Oral Hygiene

oral hygiene

The importance of a daily, home oral-care regimen

Physical and mental health are directly linked to behavioural problems.
When the internal state of an individual suffers, he will eventually externalise it, sometimes quietly others more lively but in both cases, we will notice a behavioural change.
Among other health problems, Periodontal disease (PD) is a very common one, which requires care and prevention, on a daily basis.
My little 3year old Spitz, suffered from early stage of gingivitis and an important calculus formation, unlike my efforts to brush his teeth, apparently not efficiently enough…
Apart from his offensive breath, he manifested symptoms as, reluctance to eat, play with chewable toys and eventually refusing to eat his daily, favourite chewing stick.
It was hard to see him become more irritable and agitated than usual, or lethargic at times and with an exaggerated resource-holding behaviour, around the edible things that he wouldn’t have eaten anyway, but he was feeling the need to over-protect them from our other dog.
A descaling was inescapable and unfortunately may be a recurring condition, because small-size dogs are not generally vigorous chewers and even when they are, usually they suffer from abnormal teeth alignment, hence they are prone to calculus accumulation.

Dental health it is paramount for the dog’s general optimal body condition. Prevention is by far the best approach for helping your dog with his dental hygiene.
Dogs can suffer from gum (periodontal) disease just like humans and we should not ignore it.
Periodontal disease is an inflammation or infection, that results in the weakening or loss of the supporting structure of a tooth (periodontium).
Gum disease is one of the most common afflictions in dogs, with over 80% of them having early stages of gum disease, as early as the age of 3 years old.
Dental problems and broken or lost teeth, can lead to loss of appetite, plus the dog’s immune system fights the bacterial build-up and a vicious circle is just started.
Then other organs will be affected too, when the bacteria get into the bloodstream – through the diseased gums – the kidneys will filter the contaminated blood, the liver will contribute also and finally even the heart can be affected.
In all cases of gum infection, you should visit a specialised veterinary to effectuate a professional cleansing.

Left without cleaning, plaque & calculus continue to build up, attracting even more bacteria on teeth and gums, leading to more bad breath and further damage!!!

Step 1

Bacteria building up

Step 2

The plaque accumulates & hardens

Step 3

Plaque turns into calculus - tartar

Plaque is a soft, sticky film that begins to calcify within 72 hours, it builds up on teeth and can be difficult to see since it is colourless. As more plaque accumulates, it can have more of a whitish/yellowish appearance making it easier to spot. Calculus, on the other hand, is mineralized and the build-up is easy to see.
It often appears as a yellow or brownish build-up on the surface of the teeth.

Dogs that chew vigorously, have less plaque build-up and some types of dental treats and diets, can actually reduce plaque by nearly 70%.
Unequivocally the mechanical action of chewing, per se, can make a difference.
A study conducted for that reason showed that, increasing the diameter of kibble by 50% led to a 42% reduction in tartar.
The same study proved that, coating the products with a substance called *sodium polyphosphate, further reduced tartar by 55%.

*The sodium polyphosphate is clinically validated for restraining the development of calculus. Read more here US National Library of Medicine

Oral hygiene is a major factor for the animal's overall health. By neglecting it, gum disease will develop at some point.

The Common Signs Of Dental Disease


Persistent bad breath in dogs can be a sign of plaque & calculus build-up and it should alarm you for what is about to follow…
It’s a good idea to get into the habit of regularly checking your dog’s mouth, preferably when he is calm and relaxed.
Gently lift up his lip to get a good look at your dog’s teeth and gums.
The gums should be a nice healthy pink, his teeth should be fairly white and his breath not too offensive!
All these problems are usually a sign that your dog has inflamed gums (called gingivitis) and potentially some rotten teeth.

Accumulation of Tartar

Accumulations of tartar (the brown film on the teeth), a red line at the gum margin.


The persistent bad breath, is another sign that your dog is suffering from dental disease.

Painful to eat

If your dog has severe dental problems, eating will be painful and his gums may bleed, he may also drop his food, salivate or rub his mouth, ultimately he will be reluctant to have his mouth being touched.

Solutions to the problem


The Dental Diets

Undoubtedly the natural-raw food is by far the best choice for the dog’s overall health, that said some raw fed pets, that also chew raw bones, still accumulate tartar on their teeth.
Brachycephalic (short-nosed) and “toy” breeds are often predisposed, because of their abnormal teeth alignment and unfortunately, as far as tiny dogs are concerned, there is often an “over-crowding” problem.
Even if these dogs chew vigourously, it won’t remove all the plaque and tartar from their teeth.
Tartar can be also related to chronic health conditions hence the suffering pets are prone to calculus accumulation, or it could be the result of changes in saliva quantity, gum health issue, the unbalanced pH in the mouth, or other causes.
Normally, dental diets are nutritionally balanced, therefore most pets can eat them as part of a normal daily diet, however you should never consider it as a panacea and use it to substitute the teeth brushing.
It is important to note here, that not all animals’ needs can be met with a dental-specific diet plan.
These type of diets should not be the main nutritional source for neither puppies nor dogs, that have special nutritional or medical needs, instead they should be used to supplement their regular diet, that fulfils their specific requirements.
Additionally, some animals may not be able to tolerate a dental formula on a daily basis and in this case you can provide it as a treat.
Before you decide whether a dental diet is appropriate for your pet, you should first discuss it with your veterinarian.

