As many of my regulars know, the holistic approach focuses on the whole individual, not merely one problem. If a dog, cat or horse is healthy, their teeth will stay healthy – no tarter, no bad breath, teeth staying in until death, not breaking off, etc. However, 70% of cats and 80% of dogs have dental disease by age 3, according to the Vet Dental Ass. I say this is because of lifestyles, genetics, what the conventional veterinary community and corporations say our pets need. Even when treated holistically, we are seeing a strong increase in stomatitis and gingivitis in cats.
What happens in the mouth? Think of a picture of wild carnivores eating a carcass – snarling, flesh and bone-gobbling wolves, coyotes, and wild cats with sharp, white, perfect teeth and healthy pink gums. These animals do not eat kibble, nor do they have their teeth cleaned. Obviously, they eat foods that support their whole body as well as their teeth and mouth. To properly use the “nibble the meat off big bones” incisors, the “kill, rip and tear” canines and the big bone crunching molars, our dogs and cats need to have pieces of meat/meaty bones that are big enough. When a carnivore eats kibble, or even ground meat diets, they are not properly using their mouth. Although many kibble foods are quite hard, most break down into soft particles dissolved in the mouth. Just like with people, some dogs and cats can eat dry or canned commercial foods and have healthy mouths (but only 20-30% of them).
If the pet does build up tarter or develop pockets in the gums a cascade of ill health can result. Periodontal disease is any inflammation or infection of the teeth, gums, or related structures. Bacteria and their toxins damage the teeth, gums, and supporting tissues. With time, teeth will loosen, become painful, and eventually fall out. The toxins can also spread via the bloodstream to other organs in the body, including the kidneys, liver, GI tract, lungs, and heart.
We could feed commercial dry or canned food and get the teeth cleaned every 6-12 months like we have our own done, but it is very expensive and may need general anesthesia. WE could feed a commercial “dental diet”, but Dr. Becker says many of these “dental care” kibble and treats, manufacturers coat the food with a man-made industrial polymer called sodium hexametaphosphate (SHMP). According to its Material Safety Data Sheet, SHMP can be hazardous to humans if swallowed. A study on rats found it negatively affected their kidneys, growth, bones, muscles, liver, and thyroid.
Many holistic veterinarians agree that effective prevention does not begin with the feeding of hard kibble and routine cleanings, or “dental diets” but with honoring the natural means by which an animal’s body maintains itself, and by giving it what it needs. For some animals this may mean a raw meaty bone diet with big chunks; frequent health “tune ups” with TCVM (traditional Chinese veterinary medicine), homeopathy, osteopathy or chiropractic; daily Reiki; and supplements to fully maintain whole body and mouth health.
Others may merely need a fresh food diet with any illnesses treated holistically or maybe even conventionally. Some may have clean teeth and live a long life on commercial foods and conventional treatment.
You are the one to know what level of care your pet needs. Learning about holistic approaches, keeping a journal (buy The Healthy Animal’s Journal or learn to make your own) of the regular physical you do that includes looking in the mouth (weekly to monthly), learning the Early Warning Signs of Internal Imbalance, trying new products, “tuning in” to your animals, and working with practitioners who embrace the whole animal health perspective and can keep teaching you. (Remember Dr. Chambreau loves to teach classes anywhere in the world on holistic approaches and in depth introductions to homeopathy.)
But wait! Your pet has a stinky mouth, some brown coating on the teeth, has had a dental recommended. What can you do now? Or you know you want to prevent periodontal disease and cannot feed a raw diet.
- Schedule an appointment with an integrative veterinarian who will put periodontal health into a holistic, “bigger picture” perspective. You and she may agree that the first step is to perform a dental under anesthesia.
- Coenzyme Q10 is a powerful antioxidant and immune system builder that not only supports cardiovascular health but also helps keep gums healthy. Every cat with even the beginning of stomatitis should be on this supplement, and maybe just every cat since this is now of epidemic proportions. Consider adding it to your dog’s diet for long-term dental support, especially as they age. VetriScience gives great information on how it works for the heart and gums. It is key to the formation of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) in the mitochondria. It is found in its highest concentrations in the brain, heart, liver, kidneys and pancreas so if you are feeding a fresh food diet with organ meats, especially the heart, your pets may be getting enough CQ10. Coenzyme Q10 may help minimize oxidative stress, support healthy gum and cardiovascular tissue and support healthy aging. For people – The body’s ability to heal and repair periodontal tissue depends in part on an adequate supply of CoQ10. Gingival biopsies have revealed subnormal tissue levels of CoQ10 in 60% – 96% of patients with periodontal disease. These findings suggest that periodontal disease is frequently associated with CoQ10 deficiency CoQ10 is fat-soluble, so take it with a meal containing fat or with your fish oil supplements, as the natural fats in the fish oil help CoQ10 absorption. The suggested dosage is 1.0 mg per pound of body weight every day.
