’s oral chemistry, helping to keep her teeth clean.
Conversely, products that kill bacteria have an antibiotic action that can damage your dog’s oral environment. If your dog is a little older and her teeth are already loaded up with tartar, more than likely your vet will have to do a cleaning. Afterward, to maintain her oral health, you can start on the routine I prescribed above.
Cleaning Fluffy’s teeth two or three times a week, I know, seems like a headache. But if it adds three years to her life, wouldn’t it be worth it?