Tag Archives: dental care

New – but is it safe and effective?

Look what I found when cleaning out yesterday – in a file of old vet records for Daisy (who passed away in July 2014) – a brochure for Periovac.  With February being Pet Dental Health Month – I thought this blog post was entirely appropriate.

Periovac brochure


Periovac, marketed by Pfizer with some fanfare in 2006, the vaccine was touted as the latest and greatest thing that dog owners could do to support dental health in their dogs.  On a routine visit to a vet for a lump on Daisy’s side, he handed me this brochure when he noted that she had some tartar buildup recommending both a dental cleaning and vaccination with this product.

“It’s quite new,” he said.

I remember that this statement raised some alarm bells for me because animal medications have a much lower threshold for testing and approvals before they hit the market.  In fact, most pet owners are unaware that the newest medications on the market are often being sold with fairly limited research behind them, often under limited or conditional licenses.

At that time, I was also of the view that dental health in people is managed through dental care such as regular brushing of the teeth and professional cleanings.  I thought that the same would apply to dogs (and still do!).  I couldn’t imagine a vaccine for my dental health – so why one for my dog?

I remember emailing Angell Memorial Animal Hospital’s advice line about use of the product.  The response is one I vividly remember, “Has she tried everything else?”

That answer spoke volumes for me.  I didn’t vaccinate Daisy.

Pfizer withdrew the product from the market in 2011.  They said after a 4-year study, use of the vaccine could not be linked to a long-term reduction in periodontal disease.  The company stood by the product’s safety, however.  I wonder how many dog owners had paid to use the vaccine in good faith – possibly stopping other care methods like brushing of the teeth – I bet they weren’t told that the vaccine turned out to be ineffective!

So my advice for Pet Dental Health Month remains – brush your dog’s teeth.  Everyday.

And my other advice – for dog health in its entirety – is be careful about being an early adopter of new medications.  Make sure you understand how the medication works and what research has been done into both its efficacy and its safety.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand


Is dental care cultural?

Earlier this week, I went to the dentist.  There was nothing wrong – I just booked in for an annual check-up and a cleaning.  The lovely young dentist I saw said, “Oh, you’re an American.  Americans understand dental care.”

And, while I was flattered, it also got me thinking.

Here in New Zealand there are public service announcements on television with tooth fairies reminding parents they need to brush their kid’s teeth with fluoride toothpaste.  We never had anything like that when I was growing up and I don’t think it was needed because I remember that we even had health classes in school when we’d receive little complementary packs of a toothbrush and toothpaste to take home.

But if dental care varies across cultures, it would explain why I still meet many dog owners here in New Zealand who don’t brush their dog’s teeth.


A client demonstrates teeth brushing

Most veterinarians will say that teeth brushing for our dogs is the best thing you can do – before dental diets, drinking water additives and chews – for your dog’s dental health.

Dental care, including teeth brushing, is a good habit for everyone in the family.  After I brush my teeth at night, Izzy gets her teeth brushed.

Greyhounds are known for their bad teeth – and yet more than 2 years after I adopted her, I am proud to say that Izzy has yet to need a dental cleaning at the vet.  And the vet comments that her teeth are in good condition.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Fighting Fractures

Sometimes, I come across resources on the internet that just have to be shared.  Here’s one of them.  It’s a fact sheet by Dr Brett Beckman, a veterinary dentist, about fractured teeth, how to prevent them, and the treatments available.

Fighting Fractures

You can download a .pdf of this fact sheet from www.dentalvets.co.uk

Recommended reading for all dog parents…

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand


Greyhounds, it seems, like to sleep with their mouths open.   And their owners like to take photos of their hounds showing off their ‘teefs’ – photos that are shared on Facebook groups involving greyhounds (I follow several)…

Greyhound front teeth by Elizabeth Anne Dodd

A sleeping greyhound shows off their front teefs (Photo by Elizabeth Anne Dodd)

So I’ve used these photos as an inspiration.  How much do you know about your dog’s teeth?

greyhound front teeth upside down by Gill Vernon

An upside down sleeping Greyhound, again showing off the front teefs (Photo by Gill Vernon)

Let’s look at a diagram of an adult dog’s teeth:


Adult dog teeth diagram

An adult dog’s teeth (diagram courtesy of the Merck Vet Manual)

The dog has 6 incisors on the upper and lower jaws that are used for grasping.

Of the famous “canine teeth” there are only 2 each on the upper and lower jaws.  Their main function is tearing.

There are 8 premolars on the upper and lower jaw and their main function is grinding.  There are 4 molars in the upper jaw and 6 on the lower jaw.  These teeth also have a grinding function.

The best way to keep your dog’s teeth healthy is to feed a nutritious diet.

I am a big support of regular teeth brushing, too. (see my blog post on Brushing your dog’s teeth)

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand


Brushing your dog’s teeth

I see a lot of dogs in my massage practice who have bad breath and/or other noticeable signs of dental disease.  Ask most veterinarians and they’ll tell you that they do a lot of ‘dentals’ during the course of any given week.  If your dog requires teeth to be extracted because of infection, cracking, or gum disease, your healthcare bill will quickly increase.

The first line of defense in keeping your dog’s teeth healthy is a good diet of wholesome ingredients.  That includes chews and bones.  Raw diets excel in this because they use bones as a staple part of the diet but I have also seen dogs with excellent teeth who are fed commercial dog foods – typically supplemented with fresh ingredients – and with bones and chews a regular part of the regime.

Some owners feed a combination of raw and commercial diets; I personally like this balanced approach and it is what I feed my own dog.

