A Natural Approach To Tartar Build Up

Dogs Naturally Magazine
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My Bulldog has terrible tartar build up on her teeth and has to have them cleaned every 6 months! I’ve tried bones etc. but nothing seems to help! Also tried a product called tartar off with no luck! I’m about to call and schedule her again but hate having to keep putting her out! I know its a serious problem that has to be addressed. Any idea on how I can control it without taking her in to have her teeth cleaned? THANK YOU!

~ Linda

Dr Sara Chapman

Dear Linda,

It is excellent that you understand the importance of dental hygiene in keeping your bulldog in peak physical condition. All too often people do not notice the tartar build-up on their dog’s teeth. This tartar causes inflammation of the gums and can lead to mouth infections and tooth abscesses. Let’s review the causes of excessive tartar build up so that you can see where you might be able to improve practices to help your dog.

First, diet plays a major role in the development of tartar on the teeth. Raw meaty bone diets keep wild carnivores’ teeth in top condition, and they can do the same for our domesticated carnivores. Even ground raw diets help prevent tartar buildup, as the meat contains natural enzymes, and raw diets do not stick to the teeth, unlike diets that are high in starch. Kibble (dry food) has long been touted as helping to keep teeth clean because of its abrasive action. If you have ever watched your dog eat kibble, you have surely noticed that they don’t chew the stuff, they bolt it down whole. I encourage all my clients to feed a balanced, high quality raw diet if possible; balanced high quality cooked or canned diets are acceptable alternatives if they can not feed raw.

Chewing plays an important role in removing debris and abrading tartar. There are toys and food products which have been shown to help, provided that a dog chews on them. That is the problem with many of these products – they just aren’t attractive enough that dogs chew on them long enough or with enough vigor. Bones can be the best tartar control device, as they are attractive to most dogs. Bones must be raw, and the size should suit the size of the dog. Some dogs will get so excited by bones, and chew so vigorously, that they can even fracture teeth. Raw bones should be refrigerated between chewing bouts. Antlers have many of the advantages of bones, without the need for refrigeration. Dogs should always be supervised when chewing bones, antlers, or other chewing products, because of the risk of choking or tooth damage.

Some pets will still develop significant dental tartar, even when they eat raw diets and chew appropriately. Certain dogs seem to be predisposed to develop tartar. Short-nosed breeds and toy breeds often have teeth that do not meet normally, such breeds will not effectively remove debris from their teeth even with vigorous chewing. Tartar development may also be related to health factors; ill animals seem to have more tartar, and animals who respond to homeopathic treatment often have less tartar. This could be due to more vigorous chewing by healthy animals, or it could be related to changes in saliva quantity, gum health, or pH in the mouth.

Most pets can be taught to accept tooth brushing; daily brushing is an excellent way to remove debris and prevent tartar. The most common mistake that people make when they start brushing their dog’s teeth is to progress too fast. A dog that has never had a toothbrush in its mouth is not going to be thrilled if you grab hold of its head and start poking at inflamed gums with what he/she perceives as a stick.

First, accustom your friend to your finger, gently rubbed on the front teeth and along the top teeth all the way to the back. Give lots of praise, and keep these sessions short. When this is accepted, progress to performing the procedure with a damp thin cloth or square of gauze wrapped around your fingertip. You will likely be amazed by the scum removed with this simple procedure. There are many dental cleaning pastes and solutions available.

The next step is using one of these products, or a 1 to 10 solution of Plantago herbal tincture in water, to moisten the gauze while you gently rub the teeth. Once this is well accepted, you can progress to using a finger brush, or a soft, appropriately sized toothbrush.

There are products that have been shown to decrease tartar development without brushing. These seem to help some pets, but in my experience, it is highly variable as to which products will help which animals.

Dogs may have so much tartar that a cleaning is necessary.

If a dog has infected teeth, extreme tartar buildup, or badly inflamed gums, cleaning with an anesthetic is necessary. Dental x-rays can only be taken when dogs are sedated, and infected teeth must be removed under anesthesia. The removal of large amounts of tartar from inflamed gums is very painful, and animals should be sedated for painful procedures.

Many people choose to use non-sedation dental scaling for their pet’s teeth. The American Veterinary Dental Council does not suggest this practice; you can read their reasons here.

There are poorly trained people performing non-sedation dental cleanings. However, there are services, such as this one that scale animal’s teeth well, and understand their limitations. This could be a good options for pets with a mild to moderate amount of tartar, but be careful in your choice of non-sedation dental services.

S.F. Chapman DVM, MRCVS, VetMFHom

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