Stinky dog breath could mean gum disease. In fact, 80% of dogs have some degree of periodontal disease (gum disease) by the age of three. Daily toothbrushing can help, but for many pet parents, that’s easier said than done. Luckily, there are new, oral microbiome–based approaches to keeping your dog’s mouth healthy. We’ll explain why your dog’s dental health is such a huge factor in their overall health, and we’ll tell you how the new approaches can help you add years to your dog’s life.
What Is the Oral Microbiome?
Just as the gut hosts a diverse community of bacteria, collectively called the gut microbiome, the mouth—at the very beginning of the digestive tract—has its own community of bacteria, known as the oral microbiome. Dr. Emily Stein and her company, Primal Health, study the bacteria that make up the oral microbiome.
In addition to taking in food and water and supplying saliva to begin the process of digestion, the mouth also provides a vulnerable place where “bad” bacteria can enter the body. Living on the teeth, tongue, gums, and other surfaces of the oral cavity are beneficial bacteria that help the immune system to protect the body against invasion by these potential pathogens.
Bacteria in the Mouth Can be Divided Into Two Main Categories:
- Beneficial bacteria normally found in healthy mouths that live on the surfaces of the cheeks, tongue, gums, and teeth; and
- Disease-associated bacteria that live in pockets in the gums (periodontal pockets). Disease-associated bacteria contribute to inflammation and gum disease in dogs.
Saliva also plays an important role, washing away food particles, neutralizing acids produced by bacteria, protecting against undesirable bacteria, and preventing unhealthy bacterial and fungal overgrowth.
Periodontal Disease (Gum Disease)
By three years of age, 80% of all dogs have some signs of periodontal disease. Smaller breeds tend to have more oral health problems than larger dogs, mostly because they drink less water (which washes some bacteria out of the mouth) and produce less saliva (which contains natural antimicrobial agents). Age is a big factor, too. Dogs and humans both tend to develop more dental disease as they get older.
When certain kinds of bacteria eat sugar (a carbohydrate), they excrete acid, which attacks the protective mucosal lining of the mouth and makes it “leaky.” When these bad bacteria pass through the microscopic holes they’ve made in the gum tissue, they trigger an overactive response from the immune system, which leads to inflammation of the gums (gingivitis).
The acidic waste of those bacteria is also stinky. That’s why the first sign of gum disease that a dog parent notices is usually bad breath (halitosis). The good news is that the early stages of periodontal disease are reversible with good dental hygiene practices.
Why Gum Disease Can Be Life-Threatening
But an unhealthy mouth doesn’t just cause bad breath. As gum disease progresses, it can cause chronic mouth pain, tooth loss, and even bone loss. Treatment options for such issues will typically involve x-rays, anesthesia, and expensive dental procedures.
Gum Disease Contributes to Many Other Health Problems
Even worse, gum disease can lead to other serious health problems, including heart disease, cancer, kidney disease, and dementia. Those bad bacteria in the mouth produce compounds that cause inflammation throughout the body, and chronic inflammation has been found to be the main culprit in many diseases.
Porphyromonas bacteria, for example, which are prominent in gum disease, have been directly linked to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Dogs get dementia too—the official name is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD)—and just as in humans, periodontal disease has been found to be a contributing factor. Beagles, who tend to have a lot of oral health problems, are especially prone to CCD.
The Connection between Gum Disease and the Gut Microbiome
A recent review found that more than 50 systemic diseases have been directly associated with gingivitis and periodontal inflammation, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). In fact, chronic oral and intestinal inflammation influence each other (via the gum–gut axis), so IBD and periodontal disease each affect the other’s progression.
In addition, any infection in the mouth can spread to other parts of the body. Infections and abscesses typically require powerful antibiotics (which can disrupt the gut microbiome) and can potentially lead to sepsis, an immune system overreaction that is often fatal.
Because its effects extend far beyond the mouth, gum disease may end up shortening a dog’s life by as much as a third.
The Most Effective Ways to Provide Dental Care for Your Dog
You’ve probably been told you should be practicing good home care by brushing your dog’s teeth every day, but that’s easier said than done. A lot of dogs just won’t cooperate. In fact, less than 20% of dog parents actually brush their dogs’ teeth.
If you and your dog can manage it, daily toothbrushing with dog-specific toothpaste improves oral hygiene by removing the buildup of plaque and tartar that can house populations of bad bacteria.
