Dental problems can pose a serious threat to your dog’s health if they aren’t identified promptly and nipped in the bud. Although dogs don’t typically seem to suffer with actual cavities, any plaque that’s allowed to build up excessively on the teeth can turn into hardened tartar which in turn results in bad breath and can cause bacteria to build up at the border with the gums.
Some breeds (especially smaller dogs) seem to be more prone to dental problems than others. This may be a genetic issue, or perhaps a result of the fact that as a general rule, small dogs are more finicky in nature, which can lead their owners to try and entice them with ’sticky’ canned foods and diets that contain higher amounts of sugar. Smaller dogs are also more prone to their teeth being crowded together (which in turn can make brushing or cleaning with bones and cartilage doubly difficult).
Lots of people presume that if their dog eats crunchy dry food, the teeth can all but be ignored. In fact, the surface of kibble really isn’t abrasive enough to scrape tartar from the teeth – after all, we wouldn’t rely on munching rock-hard pretzels to clean our own pearly whites – and what’s more, in the majority of cases, dogs don’t actually crunch up their kibble anyway. If you’ve ever seen your dog regurgitate his dry food diet, you’ll notice that kibble come back up whole, the same way they were when they went in.
Dogs who consume a whole food diet generally maintain their fangs in fantastic health, for much longer than their kibble-consuming counterparts. When raw bones are fed in conjunction with real foods, the teeth stay even healthier. Most dogs adore having a fresh raw bone to chew on; it will provide hours of gnawing enjoyment and the abrasive action of the bone against the teeth and pulling at any scraps of meat, can reduce plaque buildup, scrape off any developing tartar and even clean between the teeth as sinew is torn off. Results aren’t usually seen overnight but offering a good bone to chew on a couple or three times a week will almost always help with dental health. There are some concerns about a risk of tooth fracture in more ‘aggressive chewers’ when gnawing on raw bones, so it is wise to discuss this with your veterinarian and monitor your dog closely to begin with, to establish how voraciously he chews.
A canine toothbrush can be a good investment for dogs who are especially prone to plaque and tartar buildup, and regular at-home cleaning can help delay or completely avoid the need for professional dental cleanings. If tartar buildup is very severe, a professional cleaning may be necessary. There’s some debate about whether dental cleanings should be done under anesthetic, or ‘anesthesia-free’. Many conventional vets claim that the teeth can only be very thoroughly examined and cleaned on all facets when the dog is completely anesthetized and unable to protest. However, anesthesia-free cleaning is becoming immensely popular and can result in gleaming pearly-whites – particularly if done on a maintenance schedule every year or two, to prevent the development of less severe dental problems.