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The Dog's Mouth Influences Overall Health

Updated on August 8, 2013
Bob Bamberg profile image

With 30 years in the pet supply industry, Bob's newspaper column deals with animal health, nutrition, behavior, regulation, and advocacy.


I’m writing this in February, which is National Pet Dental Health Month. Bet you didn’t know that. Bet pretty much most of the country doesn’t know that. It’s not very well promoted, except maybe in vet clinics and some pet supply stores.

Some newspapers may run a press release once, and maybe a local TV station here and there has a local vet on to talk about it for 3 minutes. Other than that, it’s pretty much whispered from the mountain tops.

Sponsored by The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), other professional groups, and some commercial partners, the event is designed to call attention to the importance of good oral care for our pets, since a large percentage of pet owners aren’t aware of just how catastrophic periodontal disease can turn out to be.

Let's Shatter Some Myths

MYTH: 42% of pet parents think dogs’ mouths are cleaner than humans’

FACT: Dog’s mouths are absolutely not cleaner than human mouths.

DISCUSSION: Hey…you 42%...are you @#$%& serious? Think about it a minute. He grabs a snack out of the cat’s litter box, washes it down with a big gulp from the toilet bowl, and then settles down for a long, leisurely butt lick. And now he wants to give you a kiss? You never know for sure where that mouth has been.

MYTH: 16 million pet parents think a dog’s saliva can heal human wounds.

FACT: 16 million pet parents can be wrong, and these 16 million are.

DISCUSSION: Allowing a dog to lick a cut or scrape can lead to serious infections.


MYTH: Over 60% of pet parents think it’s fine to let pets lick their faces.

FACT: People can get sick from the bacteria in their pets’ mouths.

DISCUSSION: Yet millions of us allow our pets to lick our faces and we live to tell about it. No doubt some of us get sick, and we probably attribute it to “a 24 hour bug” or “a touch of stomach flu.” We still live to tell about it. But, in some cases it can be very serious. Babies, people with compromised immune systems, and the elderly are most vulnerable.

MYTH: 1 in 3 pet parents assume that bad breath is normal in pets.

FACT: Bad breath isn’t normal in pets.

DISCUSSION: See? They’re right when they say, “You know what happens when we assume.” Bad breath in pets is a symptom, not a condition unto itself. Usually it’s a sign of periodontal disease, but it can mean certain systemic conditions, such as liver or kidney problems.

Of course, there's the occasional bad breath that results from "dumpster diving," coprophagia (eating poop) or the road kill he consumes before you get to him. And there's the growing popularity of the use of salmon oil or fish based treats, so you'll often hear owners complain about fish breath. But those are just temporary, and explainable, episodes of halitosis. Chronic bad breath demands action.

MYTH: Over 25 million pet parents think all chewing is good for dogs’ teeth.

FACT: While most chewing is good for dogs, chewing on certain hard objects can cause problems. For instance, stuff like rocks or ice cubes can cause cracks in teeth; even so tiny that they’re hard to see with the naked eye, but ample enough to permit the introduction of bacteria, leading to more serious problems.

Sticks can splinter, allowing shards of wood to penetrate tissue anywhere from the mouth through the entire intestinal tract. Possible consequences include internal bleeding and infection.

The numbers I used above came from a display I saw at a pet supply store. The display didn’t list a source for the info, and store personnel didn’t know where it came from, but I’m using it, unverified, because the numbers don’t really matter; the issues do.


Periodontal Disease Isn't Normal, But It Seems To Be The Norm

For decades the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have said that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have periodontal disease by age three.

Despite the fact that, in most households, pets are given full family-member status and receive a high level of health care, that statistic hasn’t changed. While more and more of us are employing a regular home dental regimen for our pets, apparently not enough of us are.

Some Warning Sign To Heed

While bad breath is often the first sign of periodontal disease, there are other symptoms and behaviors to watch out for:

  • Discolored, chipped or cracked teeth
  • Bleeding or inflamed gums, often over an individual tooth
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Tilting the head while chewing food and treats
  • Refusing hard food, treats or toys
  • Excessive drooling
  • Swelling under an eye
  • Loose tooth
  • Pawing the jaw or rubbing the face along the floor
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach or intestinal upset
  • Depression or irritability

The quality of your pet’s dental health has significant impact on his general health and quality of life. Clearly, it’s too important to take lightly.

What Pet Dental Health Month Means To You

Of course, anytime is the right time to talk to your vet about your pet’s dental health, but during National Pet Dental Health Month some vet clinics offer discounts on cleanings, or maybe a free dental exam conducted by a vet tech who has been trained to identify various warning signs.

They may also offer special prices on dental treats or supplies, and they’re sure to have plenty of brochures and other hand-outs that educate and reinforce the message of good pet dental health. You might ask if they have a DVD to lend out that demonstrates proper techniques for brushing your dog's or cat's teeth

Some pet supply stores and general merchandisers offer discounts on dental toys, treats and supplies, while some groomers will show you how to brush your pets’ teeth.

You might also take the opportunity to re-evaluate your customary treat and toy selections. There are a bunch of both on the market that, in addition to providing mental stimulation and an opportunity for interaction with your pet, also serve to promote their good oral health.