The Brushing

If you are not certain about the right way of brushing your dog’s teeth, ask your vet to give you a demonstration – that way you’ll get it right from the start

● Choose a time when your dog is naturally quiet and relaxed, then establish a routine by doing it at the same time – if possible – each day.

● You can use a toothbrush specially designed for dogs, a rubber finger brush or a soft, baby-toothbrush for humans, or even an electric toothbrush, if your dog tolerates the sound and the vibration.
The most important thing is that it is soft and appropriately sized for your dog’s mouth.

● Choose a dog toothpaste low in artificial flavourings and colourings. If you have a difficulty to entice your dog then look for the ones flavoured with poultry, beef, liver etc.
Many pet toothpastes are enzymatic, they contain enzymes to promote the decomposition of the food debris that sticks to the teeth.
You should NEVER use toothpaste for humans because they are non-ingested, unlike the pet toothpaste which is actually made to be digested.

● Begin by introducing the toothpaste with your finger, let him taste it and get a positive experience with it, then massage your dog’s gums with your finger to help him get used to the new sensation.
Gradually introduce the toothbrush. Lift his upper lip with your finger and hold it, while brushing gently, stroking from the gums downward.
When you need to go for the molars, the toothbrush should be against the inside of the cheek, while you hold the mouth closed with your hand, for better control.

● Brush for just a minute or two a day and progress gradually, as long as the dog maintains his calm, but the moment he becomes uncomfortable with it, end the brushing session.
It is important to keep it as pleasant as possible and stress-free, in order to be a positive experience, therefore he will finally cooperate with you.
By making tooth-brushing a habit and combining it with a treat or life-reward, your dog will soon be familiarised to it and he may even start to enjoy it.

The Dental Chews

When you offer a dental chew to your dog daily, you contribute to his overall dental hygiene, not to mention the benefits to his mental state, due to the fact that chewing is a natural and calming behaviour.
Foremost, the mechanical action of chewing can help to physically remove plaque and tartar.
Additionally, chewing stimulates the release of saliva, which consequently will rinse away the bacteria and food debris, that would otherwise form the plaque.

Many dental chews are made with a lot of artificial additives and controversial, unrecognisable, chemical ingredients, therefore read always the ingredients label.
As far as edible chew-toys concerns, don’t forget that tyour dog will eventually swallow it, thus you should carefully choose it for its nutritional value and/or its chemical-free composition.

Some of the most popular Dental Chews

1. The pigs’ ears
are one of the favorite dog-chewing treats, but studies have proven that they don’t necessarily offer a dental benefit.
The “raw type” products may also be contaminated with bacteria which can lead to salmonella and E. coli infection.

2. Rawhide chews can help with dental health but they are not meat by-products, neither a dehydrated meat, it is actually a by-product of the tannery industry.
You should know that is treated with toxic chemicals, like bleach, formaldehyde or titanium oxide, in order to endure on shop-shelves and it is totally denaturalised from its original state, hence it has nothing nutritional in it, only harmful chemicals.
Be cautious with the vigorous chewers, because they consume everything too quickly or even swallow without mastication and that can cause choking or intestinal blockages.

3. Calf horns, antlers & hooves, also have a cleaning effect but there is always a risk of tooth fracture and is better to avoid with the small sized-dogs.
The natural antlers are enticing for many dogs but they can splinter into tiny, pointy fragmants, dangerous for his gastrointestinal tract.

4. Inedible chew-toys, like Kong, Nylabone, can be a good occupation while the clean the dog’s teeth and comes to different sizes for every type of dog.

The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC)

An organisation that evaluates pet products in order to establish if they meet the standards for reducing plaque or tartar.
Approved foods, treats and chews must reduce plaque or tartar by at least 10% to achieve the VOHC seal of approval.
When a chemical anti-plaque/anti-tartar agent is used, it has to reduce the plaque or tartar by at least 20%.
The following link shows all the products approved by the VOHC, www.vohc.org/accepted_products.htm

My 5 favorite choices of edible chewing products:
OraVet® Dental Hygiene Chews, Virbac C.E.T.® Oral Hygiene Chews, Minties, Greenies, Lily’s Kitchen Woofbrush.



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