- Feed foods and botanicals to maintain a healthy oral environment
- Bones (raw chicken or turkey necks – don’t splinter when chewed, but are instead rendered into porous, more uniform particles that your cat can safely digest) provide the calcium necessary for building strong teeth and bones. They also serve as the perfect natural chewing medium for keeping teeth and gums clean and healthy. In addition, unlike heat-prepared commercial foods, raw bones offer the live probiotic bacteria and natural enzymes needed to maintain healthy populations of bacterial flora in the mouth. The oral flora of “good guy” bacteria fight and kill harmful bacteria, such as Streptococci, Actinomyces and other pathogens before they can multiply and cause gingivitis or other infections. A healthy flora also helps break down and remove food particles that remain lodged between the teeth. As well, this beneficial bacteria helps maintain pH (acidity) balances in the mouth, creating a less favorable environment for harmful microbes. Match the proper size of bone to your dog’s teeth. Also keep in mind that no matter how safe you are, bones occasionally splinter and get lodged in the mouth or throat, or result in fractured teeth. In the last decade I have seen more fractured teeth when dogs are allowed to eat very big bones for days at a time. Read more about feeding a fresh food diet and bones in the great nutrition and health books on my favorite books page.
- Raw vegetables and fresh green grass (wheat, barley or otherwise). Fibrous grasses and raw vegetables, like fresh parsley sprigs or unpeeled organic carrots, serve as a natural probiotic and enzyme-rich flosses. Green plants and vegetables also provide antioxidant, disease-fighting chlorophyll that helps freshen breath
- Fruits have Nondialysable material (NDM) which can reverse and prevent the effect of bacteria sticking to teeth causing plaque. Cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, mangos, peaches, and plums have NDM. Berries are healthy in general – antioxidants, bioflavonoids, and more.
- Fennel, parsley, carrots, dill and coriander all have beneficial dental properties.
- Oats –while many say to avoid carbs for healthy teeth, others recommend grains, and oats are one of the better ones. They are known to strengthen teeth
- Wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca) – Animal Wellness Magazine reported that wild strawberry has acid to clean the teeth while the seeds act as an abrasive. Native Americans mashed wild strawberries into a paste and used it to remove tartar, clean the teeth, and alleviate toothaches. Many sources recommend Frageria Vesca 6C (homeopathic medicine) as helping prevent tartar and calculus. In general, homeopathic remedies are not recommended to be given on a routine basis as their power is in re-balancing the vital force on an individual prescription basis that includes all symptoms ever experienced, including the tarter. If other approaches are not working, or muscle testing/dowsing/pendulum/intuitive says to use it, be sure to make a quantified list of all current and past symptoms, including the energy level, emotional status and any of the early warning signs of internal imbalance. Then check the list several times a month to be sure the remedy is not causing any problems.
- Herbs such as Thyme , Peppermint, Tulsi (Holy Basil), Rosemary,Myrrh Cardamom
- Grapefruit seed extractis one of nature’s antiseptics. It can be used both topically and internally. Dilute with a drop in 1/4 C water before applying to gums/teeth. One of my concerns with any “antiseptic/antibiotic natural supplements is they could could reduce good bacterial flora populations needed for a balanced, disease-resistant oral environment.
- Neem has been used for centuries and is even found now in most grocery stores for people toothpaste.
- It is also wise to add a good digestive enzyme powder and a probiotic supplement (Acidophilus, Bifidus, etc.) to your companion’s diet, as these will greatly help with the maintenance of healthy mouth flora. Several brands are available through pet supply retailers.
- Chlorophyll has long been used as a breath freshener and is nutritious as well. It may be found in the various foods and herbs, or listed separately on commercial products.
