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How Do I Keep the Stains and Tartar Off my Dog’s Teeth?

By Dr. Greg Martinez, DVM
Updated: 2009-10-13 5:16 PM 4521 Views    Category: Health and Behavior
 
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My clients are always asking questions about their pets’ teeth and how to keep them healthy. It’s an important issue that I want to address today. Dogs’ and cats’ teeth usually start life bright and white, then slowly turn yellowish brown with age. The reason is because daily use and tartar can turn them pastel  shades of yellow, green or brown.
 
We can understand why chewing and rubbing can change the enamel, but what does tartar have to do with this process? Tartar is the accumulation of minerals and bacteria from the saliva that form at the gum line. Humans floss to get rid of this accumulation of plaque, tartar and bacteria. In animals gum disease begins with the brownish/yellowish/greenish crusty deposits of tartar and plaque near the gum line. Bacteria thrive underneath this shelter of plaque and tartar and can easily attack and destroy the attachment of the gums to the tooth. Fortunately not all individuals develop really bad tartar and receeding gums that can lead to putrid breath and a painful mouth.
 
This leads us to prevention and what we can do to help our pets’ teeth remain healthy. The good news is that most dogs do not develop painful teeth problems and only have discoloration and mild tartar throughout their lifetime. However, the dogs that do produce lots of tartar leading to receeding gums, painful loose teeth, or abcessed teeth need our help. So grab that bag of crunchy biscuits, feed dry kibble and stay away from canned food…right? No. Absolutely not.
 
I know this defies intuition, and I admit that I too used to be a kibble believer. But, in fact, I have not seen a difference in the health of teeth and gums with different types of food–canned or dry. And I’ve seen enough problems caused by kibble and biscuit treats (ranging from obesity and seizures to all sorts of allergic reactions) to make me avoid dry food. Let me put it to you this way, if you ate a bowl of big stale cookies every day, would that keep your teeth and gums healthy? Or your body either? Of course not.
 
Here’s the truth: The health of teeth and gums is linked to breeds, and some individuals produce more tartar and have the tendency for receeding gums. The toy breeds (small house dogs), some herding dogs (Corgi, Sheltie), and the squished-face dogs (Boxers, Bostons, Bulldogs) have the “terrible teeth” tendencies.
 
Whether you own one of the dentally challenged breeds, a poodle or an amiable mixed breed (mutt)…and yes, I know, they really own us…there are three ways you can deal with tartar:
 
  • Veterinary dental cleaning
  • Brush your pet’s teeth
  • Encourage healthful chewing
 
Professional dental cleaning by your vet is effective but more expensive than regularly brushing your dog’s teeth or helping them chew away tartar buildup. The truth is I don’t know too many people that will brush their dogs’ teeth consistently enough to make a difference.
 
But the good news is letting your dog chew on smoked pork bones, knucklebones or frozen chicken thighs every 2-3 weeks keeps most dogs’ teeth really clean. I’ve seen this with my own dogs’ teeth and it’s the reason I make the right kind of chewing part of the Dog Dish Diet regimen. Now there are several cautions. These are important, but if you take care, you can help your dog enjoy strong, healthy teeth for years to come and, in many cases, without the expense of veterinary dental cleaning:
 
  1. Do NOT use baked or barbecued chicken or steak bones… these can be brittle and sharp.
  2. Do NOT use big, baked beef femurs…these can break teeth.
  3. DO use smoked or raw pork or chicken bones…thighs are just the right size and the bone is raw and flexible.
Here’s the bottom line: If your dog is prone to eating big chunks of bone or too much bone (what I call a gulper) or you feed the wrong type of bone, it could cost you or your dog dearly. That is why I favor the smoked pork bones or frozen chicken thighs every 2-3 weeks, to keep my dogs’ teeth clean. I will probably never have to clean my dogs’ teeth again!! Bone Appetit!
 

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Dr. Greg, graduated from UC Davis Veterinary School in 1980, has been an animal lover his whole life. As a teenager, he worked at a pet shop and vet hospital, then attended community college. Since then he has practiced at Gilroy Veterinary Hospital. For the last ten years he has become fascinated with nutrition and health, and has written a book, Dog Dish Diet, available at the website http://www.dogdishdiet.com.
 
 http://dogdishdiet.com/
 
 
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