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    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 10 months ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Sorry it took so long for me to acknowledge your comment, ladyguitarpicker, but I just saw this when I accidentally clicked on the comments tab on my hubs page. You're lucky that your dogs enjoy good oral health. Periodontal disease can sometimes be just the tip of the iceberg. Thanks for stopping by.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 14 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      I have had several dogs that their teeth have stayed white and their breath was good. I have only one dog that has had a bad tooth problem. They eat a lot of bones. Great advise.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Lizzy, it's never too late. If, during grooming and cuddle time, you can gradually get the cat used to your fingers being in its mouth, you can usually brush the teeth with a gauze-wrapped finger tip. It's not like you have to get the cat to brush-rinse-spit, then gargle with mouthwash. You can teach an old cat new tricks. :)

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Doc, thanks for stopping by. Yeah, I've seen documentaries where animals have been tranquilized for whatever reason and the vets giving a dental check while they were at it.

      I agree that it would be a really interesting job...but probably one of the most dangerous you could engage in.

      Estimating the weight of an animal and dosing the tranquilizer based on that estimate is a high risk endeavor. It's my understanding that tranquilized animals have been known to wake up suddenly, and generally be pretty cranky!

      Imagine a lion suddenly waking up with a mouth full of dental hardware? It might take issue with the Dr.'s good intentions. I suppose if it's just for a dental treatment, you could truss the animal in such a way that if it did wake up, it couldn't attack. But, if you're also treating wounds and taking measurements, the trussing wouldn't work.

      If I were a veterinarian, I think I'd like being in a nice small-animal clinic treating Boomer and Mittens. I'd leave the big cats to you cowboys :)

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Thanks for your detailed reply. I appreciate the information, but I do think it's a bit late in the day for me to begin the practice...I don't see them cooperating in the least. ;-)

      As for 'catizens,' use it as you will. It's not original with me; I picked it up a couple of years ago on the "Cat Blogosphere," (people writing blogs in the first-person "by" their cats), where it's a relatively common reference. ;-)

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      I just read your comment to Lizzy, and wanted to mention that I saw some African vets capture an African Wild Dog to clean his teeth and repair a canine that was infected secondary to a slab fracture.

      I am really curious how often that happens with tigers. That would be a reallyinteresting job to have.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Lizzy, thanks for stopping by. You'd be surprised at how many people are out there brushing their pets' teeth. More and more, people are connecting the dots between good oral health, better general health, and lower vet bills.

      While no one is out there brushing the teeth of lions, tigers, and wolves, those guys' life spans are 1/2 to 1/3 that of their domesticated cousins. In most zoos, they're constantly observed for tooth problems and some even have regular scalings.

      While the wild predators have a number of factors that contribute to their early demise...infections from wounds resulting from attacking prey that fights back, injuries sustained in territorial or courtship battles, etc., I'd bet plenty of necropsies would show serious systemic problems resulting from periodontal disease.

      I've got a great programming idea for Animal Planet: send Jungle Jack Hannah out there to do big cat-necropsies. I'll bet they won't go for it. :)

      The crunchy food doesn't do much to scrape the teeth. Most dogs swallow it whole or give it one or two crushing chomps. There may be a little beneficial abrasive action to the crowns of the teeth, but the main benefit of dry food is that it promotes saliva flow and more stuff gets washed down the throat.

      Thanks for stopping by and introducing me to the term senior catizens. I love it. Permission to use it in a hub?

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Thanks for stopping by,'s always good to have you participate. You're right about the inappropriate-size bones.

      I don't know if you remember the Greenies incident back around 2005, when there were reports of dogs choking on Greenies, with a few deaths reported. As it turned out, in every case, it was an inappropriate size Greenie that was provided to the dog.

      The company came out with some real tiny versions of this popular chew treat (which many vets recommended and, in fact, sold) so that even the tiniest dogs could have a safe chew. Thank you for the votes!

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Dog licks on the face? Maybe. On the mouth? Absolutely not! I used to have dogs, and never allowed that 'full face slobber' activity.

      As for brushing their teeth? Seriously? Where did this come from all of a sudden? I ask you, who is out there brushing the teeth of their larger cousins, lions, tigers and wolves?

      I don't see myself trying to convince my cats that this is a good idea, especially as they are all adults of varying ages, and some are senior "catizens."

      Even though I keep their nails trimmed, they still have sharp teeth, and I value my fingers. I serve them crunchy food, which, from what I understand, is supposed to serve about the same purpose...

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      This was a great read, I voted up and useful and happy to read many myths debunked! I also loved the humor you added in between the facts. An issue I see often is pet parents buying their puppies bones labeled for adult dogs.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Yeah, I'm with you. There's too much empirical evidence to the contrary, which is why I soft-pedaled the face licking. And as I was writing it, I was thinking you'd comment about it.

      But it's a CYA thing. If you asked me, on the record, if it's OK to do 75 mph on Interstate 95, I'd advise you to do 65, which is the speed limit. But I, and most everyone else, does 75. Do some accidents occur? Sure, but on a percentage basis, it's minimal. The same with face licking. We humans do worse than that to each other and we're still alive to talk about certain circles, that is. :)

      As always, great to have you stop by and comment. Thanks for the votes and sharing.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Okay, I would not let my dog lick a wound but the issue of licking the face seems MAAN. As you mentioned, if there was a child with an compromised immune system it might be different, but normal dog licking normal human is good for both--the human feels special and the dog feels like she has made contact, as it is a form of communication. When I get home in the afternoon I bend down and let my dog lick the side of my face since it re-establishes our bond. (If you buy the old alpha dog argument it also establishes an alpha-beta relationship.)

      Interesting hub. Voted up and shared.