Mar 05 2013

Get Your Chew On

I get a lot of questions about what chews are good to feed our canine patients to keep their teeth clean.
Some dogs will do a great job and chew treats with both sides of their mouths and using most of their teeth to keep that tartar to a minimum while other dogs will get incredible buildup despite liking to chew.  (My own dog (gotta love her!) only chews on the right side of her mouth and thus still needs dental cleanings for the tartar on the other side of her mouth).   Unfortunately, every dog is different and there is no right answer for every patient.  That being said, we do have some great options out there for those dogs that like to chew.
One thing to keep in mind.  Bad breath is a product of the plaque, tartar and associated bacteria that are in the mouth.  No chews, even ones that “freshen breath” are going to be able to get every surface of every tooth and thus will not solve all breath problems but can help.
Since there are so many products out there, it would be impossible (and really boring) to go through them all but here are a few highlights.  As a general rule, if you can press your thumb nail into the chew, it’s ok.  If it is too hard for your nail, then it’s too hard for the teeth!  Remember, teeth are not made of steel.  They can fracture and chip off with enough force.
Products such as antlers, thick rawhides, cow/pig ears, etc can be helpful for the teeth as they scrape along the surface to clear off the tartar. However, these chews are also our most common offenders for slab fractures. Slab fractures are the most common type of tooth fracture seen on our “chewers”.  These fractures start at the tip of the teeth and generally split the teeth in half lengthwise all the way to the gumline (and beyond).  Many times, they go unnoticed because tartar builds up on the teeth and dogs will continue to eat.  However, these teeth now have the pulp canals (the inner parts of the teeth containing the nerves and blood vessels) exposed to the environment.  The mouth has plenty of bacteria that lives there normally (not to mention whatever dogs pick up in their mouths!).  When these pulp canals are exposed to the environment, bacteria can invade these teeth and an abscess (pocket of infection) can form.  This can be quite painful and a lot of dogs will develop swellings that can pop up pretty suddenly.
That being said, there are many great dental chew products out there.  I have heard complaints that they don’t last as long as the antlers or rawhides but they will not fracture teeth either.   If you do choose to feed these products, I recommend every 6 month dental checks with the physical exam to look for fractured teeth and have those teeth extracted when noticed to avoid any unnecessary pain and infection.
The Veterinary Oral Health Council is an organization that has done independent research on many dental health products for our four legged friends. They have compiled a list of their approved products.  These are available at:
There is also some great information on dental disease too.
Dental treats are a great way to keep those mouths clean as long as your pet likes to chew and they aren’t harming the teeth.  Keep in mind that not all pets will fall into this category and most will need a cleaning   or multiples during their lifetime!
Dr. Freihaut

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