But, and here’s the but…bones and chews don’t solve the dental disease problem for a good number of dogs.   Why?

  • Some dogs just aren’t naturally strong chewers; they aren’t motivated by chewing for very long – even on a fresh and meaty bone
  • Dogs who have been rescued or adopted may already have already experienced damage to their teeth or suffered early in life because of a poor diet or starvation
  • I believe that some dogs, like people, have a mouth chemistry that pre-disposes them to tartar build-up.  Dogs are individuals and we simply can’t rule out that nature deals the bad-teeth card to some dogs
  • Dogs who have been born with defects such as cleft palates usually have something wrong with their teeth from the outset; bones and chews may be difficult for these dogs

So what’s the next step?

My view is definitely teeth-brushing.  We train our children to do this daily.  Why would it be any different for a domesticated dog?

[And, with hand on heart, most vets will choose teeth brushing over a special ‘dental diet’ any day.]  The issue here is having the patience and persistence to brush teeth effectively.  Unfortunately, a lot of owners simply give up because of their dog’s protests and vets then become conditioned to ‘water down’ the advice by saying ‘try it a couple of days per week..’ and ‘feed a dental diet.’

I brush my dog’s teeth daily.  Izzy is a retired racing greyhound, a breed known for their bad teeth.  By the time Izzy was adopted at age 5 1/2, her teeth were noticeably unstable and worn down from what must have been chewing on the bars of a kennel or some other surface equally as unforgiving.  She had teeth extracted as part of her adoption medical visit.

I like this very straightforward video from The Whole Dog Journal on the subject of teeth brushing.  The only oversight is that the video doesn’t cover the triple-headed toothbrush design which I prefer.  My concern with the long-handled toothbrushes is that it is easy to poke a dog in the mouth with them, particularly if they are fussing with you over getting their teeth brushed in the first place…

Triple headed dog toothbrush

A triple-headed dog toothbrush – my choice!

There are other natural solutions to dental care which include the use of homeopathics and herbs.  All of these are my choice before a dental diet.  Why?

Well here’s the ingredient list off the label of a well-known prescription diet product.  Does it sound healthy/wholesome to you?

Brewers Rice, Whole Grain Corn, Chicken By-Product Meal, Powdered Cellulose, Pork Fat, Soybean Mill Run, Lactic Acid, Chicken Liver Flavor, Soybean Oil, Calcium Sulfate, Potassium Chloride, L-Lysine, Iodized Salt, Choline Chloride, vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of Vitamin C), Niacin Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement), minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), Taurine, Mixed Tocopherols for freshness, Natural Flavors, Beta-Carotene

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Dentistry without anesthesia?

I had a phone call yesterday from an older gentleman who wanted to know if I cleaned dogs’ teeth without anesthetic.  (I do not)  I told him that I do sell dog toothbrushes and toothpaste and he wasn’t aware that these things existed!  And then he said that he would never be able to brush his dog’s teeth because he wouldn’t cooperate.

This made me wonder why he thought a dental procedure without sedating his dog was going to be effective.  But I try to be positive when engaging with new clientele; it seems that he was after a procedure that would cost him less money – not necessarily what was appropriate (or comfortable) for his dog.

I explained that I thought he would be better served by having a proper dental cleaning which is a veterinary procedure and then focusing on prevention.  This would include things like teeth-brushing by getting his dog accustomed to the taste of the paste, then gradually introducing the brush with praise and treats (positive reinforcement) throughout.

He thanked me for my advice.

I’ve done a little homework about this practice, because I have concerns whether an animal could truly be treated thoroughly without sedation.  I’ve just been to the dentist myself for a cleaning this week and it isn’t always a comfortable procedure!  Imagine a dog being restrained for it…

The American Veterinary Dental College refers to Anesthesia-Free Dentistry as Non-Professional Dental Scaling (NPDS) and cautions owners against the procedure for the following reasons:

1. Dental tartar is firmly adhered to the surface of the teeth. Scaling to remove tartar is accomplished using ultrasonic and sonic power scalers, plus hand instruments that must have a sharp working edge to be used effectively. Even slight head movement by the patient could result in injury to the oral tissues of the patient, and the operator may be bitten when the patient reacts.
2. Professional dental scaling includes scaling the surfaces of the teeth both above and below the gingival margin (gum line), followed by dental polishing. The most critical part of a dental scaling procedure is scaling the tooth surfaces that are within the gingival pocket (the subgingival space between the gum and the root), where periodontal disease is active. Because the patient cooperates, dental scaling of human teeth performed by a professional trained in the procedures can be completed successfully without anesthesia. However, access to the subgingival area of every tooth is impossible in an unanesthetized canine or feline patient. Removal of dental tartar on the visible surfaces of the teeth has little effect on a pet’s health, and provides a false sense of accomplishment. The effect is purely cosmetic.

3. Inhalation anesthesia using a cuffed endotracheal tube provides three important advantages… the cooperation of the patient with a procedure it does not understand, elimination of pain resulting from examination and treatment of affected dental tissues during the procedure, and protection of the airway and lungs from accidental aspiration.

4. A complete oral examination, which is an important part of a professional dental scaling procedure, is not possible in an unanesthetized patient. The surfaces of the teeth facing the tongue cannot be examined, and areas of disease and discomfort are likely to be missed.

In my blog on Managing Dental Health, I explain the things I do for Daisy to keep her teeth in good condition.  I recommend professional veterinary care to ensure your dog’s oral health, followed by a preventative regime that minimizes the need for future cleanings and anesthesia.