Dental disease is the most common medical problem in dogs. The high incidence of dental disease is important, but more significant is that your dog’s teeth affect his whole body. And your vet may not be making the connection between your dog’s teeth and other diseases.
So when your dog has dental disease, it can lead to much more serious health issues.
A proactive approach in choosing the right diet and supplements can make a big difference in keeping your dog’s teeth (and his whole body) healthy.
Your Dog’s Microbiome Begins In his Mouth
We know that the microbiome plays a critical role in maintaining a healthy immune system and regulating inflammation. And it supports digestion and gut health. But did you know that the microbiome in the oral cavity has a huge influence on your dog’s teeth? And thus ultimately on the health of the whole body too!
This explains why probiotics … and prebiotics … are now getting a lot of focus in medical research regarding oral health.
Let’s look at how to improve and keep your dog’s teeth healthy, starting with diet.
The Best Diet For Your Dog’s Teeth
Your dog’s dental health starts with his diet. It should contain species-appropriate ingredients along with probiotics and prebiotics which help to strengthen your dog’s oral health. And here’s why.
Ideally, your dog’s diet will be a balanced fresh food diet with a low carbohydrate/starch content. Dogs are not designed to eat high levels of carbohydrates like starchy root vegetables, tapioca (starch), peas, chickpeas, lentils, etc. Yet most pet foods in the marketplace have high percentages of these types of ingredients. In fact, “grain-free” varieties of dry kibble foods often include even higher levels of starch and carbohydrates than some of the comparison options.
Because starches metabolically break down into sugar, these types of diets can fuel more inflammation and imbalance in the body. As such, one of the major systems that are affected by imbalance is the body’s microbiome where 80% of your dog’s immune system is found.
Adding probiotics and prebiotics (1) to your dog’s diet is another way of supporting dental health. Your dog’s teeth and mouth are the entrance to the gastrointestinal tract. This is essentially the beginning of your dog’s microbiome and where you’ll establish a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria.
Meat products, fish, and eggs are part of a healthy diet and contain amino acids which will break down bacteria and glycolic acid which is a form of sugar … and that reduces dental disease even further.
And here’s what research says about using probiotics for oral health.
Probiotic Research And Oral Health
In efforts to find alternatives to antibiotics and avoid growing issues of antibiotic resistance, researchers are looking at the use of probiotics to achieve and maintain improved oral health.
The world health organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer benefits to the health of the host”.
Over the past decade, many studies have focused on examining the microbiome of the mouth, or oral cavity. According to this 2017 review (4) by the University of Jordan, numerous positive findings have been published regarding the preventative role of probiotics in the oral cavity.
One document shows that probiotics offer improvement in conventional periodontal treatment but that improvement ends when probiotic use stops. In this review (5), researchers RP Allaker et al examined studies that used probiotics in addition to clinical periodontal treatment. They saw a noticeable improvement in the status of those patients compared to the patients with clinical treatment alone. This supports the use of probiotics instead of antibiotics and could address the dilemma of antibiotic resistance.
In 2017, researchers co-authored a review (6) of 15 articles and studies using probiotics for preventive and therapeutic use in oral health and disease. Here are some of the conclusions supporting the use of probiotics in oral health management.
- A 3-month study in 2016 by the team of A Morales et al showed that when L. rhamnosus (a widely used probiotic) was used as a first step in periodontal therapy, there was the same improvement as surgical treatment alone. Follow-up was at 12 months.
- A study in 2015, by JK Lee et al, found that probiotics slowed the development of gingivitis when used in a 14-day protocol.
- In 2001, dairy products containing probiotics were used in a 7-month trial on 450 children by researchers L Nase et el. They found this could be an alternative to improve oral health in children.
Probiotics go hand in hand with diet and nutrition as preventive care to maintain your dog’s dental health. Let’s look at how to put these changes into action.
Why Kibble Is Bad For Your Dog’s Teeth
Diet and nutrition choices are paramount to overall health, and especially dental health. Although it’s a common myth that kibble is good for teeth, it’s just a myth. In fact, most kibble is too small to do any good. There’s just not enough chewing going on.
This myth comes from the belief that tartar is the best indicator of oral disease. However, it’s now known that gingivitis is a more accurate indicator of the level of oral infection. Feeding kibble doesn’t promote cleaner teeth at the gum line … where it really matters.
And there have been some interesting studies done that show that pathogenic bacteria thrive in a carbohydrate-rich environment like in the mouth. And kibble has a high carbohydrate content. In this 2019 study (7), researchers found that eating any type of carbohydrate resulted in reduced bone height in the jaws of mice. But protein had no effect.
They concluded that dietary carbohydrate had a negative effect on periodontal disease and the quantity of carbohydrate eaten had more impact than the type of carbohydrate (i.e. eating direct sugar vs other types of carbohydrate made no difference).
But it’s not just that kibble doesn’t clean the teeth. Kibble is also heavily processed using high heat and pressure. This creates AGEs (Advanced Glycation End Products) and HCAs (Heterocyclic Amines) which are pro-inflammatory and even carcinogenic. As a result, dry kibble and other heavily processed foods actually fuel inflammation and disease in the body. This includes the mouth and oral tissues.
So, it should come as no surprise that kibble’s not on the oral health care list. But here’s what is on the list:
- Raw Meaty Bones
- Probiotics and Prebiotics
- Fatty Acids
- Brushing Teeth
Now let’s look at them in detail.
5 Ways to Support Your Dog’s Teeth
1. Raw Meaty Bones
It’s believed that a raw food diet contains natural enzymes that help resist bacterial plaque. Many veterinarians and pet owners have seen healthier teeth and gums in dogs eating raw food diets and raw meaty bones.
