3 min read

How to Prevent Tooth Decay in Dogs


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Anyone a fan of the dentist? Not many people are. As for your dog, your vet is usually also their dentist, so it's a rare dog whose tail wags at the prospect of an oral exam. Therefore, it makes absolute sense on so many levels to look after their teeth and prevent problems. 

A problem said to be on the rise among dogs is dental caries or tooth decay. Until recently, dental decay was thought to only affect about 5% of the canine population. It might be that more vets are on the alert for this problem, but anecdotally the incidence is on the rise.

Tooth decay comes about because of the dynamic nature of tooth enamel. Far from being inert once a tooth has erupted, the enamel is constantly replenished by minerals in the saliva. When the mouth environment is altered in an unhealthy way, such as acid-producing bacteria feeding on food debris, the end result is holes in the tooth. When oral health is neglected, the result is tooth decay.

Preventative Oral Health Care for Your Dog

How many times a day do you brush your teeth? A dog's teeth are no different than a human's and require regular brushing. To not do so is inviting trouble. 

  • Tooth brushing: Use a soft child's brush or a pet toothbrush to clean your best buddy's gnashers on a daily….yes, daily….basis. If this sounds difficult, know that your best ally is pet toothpaste. These taste scrumptious to dogs and will have them seriously keen to get the brush in their mouth. (Never use human toothpaste: the fluoride content is toxic for dogs.)

  • Oral hygiene products: Oral rinses and gels can reduce the amount of acid-producing bacteria in your dog's mouth. Look for a pet product containing chlorhexidine, or speak to your vet for recommendations. These are super simple to use and often just involve applying the gel to a cotton swab and wiping it over the outer surface of the teeth.

  • Food or water additives: Ideally, look for a product with the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) seal of approval. These additives work by manipulating the pH of saliva to make it more hostile to bacteria, plus break up sticky plaque that clings to teeth. Add the recommended amount to fresh drinking water or food on a daily basis.

Diet and Chews

Sugary snacks damage our teeth. Similarly, food impacts a dog's dentition. 

  • Oral care foods: Manufacturers such as Hills, Royal Canin, and Purina make dental care diets. These are dry kibble foods that have fiber aligned in the biscuit so that when the dog chomps down it has a brushing effect on the crown. Again, look for the VOHC seal of approval to know the food has a proven benefit.
  • Dental chews and chew toys: Chewing is a healthy activity for dogs. It scours away plaque and strengthens the teeth in the socket. Providing a regular daily dental chew can remove the food that caries-producing bacteria feed on.

Professional Dental Checkups are Required

When is your next dental checkup due? Don't forget the dog’s…

  • Vet health and dental check-up: A healthy adult dog needs a minimum of a yearly check-up. A senior dog should be seen at least twice a year. This once-over includes dental health and is a chance to spot decay early. This is important because a small area of caries can be filled, whereas a large cavity means tooth removal.
  • Veterinary dental specialists: Most vet clinics would refer a dog with an early tooth lesion to see a vet dental specialist. Much like a human dentist, they have all the facilities and equipment to drill and fill small areas of dental decay and save the tooth.

Preventing dental caries is not difficult, but does require daily commitment and a little forethought and planning. At least give tooth brushing a try, especially with the secret weapon of pet toothpaste. You may well be pleasantly surprised. In addition, little touches such as a daily dental chew plus a water additive, really get things going in your dog's favor. 

Remember, a small investment in time could prevent painful caries in your dog's mouth. In turn, sore teeth mean an expensive trip to the vet to get the problem corrected. So save yourself money and the dog distress by looking after their teeth as best you can. Say "Cheese", anyone?

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