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Is Feeding Hard Food Enough to Keep My Dog's Teeth Healthy?

Is it enough for a dog’s dental health to provide only hard food?

There is a common belief among dog-owners that feeding dry kibble will keep a dog from developing tartar and gingivitis. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

Plaque Is Stubborn and Difficult to Remove

Plaque is a sticky film that forms on teeth, and it's what you're removing when you do your tooth-brushing. Plaque hardens into tartar over time. The action of being scraped a bit by dry food won't remove most plaque or tartar, and they contain bacteria which get under the gum line and cause gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth decay.

Why Dry Food Can't Clean Teeth

Chewing on dry kibble might rub off some of the plaque near the tips of the teeth, but it doesn't do much near the gum line and can't remove plaque and tartar from underneath the gum line at all. Even if it could, it would be pretty impossible for the kibble to hit all surfaces of the teeth in a reliable enough manner to keep them clean.

How Should You Keep Your Dog's Teeth Clean?

Dental disease is an extremely common condition in dogs, and it results in cavities, loose and lost teeth, and painful gum disease. The bacteria that colonize the mouth are also swallowed by the dog, and they can enter the bloodstream and cause problems in the heart and kidneys, especially. It's vitally important to develop and follow a good plan for keeping your dog's teeth free of plaque and tartar. Here's how:

  • Tooth-brushing is essential. A dog's teeth need to be physically brushed to be kept clean. Don't use human toothpaste, which can contain ingredients that are dangerous for a dog to swallow, like fluoride and xylitol. Choose a canine toothpaste in a flavor that your dog likes. Look for an enzymatic paste that can work to break down the sugars present on the teeth for a period of time after the brushing. Brush as often as you can; daily brushing is ideal.
  • Periodic professional cleanings are necessary. Your dog needs to have dental cleanings performed under anesthesia at the veterinary clinic periodically. How often this is necessary varies depending on the dog, but all dogs probably need it at least yearly. This cleaning is similar to human professional cleanings; the mouth is examined well, x-rays are taken if necessary, and each tooth is thoroughly cleaned, including the area under the gum line.

How Do You Brush a Dog's Teeth?

The best thing to do is get your dog used to tooth-brushing as early in life as you can. Use a soft dog's brush or a finger brush made for dogs. Choose canine toothpaste with a flavor your dog likes. Go slowly, use lots of praise for good behavior, and keep at it. Your dog will get used to having it done and might even come to enjoy the process. After that, it won't take much time for you to get the tooth-brushing done, so it will be easy to fit into your schedule. Keep it on your calendar, so you don't forget, and also remember to schedule your dog's routine physical exam. If your vet doesn't mention your dog's teeth during the visit, be sure to ask about it yourself, and find out when a professional cleaning is next necessary.

For step-by-step instructions on how to brush your dog's teeth, check out this helpful article: "Home Dental Care for Dogs."

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