Plaque? Tartar? Calculus? What is the best way to protect my dog’s mouth?
The mouth is home to a great many types of bacteria, and teeth offer a great place for bacteria to build themselves more room to live. In fact, the cause of poor dental health is mainly due to the bacteria that live in the mouth – it all starts with the formation of plaque.
Think of plaque as a thin, sticky coating being put over the teeth. Bacteria form plaque from food particles and cells that are sloughed off in the mouth. It takes as little as a day for plaque to start to form. Within three to four days, there is a noticeable layer on the teeth. The good thing about plaque is that it’s fairly soft. A little scrubbing of the teeth will usually remove it. The bad thing about plaque is it allows more and more bacteria to stick to the teeth. You can think of plaque as houses that the bacteria build.
The next step in dental disease is the formation of tartar, sometimes called calculus. The bacteria use minerals, mainly calcium to form tartar – very hard deposits on the teeth. Tartar is difficult to remove, and the build up of more and more tartar allows more and more bacteria to live on the teeth. With the formation of tartar, bacteria now have high rise condo units to live in, instead of bungalows! The biggest problem with this build up of bacteria is not the unsightly looking tartar; it is the many different toxins produced by the bacteria.
The toxins eat away at the gums causing them to get red and to bleed. This is called gingivitis. If left untreated the gums will recede enough so that the teeth will fall out. The toxins produced can also attack other organs in the body, most notably the heart. Another noticeable side effect of the toxins is their smell, which causes bad breath.
How Can We Prevent All This?
The most effective way to remove plaque is physical brushing/abrasion. This needs to be done frequently enough to prevent the formation of tartar. Once tartar begins to form, brushing alone is not going to remove all the tartar. Ideally a pet’s teeth should be brushed at least every other day. If the plaque is removed, the bacteria have nothing to hold onto and the population of bacteria remains very low. With dogs, the chewing action can also be used to create physical abrasion. This can be done with certain types of chew toys and certain types of edible treats. The treat or toy that results in the most chewing is likely to have the most dental benefit. Rawhide treats can reduce plaque and tartar about 50%. The longer lasting chew treats like Greenies can have up to a 70% reduction. With cats, the chewing action is not a viable solution simply because most cats don’t chew. However, Petstages dental cat toys are specially formulated to help clean teeth.
Eliminate the Bacteria
If the bacteria are eliminated from the mouth, the whole process of plaque and tartar cannot get started. Most dental aids used for pets rely on eliminating bacteria by using an ingredient that has antimicrobial activity. Mouth washes and breath tabs usually have an antimicrobial ingredient. The problem with these antimicrobial ingredients is that they work only while they are present in the mouth. The mouth washes in particular are only active in the mouth for a very short period of time. One reason that Wysong DentaTreat works well is the fat in the cheese helps give it a longer residence time in the mouth. Breath strips also work well for this reason.
The structure of tartar can be weakened if the calcium is replaced by another mineral. The most common mineral used to replace calcium is phosphorus. Ingredients such as Hexametaphosphate and Sodium Tripolyphosphate are used in pet foods and treats to help reduce tartar build up. Basically, the phosphorus replaces calcium in the structure of the tartar, causing the tartar to weaken and crumble. If plaque is a bacteria bungalow, and tartar is a bacteria high-rise condo, then adding phosphorus is like replacing the steel building materials with Styrofoam. The dry formulations of Performatrin pet food contain sodium tripolyphosphate to help attack tartar. The “trona minerals” in DentaTreat function in a similar manner as phosphorus. Without the hard tartar it is easier to remove the plaque, and best of all, the population of bacteria is dramatically reduced.
The Best Approach
Pet foods can use a combination of tartar removing ingredients along with physical abrasion (produced by the dry kibble) to help reduce tartar and plaque, but even this combination is not enough to completely solve the problem. This is why dental care goes beyond relying on food alone. A varied approach, with dry food, chew toys, antimicrobial products and regular brushing of a pet’s teeth will produce the best results.