Raw meaty bones provide an active chewing and gum cleaning advantage. In contrast, cooked bones are more brittle and can splinter when chewed. That’s why cooked bones come with the risk of damage to the tissues in the intestinal tract. Another concern about dogs chewing bones is the risk of damaged or broken teeth. Veterinary dentists report that large-shaped raw bones, such as marrow bones or knucklebones, rarely cause broken teeth.
This is in contrast to small, thin long bones and similar shaped objects which are common culprits in damaging teeth. This has to do with dog jaw anatomy and how your dog chews his bones.
Larger, bulky objects aren’t chewed with the same angle and force on the large teeth at the back of the cheek and mouth compared to smaller and longer objects. In fact, common items known to break a dog’s teeth are nylon bones, cooked bones, antlers, hooves, and bully sticks.
2. Probiotics And Prebiotics
Probiotics provide oral health benefits when you give them orally or apply them directly onto your dog’s gums … especially when using multiple strains of bacteria. This direct action allows these beneficial bacteria to form colonies to create a healthier biofilm in the mouth. (Biofilm is a community of microorganisms like bacteria that form a slimy or sticky layer on surfaces – like plaque on teeth. Biofilm protects the microorganisms and makes them harder to eliminate.)
Research shows oral probiotics applied topically reduce inflammation and bad bacteria that lead to periodontal disease. And they improve bone density. Giving a daily oral dose of probiotics and rubbing some on the gums is a simple way to provide oral care for your dog and improve his dental health. Use a gel or liquid or a powdered probiotic (you can also empty out capsules) and rub it on the gums.
And if your dog has doggy breath, you’ll notice fresher breath when using probiotics.
Soluble fibers are prebiotics and already have benefits for your dog. These types of fiber are the main food source that feeds and sustains the probiotics living in his gut and colon. Prebiotics help maintain your dog’s healthy gut flora … which supports his immune system. Prebiotics are fermented by beneficial bacteria (or probiotics) to form short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs are essential in fighting pathogenic bacteria.
In the mouth, soluble fiber (prebiotics) has additional functions. These fibers block bacterial sugar-to-acid and sugar-to-plaque production. In other words, this stops sugar from producing plaque by inhibiting microbial enzymes (amylase) that break starches down into glucose.
Make A Pre- And Probiotic Slurry
A great way to keep some of these pre- and probiotics in your dog’s mouth is to create a tasty slurry for your dog. Use a probiotic supplement with some soluble fiber like a medicinal mushroom supplement or some finely blended dandelion greens or garlic, and stir this into some bone broth. Let your dog slurp it up to coat his teeth with these immune-boosting nutrients that will also fight plaque. This friendly bacteria will produce short-chain fatty acids (2) (3) that help fight periodontal disease as well as inflammation in your dog’s mouth.
Recent studies have linked chronic oxidative stress with oral bacteria that leads to periodontal disease (8)(9). Oxidative stress is free-radical damage to the body’s cells and tissues. In fact, a proper balance between free radicals and antioxidants is crucial for healthy periodontal tissues. This means antioxidants play an important role in your dog’s dental health. And there’s a wide range of antioxidant-rich foods that can be added to your dog’s diet including berries and green leafy vegetables.
Here are a few supplements that can increase antioxidant capacity.
- Glutathione (9), superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase are powerful antioxidant enzymes. They’re highly protective against free radicals and in reducing oxidative stress.
- Low levels of the antioxidant called Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) has been linked to periodontal disease in humans. Beneficial effects on periodontal health have been reported after supplementation of CoQ10 in the diet, and also with topical application onto the gums.
- CoQ10 can be a helpful supplement for dogs too, and this nutrient is also present in fatty fish and organ meats. Many holistic veterinarians recommend 1mg of CoQ10 per pound of body weight daily (which is much higher than the typical recommended dose of 15 to 30 mg per dog per day).
- Folic acid is another nutrient studied for its effects on oral health, such as preserving gum tissue and reducing the incidence of gingivitis and periodontitis.
4. Fatty Acids
Fatty acid supplements can also help manage periodontal inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids benefit many aspects of your dog’s health … and they support oral health and periodontal tissues, as well as joint, heart, kidney, and brain health.
5. Active Plaque Removal (AKA Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth)
Nutritional support is great, but it is also very beneficial to do active oral hygiene for oral health maintenance and preventative measures. The best approach to plaque removal is with regular tooth brushing at home. Daily brushing may seem like a daunting task, but regular dental care at home provides an enormous health benefit for your dog. This can help to maintain a healthy mouth by keeping teeth clean, reducing plaque buildup, maintaining fresh breath, and helping to prevent gum disease. This is especially true for small breed dogs, who are even more prone to significant levels of dental disease.
When you’re doing these daily brushings you’ll be able to note any loose teeth, tartar buildup, or bad breath that need to be addressed by a veterinary dentist.
The product used on the toothbrush is actually not as important as the action of wiping away the plaque biofilm.
That said, MCT oil applied onto the gums or used on a toothbrush can work very well. MCT oil’s medium-chain fatty acids (MCTs) offer antimicrobial properties. It’s also been shown to help draw out toxins when used on the gums.
RELATED: Natural toothpaste for dogs …
In summary, paying attention to the health of your dog’s teeth and mouth is a vital component in overall health and wellness for your dog. Regular oral hygiene or brushing is helpful, but you can also make a tremendous impact by feeding a raw diet and giving some key nutrients and supplements that benefit oral health.
Your efforts to keep your dog’s teeth and gums healthy will ultimately improve his quality of life, vitality, and resilience to disease.
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