Good dental health isn’t just important for you, but for your dog, too. From brushing, to dealing with yucky bacteria, to feeding, we’ve got some simple natural tips to help you keep your best friends teeth in good shape!
Why Good Dental Health is Important
Taking care of your dog’s dental health isn’t just a cosmetic issue – your dog doesn’t care if she has a bleach-white smile and she’s certainly not self-conscious about her breath. Good dental health is key to good overall health. Without proper care, teeth can become weakened, gums can become inflamed, teeth can fall out and infection in the mouth can spread throughout the body, leading to an array of health problems. If you want your dog to live a long, healthy life, you’re going to have to take care of his or her teeth.
How to Identify a Problem
I’ve dealt with some pretty serious doggy dental problems firsthand. I have two dogs, Maddie, my miniature schnauzer, and Daphne, my yorkipoo. Daphne has been pretty low maintenance, but Maddie – that’s a different story! She’s got some ferocious-looking teeth in that tiny mouth of hers. I was always amazed how so many teeth could fit in that little space. And therein lies one of her problems. Small dogs often have crowded teeth and food debris gets trapped. Her second problem: She’s not a very good patient. If she were a child, she probably wouldn’t get to pick a prize from the treasure chest at the dentist.
Even if your dog puts up a fight when it comes to dental care, it’s important to regularly check their mouth for signs of a problem. Look for:
- Bad breath – This is how I knew something was up with Maddie. She quickly earned the nickname “Stinky” as bacteria multiplied. But once I got her to the vet and resolved the problem, the bad breath went away! (To get some relief in the meantime, check out this post on natural ways to freshen your dog’s breath.)
- Plaque and tartar build-up – No one expects their dog to have sparkling white teeth like a celebrity, but they shouldn’t be coated with yellow to brown plaque and tartar. Food particles combine with bacteria to form plaque along the gumline and if it’s not removed, it hardens into tartar and adheres to teeth, becoming very difficult to remove. This can then affect the health of the gums.
- Loss of appetite – If your dog isn’t eating like normal, it could be because of pain from a dental issue. If your dog is experiencing pain, you may also notice some changes in their mood, like increased irritability. My little monster lost a lot of her grumpiness when we got her teeth cleaned up.
- Red or inflamed gums – Irritated looking gums are likely painful and may bleed. They can begin to recede and even lead to the loss of teeth.
- Loose or missing teeth – Sure, accidents can happen and your dog could lose or chip a tooth from chewing something they shouldn’t or getting into some kind of scrap, but if teeth are wobbly (and they’ve already lost their puppy teeth, of course), this is a good sign that the gums are in poor health and there’s tooth decay happening.
How to Handle a Serious Case
If your dog has several of the above signs of dental distress, your first step should probably be to see a vet. If they have major tartar built up like my Maddie did, it’s best to have a professional cleaning done by a vet. With appropriate tools and anesthesia, they’ll have far more success removing the tartar than you would.
If periodontal disease has set in (this happens when tartar builds up under the gums, creating pockets where bacteria can grow and causing teeth to begin to loosen), some teeth may have to be removed. This was the situation with my dog’s incisors – the little front teeth in between the big fang-like canines. Crowded together and hidden behind her hairy lip, her teeth became loose as food particles stuck between tight spaces and bacteria grew. It may seem scary to have teeth removed, but your dog will likely feel much better afterward, and, unless the situation is extremely severe and many important premolars and molars are removed, they should still be able to eat just fine. Maddie hasn’t missed those tiny front teeth at all. She was so much happier after those germ-catchers were gone.
Your vet may also prescribe a round of antibiotics to get the bacteria under control. Due to the severity of my dog’s condition, I agreed to this action. However, if your dog’s situation is not quite so dire, you may be able to handle the bacteria with naturally antibacterial herbs and some immune system boosting, which I’ll discuss in further detail in a moment.
How to Maintain Good Dental Health
Once the situation was under control, I re-examined my dogs’ dental hygiene routine. I wanted to make sure I didn’t have a repeat of the same problem, and I wanted to do it in a way that was natural, healthy and affordable. After research and trial and error, I developed a regimen that works well for me and my pups. Hopefully you find it useful, too!
1. Brushing with Coconut Oil
I always brushed my dogs’ teeth, but after Maddie’s fiasco, I knew something had to change. I scrutinized the ingredients in the toothpaste I’d gotten in the pet store and had used on them for years. About the only ingredient I recognized was “poultry flavor,” and let’s face it, who really knows the ingredients in that ingredient? What was helping to break down plaque? What was killing bacteria? I was dumbfounded. It seemed all I had been doing was putting a meaty-flavored goo on my dogs’ teeth to try to trick them into thinking having their teeth brushed was a real treat.
