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Is Brushing Our Dog’s Teeth Doing More Harm Than Good? New Research Says, Maybe…

Is Brushing Our Dog’s Teeth Doing More Harm Than Good? New Research Says, Maybe…

By Jody L. Teiche, CPHE

Brushing our dog’s teeth is good, important! That’s what we’ve always been told. What if brushing teeth is causing more harm than good? I know, sounds crazy, right?! I thought so, too. After doing some research, I came to the conclusion we may not have to throw the baby out with the bath water. We’re breaking down dental disease. Let’s’ go.

What exactly IS dental disease?

A healthy dog’s teeth are white, maybe not pristine if they’re older, but there is no tartar build up. Their gums are pink. And, their breath smells, if not really nice, it doesn’t smell bad. Bad breath is a sure sign of an imbalance in the system, whether it’s dental disease or something else. I know I’m not alone when I say that most of our dogs have tartar build up at some point in their lives and many will develop dental disease. In fact, 80% of adult dogs suffer from periodontal disease. There is a range of dental disease, and all of it should be addressed as soon as any signs emerge. Dental disease gone unchecked can lead to heart, liver and kidney disease.

It begins at the gum line. Sometimes, you’ll see a red line there. That is the body’s attempt to create inflammation to push the bacteria out. If this goes untreated, the redness increases, the inflammation increases and an infection ensues, which we call gingivitis (this just means, “inflammation of the gums”). This is the earliest stage of dental disease. As the bacteria continues to populate, the area around the gum line grows wider and deeper, allowing even more bacteria a place to call home. More and more inflammation along the gum line and below it, and this is where things can start getting stinky. As the gingivitis advances, the body’s immune response will create more inflammation, damage tissues and bone loss can begin.

Choosing to use antibiotics to “cure” gingivitis may help reduce the inflammation temporarily by pushing out the invading bacteria, but it won’t be a cure. Why? Let’s first take a look at what creates the right environment for dental disease to occur.

What causes dental disease?

Plain and simple, dental disease develops from a weakened immune system. All disease, from tip to tail develops this way.

A dog or cat with a weakened immune system is vulnerable to the invasion of unwanted microorganisms or the overgrowth of those already present in a healthy animal.

This is why using antibiotics to cure dental disease is a temporary fix. If your dog or cat’s body is not strengthened, they will continue to be vulnerable to invading microorganisms, and because antibiotics fight that battle FOR the body, it becomes even more vulnerable in the future for that same illness to occur.

So, how can we strengthen our pet’s immune system to help keep them free of dental disease? A healthy microbiome. What the heck is that? Let’s unpack that baby.

What are the tried and true tools to a healthy immune system?

What exactly do we mean by a microbiome? It is the garden of bacteria and other microorganisms already inhabiting your pet’s gut. When a wide variety of the right bacteria in the right quantities is present, that’s a healthy microbiome. But, when the balance of bacteria changes and some grow out of control? That is when the imbalance can lead to your pet’s immune system becoming weak and to disease.

What role their mouths play in this is interesting. Since good and bad bacteria inhabits a dog or cat’s mouth and gut (the microbiome in the mouth is large, second only to the gut’s) and bacteria goes from one to the other, if an imbalance develops in the mouth, it’s not long before it’s also in the gut.

New research shows that brushing teeth can move the bacteria from the gum line into the mouth and, then, into the gut. But, none of this matters IF your pet’s immune system is strong.

So, what helps create a healthy microbiome and a strong immune system? Diet and a good pre and probiotic is a great place to start. Sounds simple enough, but it is actually particular.

Diet means fresh food, living food, whether a completely raw diet or a diet of cooked veggies and raw meats. Living food means food that contains energy. Kibble has had all of the energy processed out of it; it is, essentially, dead food, kind of like giving your human child Cheerios or cookies to eat as their staple diet everyday. Even cooked meats have all of the living goodness heated out of it. More on this in another post.