- Commercial Products – As you read about these products, note that many of the ingredients are ones mentioned above that you could give as food. Sometimes there is a synergistic effect of specific combinations. In my 33 years of holistic I have not found any one product that can create healthy mouths in every animal. You will need to try one after another – both for palatability and effectiveness. Read the ingredients and avoid any with sodium benzoate, xylitol (good for people but not animals), sugars and ingredients you do not recognize.
- PetzLife was founded by Bud Groth ( a big supporter of the AHVMA and holistic veterinary sutdents) and his former business partner to make natural dental care products. David says, “We happened on the ingredients of grapefruit seed extract, grape seed extract and grain alcohol as a viable alternative to scaling, and it worked.” Variety of products and flavors. They donate a lot of product to the rescue community since painful mouths may create aggression.
- Bowser Breath from Animal’s Apawthecary (another company who exhibits at the Holistic conferences) uses a blend parsley, fennel seed, peppermint leaf extract and a patented extract of Champignon mushrooms Agaricus bisporus. Bowser Breath has been shown to be over 400% more effective than parsley extract alone. They indicate it is only for temporary relief of bad breath, but these herbs could change the environment to prevent placque as well.
- Dental Gel with Herbal Extracts (Dr. Karen Becker) has GSE (grapefruit seed extract), neem, thyme, peppermint, tulsi, rosemary and cardamom. It is to be smeared over teeth and gums or if unable to get in the mouth yet, placed on lips, paw, or muzzle to be licked off.
- Biotene’s Veterinarian Drinking Water Additive with patented Mutanase and Dextranase enzyme system does have some ingredients I do not love, but could be tried if others do not work. (all ingredients: Glucose Oxidase, Glycerine, Potassium Sorbate, Potassium Thiocyanate, Purified Water, Rosemary Extract, Sodium Chloride, Sorbitol, Zinc Chloride, Dextranase, Lactoferrin, Lactoperoxidase, Lysozyme, Mutanase)
- Leba III is an herbal product for animals that is sprayed directly on the tongue. Ingredients: ethyl alcohol, rosaceae (rose) extract, lamiacea (mint) extract. If a cat does not like the alcohol, it can be diluted and still be effective.
- Proden Plaque off to be brushed on. One ingredient: seaweed (ascophyllum nodosum)
- New ones appear frequently so read the label and google the ingredients.
- Commerical treats
- Breath-Less Brushless Toothpaste by Ark Naturals is a rice-based chewable treat with a pet toothpaste center Herbsmith’s new Dog Breath Dental Treats
- Terräbone from Complete Natural Nutrition
- Bear Biscuits from Natural Balance
- Solid Gold Dragon’s Teeth Biscuits
- Zuke’s Z-Ridge Dental ChewBones.
- Doctor’s Dream Treats from Wysong are made from meat processed without heat and include ground bone, plant nutrients, enzymes and other ingredients that contribute to dental as well as general bodily health.
- Commercial Dental Toys – Carefully check for high quality. What is it made of? Cheaply made products present the risk of easily breaking. Natural rubber is a safe (and can be sustainably harvested). Are there ridges, bristles or other features that could clean the teeth? Canine toothpaste can also be applied in the toy’s ridges or grooves. Cotton ropes can be purchased or toys of it made yourself. Will your dog or cat want to play with and chew it? Toys that include treat dispensing or gripping features are more attractive as removing the treat exercises his jaws and gums while cleaning his teeth. Match the size to your pet.
- We know I love sustainable efforts, so think of toys that are earth-friendly and recyclable by West Paw Design (it is even B corp certified!).
- Other companies include Kong, and Petstages.
Because you are feeding a raw meat diet with nice chunks, bones and healthy treats you may never need to brush. Just in case, be prepared. Start right now to gently train your dog and cat to love having you examine and mess with their mouth, gums and teeth (because it is always followed with special play time or other treats). At the first hint of brown (ivory is ok) discoloration, start to brush the teeth while you evaluate overall health status.
If you are feeding commercial foods (even frozen raw), or a ground diet, you may see the brown appear sooner, so be sure to check weekly. Always have your veterinarian (preferably integrative) examine your companion’s teeth at every visit and show you what they see.
Choose toothpaste made specifically for pets or make your own.
With commercial ones pick a flavor you think your companion would enjoy eating. Chicken, peanut butter, salmon, etc. Some brands contain probiotic bacteria and/or enzymes, which may help maintain healthy flora in the mouth. None made for pets will have fluoride – poisonous to pets. Other chemicals, preservative, xylitol, antibiotics are also ingredients to avoid.