You won’t be able to get it all: 60% of each tooth is hidden under the gumline, where brushing can’t reach. And that’s where bacteria flourish. That’s why regular veterinary dental cleanings are so important in addition to daily brushing.
Regular Veterinary Cleanings
The most common approach to oral health for dogs consists of regular dental cleanings done by a veterinarian. They are important for your dog’s health care because they allow your veterinarian to access far below the gumline, thoroughly examine your dog’s mouth for signs of gum disease, and take dental x-rays that can show what is happening at each tooth root.
These professional cleanings do reach far enough below the gumline, but they require general anesthesia, which may be risky for dogs with other health issues. And unfortunately, one cleaning a year—or even every six months—isn’t enough by itself to control the bad bacteria, which are working day and night to cause problems.
In fact, the incidence of dental disease in dogs continues to increase, suggesting that the current approaches to the problem aren’t working. According to Banfield Pet Hospital’s 2016 State of Pet Health report, the prevalence of dental disease in dogs increased by 23.3% from 2006 to 2015.
What about dental chews? They’re an oral care solution that are popular with dogs and pet parents alike. Dental chews help knock plaque off your pet’s teeth and can help get under the gums while your dog gnaws. However, most of these products contain carbohydrates (in the form of potato starch, chickpea flour, wheat, or rice), which actually feed the disease-causing bacteria.
Oral Microbiome Testing
How healthy is your dog’s mouth? Our DoggyBiome Oral Health Test can tell you. This easy at-home test allows us to analyze the current status of your dog’s oral health and tell you whether it’s time to schedule a dental cleaning.
The test results can also tell you whether your dog would benefit from a special prebiotic product designed to improve and support the health of your dog’s oral microbiome.
Oral Prebiotic Supplements
There are many prebiotic supplements out there that claim to improve oral health in dogs, but few can point to any scientific evidence of their effectiveness. Two exceptions are TEEF! Drinkable Prebiotic and DoggyBiome Oral Cleanse Powder, which have both been shown to provide measurable benefits. These two products can be used singly or in combination to improve and maintain your dog’s oral health.
How Does TEEF! Work?
TEEF! is a human-grade prebiotic powder you add to your dog’s water bowl. It’s a safe, easy way to keep your dog’s mouth healthy between veterinary cleanings, and it actually targets the root cause of gum disease—the overgrowth of those inflammation-causing bacteria.
The main ingredient in TEEF! is a soluble fiber—a prebiotic that feeds the healthy oral bacteria and blocks the problematic bacteria’s ability to take in carbohydrates. This special prebiotic also has the effect of starving the inflammation-producing bacteria that eat the waste products of the carbohydrate-eating group.
At the same time, the vitamin B6 in TEEF! supports the mouth’s populations of good bacteria. Some kinds of bacteria—Bacteroides and some strains of Clostridium, for example—produce compounds that reduce inflammation, so we want to encourage those.This drinkable prebiotic mix for dogs also contains amino acids, which stop bacteria odor and prevent plaque buildup, and sodium bicarbonate, which neutralizes the acid produced by sugar-eating bacteria and whitens the teeth.
In four years of studies involving more than 150 dogs, 100% of dogs that used TEEF! showed a reduction in the bad bacteria that cause dog dental disease, even below the gumline. TEEF! works best in conjunction with daily toothbrushing and regular cleanings by a veterinarian.
How Does Oral Cleanse Powder Work?
Our DoggyBiome Oral Cleanse Powder also uses evidence-based ingredients that prevent plaque accumulation and reduce levels of harmful bacteria that can colonize the oral cavity.
The powder contains PreforPro®, a patented prebiotic bacteriophage that reduces unhealthy levels of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria in the mouth, which can contribute to bad breath and gum disease. It also contains Icelandic kelp, a natural prebiotic that has been shown to reduce plaque and prevent the formation of tartar.
And Oral Cleanse Powder is easy to use: just mix it into your dog’s food.
Questions to Ask Your Veterinarian
What are some signs that my dog’s teeth might be bothering them?
How often should my dog have professional dental cleanings?
Do I really have to brush my dog’s teeth?
Why does my dog have bad breath?
Are chew toys good for my dog’s teeth?
Are rawhide chews or bones good for my dog’s teeth?
You can learn more about TEEF! and Primal Health, LLC, on the TEEF! website
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DoggyBiome™ Oral Health Test
DoggyBiome™ Oral Cleanse Powder
TEEF! Drinkable Prebiotic