Raw bones are also a great tool in your kit for gum health, as they provide a natural way to clean their teeth. Dog biscuits, even hard ones, is no substitute; they have little impact on dental health or tartar accumulation. And, bones are a good stress reliever for dogs. My pups LOVE having a raw bone treat. They each lay on their own towel (except for Ani, our Chihuahua monster, who insists on taking her bone onto the grass where she’ll then guard it like nobody’s business), and set out to work on them. A healthy and great way to buy some mommy time, as it takes them a good half hour to finish the job. I am happy, and so are they. A win-win!

A study was reported in BMC Veterinary Research, of 218 dogs, ranging in age from puppies to 15 years old, who were all put on a diet of raw meat and bones. Results said, “Most owners reported health improvements in their pets, including a shinier coat, muscle mass gain, and cleaner teeth. As regards the dog’s behavior, 51% (112/218) of the owners reported no abnormalities, while the remaining noticed a calmer (35%, 76/218) or livelier (21%, 45/218) attitude.”

Dogs Naturally Magazine, one of my go to resources for my own dogs, lays out why raw is preferable in a good article.

So you don’t have to stop brushing their teeth and throw the baby out with the bath water! The number one suggestion to start your dog or cat on the road to a strong immune system is starting them on a fresh food diet. We’ll address the super important topic of diet more in depth in other posts to come, so stay tuned. Now, on to tips for a healthier mouth for our pets!

Tips to support gum health

Here are some great supplement and rinse tips from holistic veterinarians:

  • Give vitamin C with bioflavinoids (10mg/pound, two to three times/day); use natural vitamin C.
  • Give vitamin E (5-10mg/pound, once a day; use mixed tocopherols)
  • Grape seed extract (not grapefruit seed extract) is also good.
  • Coenzyme Q10 (1-3 mg/pound, once a day) may also help. The oil-based formulation of CoQ10 is best and can be given at the lower end of the dosage range.
  • Folic acid is also important for gum health. You can give this separately or in a B complex supplement. Use 25-75 mcg daily for cats and up to 400 mcg in a large dog.
  • Cordyceps mushrooms, a medicinal mushroom, helps circulation to the gums. If you get in capsules, use 1/2 capsule once or twice a day for cats and small dogs, and 1 capsule per twenty to twenty-five pounds for larger dogs, up to 3 capsules twice a day in large dogs.
  • How to prepare a good topical rinse that helps clean the teeth, is healthy for gums and helps to populate good bacteria in the mouth to compete with any unwanted bacteria: mix a solution in a dropper bottle or small cup of a small pinch of vitamin C, acidophilus and digestive enzyme powders. Rinse the mouth with this solution 3-4 times/day. You will need to make fresh each day as this does not store well.
  • And yes, you can gently brush with a soft toothbrush. Dentie tooth powder is recommended by notable holistic veterinarian, Don Hamilton. It’s a Japanese formula made from charred eggplant and salt. It’s healing and not too strong tasting. You can get this on Amazon and via Eden Foods, as well as other sites.

In Summary…

To recap:

  • we’ve seen why not addressing any signs of dental issues is potentially dangerous, leading to deeper, more serious disease
  • we know dental disease can start when a dog or cat’s immune system is weak
  • we know how to start our babies on the road to a stronger immune system
  • we have some tips of supplements and a rinse to use to help promote gum health

A big takeaway is this: Be A Detective For Your Pet. Notice everything – behavior changes, appetite changes, a change in her energy or his mood.

Symptoms are our friends. They give us clues as to what’s going on in the body and that there is an imbalance that needs to be addressed. Killing symptoms, which is what conventional medicine is taught to do, just creates the need for the body to express its imbalance elsewhere, usually in a deeper, more serious way.

So, don’t ignore symptoms and be that detective for your pet. It could make all the difference in keeping them vibrantly healthy and living a longer life.

To their health – Jody

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