Merely using coconut oil can be well accepted and some will tolerate baking soda (seems to be some debate about baking soda but I think it is fine).
Offer a dab to your pet, or rub a tiny bit on the gum or foot to be sure she likes it. Then rub the gums with a little on your finger, praising lavishly. Then slowly introduce the paste on a brush. If any resistance, back up a step.
The inner (tongue side) are less likely to have tarter because of increased exposure to saliva.
Slowly increase the number of teeth you clean each session.
One youtube on brushing is good to encourage you to be very gentle in your training is
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZdiJOPJT7g Clint cora.
By regularly checking your pet’s teeth (all the back to the last molars), and having your veterinarian show you the condition of the teeth at the annual exam, you will know when a cleaning is needed.
Anesthesia Free Dentistry, while banned by the American Animal Hospital Association, has proven to be very effective and is used by many veterinary clinics, conventional and integrative.
While many people do not like the thought of having a dog anesthetized to clean the teeth, a holistic approach to anesthesia makes it very safe for virtually all dogs, including seniors. Flower essences, homeopathic medicines, acupuncture, Reiki and many other treatments, along with the very safe newer anesthetics lower the risk significantly so if your efforts have not succeeded, do not delay a full dental. It is far better to very carefully take the risk than it is to have a mouth full of tarter with a bad odor.
“The Importance of Dental Health” article in Animal Wellness Magazine goes into great detail on the health impacts of an unhealthy mouth. Plaque, being thick, irritates the gums and creates pockets that can become inflames, thus absorbing bacterial toxins and pathogens, and creating bacteremia (bacteria in the blood). Usually, bacteria and periodontal toxins are eliminated quickly from the blood, but in high levels, they can cause cumulative damage to distant organs, including the kidneys, heart and liver. Even when the teeth appear completely clean, pockets can be present so a good annual exam should check for these.
When I was in vet school I learned that organ damage was caused by the mouth bacteria getting in the bloodstream, thus infecting other parts of the body. A new science, “periodontal medicine”, now points to the formation of immune complexes of antigens and antibodies that cause organ damage.
In humans, studies show a highly significant association between periodontitis and systemic disorders such as diabetes mellitus, pneumonia, heart disease (most common) and preterm birth. In dogs, studies show an association between increasing severity of periodontal disease and the severity of microscopic changes in organs such as the kidney, liver and heart muscle.
In one study, 67% of poodles older than ten were found to have heart disease. Autopsy results showed heart failure with degenerative enlargements on heart valves and enlargements in coronary vessel walls, with the worst cases having the most advanced periodontal disease. They also had chronic inflammation of the windpipe and bronchi.
Examples of how some animals’ mouths can dramatically improve with above steps can be found on the links below (some shortened here). Also, read the websites for the products for additional testimonials.
- A recently adopted 12 year old dog had teeth caked with calculus and bad breath along with other medical issues, so anesthesia was not recommended. They began feeding her an organic whole foods cooked diet, special treats, and a few supplements including coenzyme Q10. Within one month her teeth were back to normal, she was more active and she showed she loved the dental treats.
- A woman feeding a mostly ground fresh food diet to 5 big dogs had one who would begin to get brown on the teeth. She would then feed turkey necks to that dog and within 2 weeks the teeth would again be clean.
- Often, when an animal has some degree of tarter, and we find the homeopathic constitutional, curative remedy that resolves other illnesses, the teeth become completely tarter free and stay that way for life.
- On any of the raw feeding chat rooms, three major changes are noted after starting a fresh food diet – increased energy, better hair coat and better breath/less tarter.
In summary, if your dog or cat has a perfectly great mouth right now – think of switching to a fresh food diet and use an integrative veterinarian for health, train them to love having you work with their mouth and like brushing, begin to use some of the food supplements (or CoQ10 if you have a cat) and start a journal. If your companion has bad teeth in any way, begin steadily working your way through the above suggestions.
I do Pet Health Coaching, so if you would like to learn specifically what approach may be best for each of your pets and be matched to the very best integrative vet for your household, set up a consult with me.
References and expanded knowledge for the above information.
Web sites for any of the products mentioned – always look at the ingredients.
www.MyHealthyAnimals.com for general information on health.