So I switched. Not to anything else on the pet store shelf, but to coconut oil. Yup, that magical, tropical oil. It’s naturally antibacterial, can help support the immune system, and my dogs love the taste. I like Dr. Bronner’s Fair Trade Organic Coconut Oil. It’s unrefined to keep as many of the healthy properties intact as possible.
Natural health advocates swear by coconut oil, but many professionals in the medical and science fields say there’s no proven benefits. As for me, I say it’s worth using. Maddie has far less stinky breath and I’ve been able to scrape large chunks of tartar off Daphne’s teeth as well as my sister’s dog, Ruby. That’s all the proof I need. Plus, it’s certainly not going to do any harm unlike some of the strange substances in big-name pet products.
Check out more ways to use coconut oil for dogs by clicking here.
For extra help against tough tartar, try fragaria vesca. This herbal tincture is made from woodland strawberries and may help soften plaque, making it easier to remove. It may even keep it from reforming. I haven’t tried it personally yet, but I’m definitely going to.
Need a toothbrush? Try this 3-in-1 head from PetzLife.
2. Killing Bacteria with Grapefruit Seed Extract
Given Maddie’s track record of yucky, stinky teeth, I like to take an extra step to keep bacteria under control. After brushing, I use a tincture of grapefruit seed extract. I dilute a few drops of it in water (about a drop per ounce of water) and apply it to her gumline with a cotton swab or gauze, making sure to pay special attention to those blank spaces where teeth were pulled. Grapefruit seed extract is naturally antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. And with a little bit going such a long way, it’s very affordable. I use an extract from Solaray.
Other antibacterial herbal extracts you could try include goldenseal and colloidal silver. And if you’re concerned about inflamed gums, try echinacea, calendula or feverfew. We also carry a unique herbal product created just for pets called Healthy Gums.
For easy help in between dental care days, you can also use PetzLife Oral Care Gel. It’s got grapefruit seed extract along with other natural and antibacterial oils. It’s super easy to rub on their teeth and would be great as part of their bedtime routine.
3. Fortifying their Diet with Cinnamon and Healthy Treats
Kibble is a convenient way to make sure your dog’s basic nutritional needs are met, but it has a few shortcomings. Before Maddie had her front teeth pulled, crumbs from gross, decaying kibble were constantly getting caught between them. And let me tell you, flossing a dog’s teeth is nearly impossible! Residue is also left on the surface of the teeth, and when bacteria combines with this, plaque forms.
To help break down any bits of dog food left in my pets’ mouths, I add cinnamon to their bowls. Full of antioxidants and naturally antibacterial, it goes to work against the leftovers in between teeth. It’s been known to ward off tooth decay and fight bad breath (yay to less dog breath!). I just sprinkle about a teaspoon onto a full bowl of food and let them go at it. To my surprise, they don’t mind the taste at all – even Maddie who’s notoriously picky. She always sniffs and licks anything she’s offered to decide if it’s something she actually wants to eat.
Update: As an alternative to cinnamon, I recently discovered a great product from Pet Naturals of Vermont that we sell here, Oral Health for Dogs. It has a combination of zeolites, cranberry, yucca and probiotics to help control tartar. It’s in a powder formula and you just sprinkle it on your dog’s food. I’ve been using it for a few months now and I’ve been very happy with the results. It’s been doing good things for doggy breath and I was thrilled with how easy it made it to scrape some of the tartar off my dogs’ teeth. I highly recommend it!
You can also help out your dog’s dental health with some natural treats. Produce rich in vitamin C is important for a strong immune system to fight off oral bacteria. Try raw apples and carrots. They’re crunchy and fibrous to help gently scrape away plaque. You can also give your dog a little yogurt. The probiotics are also great against bacteria.
Bones are full of teeth-supporting nutrients and can also help scrape teeth clean. Just be careful. Don’t give your dogs cooked bones as they can splinter, and always keep a close eye on them as they gnaw away. Maddie gave me quite a fright when she started panicking because a bone got wedged between her teeth.
For something more convenient, try these natural Complete Treats Dental Chews. They’re wheat-free and full of teeth-cleaning and breath-freshening ingredients like grapefruit seed extract, thyme, neem, peppermint and decaffeinated green tea extract. The Breath Bars from Pets Naturals of Vermont are a good option for tackling doggy breath, too.
Hopefully my bumpy road of learning about doggy dental health has given you some information you can use for your own pets. If you’ve got your own tried and true tips, I’d love to hear them! Post them in the comments section below.
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Want to learn how to freshen your dog’s breath naturally? Check out this post: