Helping Your Dog Have a Healthier Mouth

by Dr. Dog Mom, DVM, guest blogger

I love my dogs! They are sweet, funny, smart, loving, and fun! I could go on and on! I bet you love yours too or you wouldn’t be reading this. Their biggest fault is they don’t live long enough. I try to give my dogs the best care available so they will lead long and healthy lives. Don’t you?

One very important, but often neglected, key to keeping our dogs healthy and maximizing the chance they will have a long life is home dental care.

Unhealthy mouths are part of a terrible disease cycle, which starts with with bacteria, leads to tartar (an ugly brown/tan substance) building up on the dog’s teeth, and, if left unchecked, will be followed by gingivitis (inflamed gums), bad breath, and even more serious hidden problems under the gum-line, in the jaw and in the dog’s body.

What causes tartar?

Dogs’ mouths are a complex environment of bacteria and immune cells. There are millions of bacteria living in our dogs’ mouths. Unfortunately, some of the bacteria in their mouths are what we call pathogenic or disease-causing bacteria. These bacteria feed on carbohydrates and others food material in the dogs’ mouth and start forming a biofilm across the exposed surfaces of the teeth and below the gum line. Initially, this is invisible but sticky. Gradually, the bacterial matrix will combine with minerals and harden into tartar, which you can see.

Not only is tartar unsightly, but the dog will also suffer from bad breath. This can affect the enjoyment of our relationship with our dogs. But, even worse, the bacteria produce toxins and will erode the attachments of the teeth and may eventually erode the jaw bone. Even more disturbing, the bacteria may enter the bloodstream and affect the heart and/or kidneys.

What influences dental disease?

The amount of dental disease a dog suffers from depends on several components: genetics, the size of the mouth, diet, the bacterial population in the mouth and mechanical removal of the sticky bacterial film.

How can we, the pet parent, help our dogs and minimize this problem? Let’s look at each of the above listed risk factors and how we might influence our dog’s dental health in each case.

1. Genetics and jaw size

Before you pick a dog, you could select a breed that is less prone to dental disease. Toy breeds are especially prone to dental disease. This is not only due to having a small mouth and crowded teeth, but also due to genetics. Yes, genetics influence the size of the jaw, but beyond that, genetics affect how the dog’s body responds to the attack of the oral bacteria. The majority of the damage from dental bacterial disease is actually a result of the inflammatory response the dog’s own body develops in response to the bacteria. Personally, I am stuck with these risk factors as I am in love with a toy breed! Also, once a dog is part of our family, we can’t do anything about the genetic or jaw size part. Our dog is our dog! So, this gives me a lot of incentive to concentrate on the risk factors I can influence, which we will discuss next.

2. Diet

A diet high in carbohydrates and starches will only encourage the growth of the destructive bacteria in the dogs’ mouths and give them “fuel” for developing tartar. For this (and many other reasons) please feed your dogs a natural meat based diet and treat them with only with natural healthy snacks. (I am always amazed at how many pet parents sped a lot of money on their dog’s food but then give them treats that are full of grains and/or made in China or are full of sugar!)

3. The bacterial population

The bacteria causing dental disease are very hard to kill, especially once they form plaque. Plaque is actually a protective biofilms the bacteria form. Once the biofilm forms, the bacteria are over a thousand times harder to kill with antibiotics. Therefore, antibiotics are not useful in treating dental disease. At one point, there was a vaccine developed against some of the destructive strains of oral bacteria but the data was very mixed and the vaccine turned out to be potentially harmful, so the conditional license was withdrawn and it was removed from veterinary tool boxes.

Another concept would be to overwhelm the “bad bacteria” with “good bacteria” in the from of probiotics. This idea has been explored in both human and veterinary dentistry. The studies I have looked at show mixed results. Some lactobacillus species, especially Lactobacillus brevis, may be helpful here. The good news is Answers Raw Fermented Goat’s Milk and Kefir contain Lactobacillus brevis!!!

Even with mixed results about the helpfulness of probiotics for dental health, since probiotics are important for a healthy gut immune system, I advocate using Answers Fermented Goat’s Milk and Kefir for these reasons also.

4. Mechanical Removal of the biofilm before/after it becomes plaque

How? By hand scraping? Brushing? Professional veterinary cleaning? Bones? It goes without arguing that the most thorough way to clean teeth is by a veterinarian under anesthesia, where the teeth can even be cleaned below the gum line, and the teeth can be thoroughly polished after the removal of tarter. But, there are the downsides of the risk anesthesia and the ever increasing cost. Also, this is just a temporary measure. Sadly, within hours of even a professional cleaning, the bacterial populations will start back up. So it is extremely important to have daily home care of the teeth. We can help our dogs here!

Hand scraping without polishing will damage dental enamel. I do not recommend scraping dogs’ teeth without following it with sufficient polishing, which is about impossible to do right without the proper equipment.

Some raw feeders like to use raw bones for nutrition and to help keep teeth clean. However, raw bones come with the risk of breaking teeth and bones may also be a choking hazard. I personally do not feed raw bones (though I will use ground bones and bone broth for nutrition). Never feed cooked bones or ANY weight bearing bones. I know many raw feeders may disagree with me on this, but this I am sharing my honest opinion. We can do a lot to help our dogs by brushing their teeth which gently mechanically removes the biofilm. Years ago, I started brushing my dogs’ teeth. Due to personal circumstances in the late 90’s, I stopped brushing their teeth for a while. I saw very quickly a huge increase in the amount of tartar building up in my dogs’ mouths! Never ever use human toothpaste for a dog, some contain xylitol which is fatal, none are meant to be swallowed and dogs don’t spit out toothpaste! There are many dental products made for dogs but choose wisely. READ the ingredients. There are many products I avoid due to containing unnatural ingredients. Board certified veterinary dentists have told me the mechanical action of brushing is the critical part and even brushing without paste or gel will help. I do find, however, some products do seem to help some, others do not.

Now, if you have never brushed your dogs teeth, don’t expect to just pick up a brush and be able to do this on the first try! This is, after all, a rather alien concept for a dog to accept why we are sticking a plastic stick in their mouths and moving it around!! Many dogs don’t even like their mouths touched. You need to condition a dog to accepting teeth brushing. I use positive reinforcement and my dogs fight to get their turn at teeth brushing! I start by just handling their mouth and clicking and treating. Gradually, I open the lips, click and treat. I build up to touching the teeth, touching a toothbrush to the teeth and so on. If you are not familiar with the process of teaching a dog to accept something this way, please get an experienced person to work with you.

Answers Pet Food, Treats

Answers Pet Food, Treats

But how do you reward teeth brushing and not undo everything you just did by brushing their teeth after eating?

This has been a dilemma of mine —until recently! I now use Answers Rewards after I brush my dogs’ teeth. Not only do my dogs absolutely love these treats, but they are full of probiotics and have other healthy ingredients good for their immune systems.

Just go in small steps, several times a day. Take your time. It is very important to make the rewards worth it for you dog. My most recent puppy used to act like I was killing her, just by touching her mouth! It took a lot of time and patience, and high value rewards, but now I can brush her teeth throughly (and yes, she lines up with the others for her turn).

Additionally, I am really excited to share with you that I learned through my research in dental literature that cheese has been shown in clinical studies to have a protective affect on teeth. Studies by human dentists have shown that eating cheese after a meal will actually help protect the teeth! In humans, the literature states it only takes 15 grams, which is about a half an ounce, of cheese, to have a protective effect. If an average human weighs 150 pounds, it does not sound like it would take much to reach a helpful level in my dogs! I see no reason why this benefit would not apply to dogs. (One Answers Reward weighs about 0.2 ounces, by the way).

So using Answers Rewards to positively reward my dogs accepting teeth brushing has been win/win! I am giving my dogs probiotics to help their oral and GI flora, I am rewarding them for accepting brushing and the cheese is helping prevent the bacteria acting on the teeth in the first place!

Will you pledge to start incorporating home dental care to help protect your dog’s health today?

It may be one of the most important steps you can take to influence your dog’s health. I really can’t emphasize enough how important it is for you to start incorporating at least once daily brushing into your pet care routine. However, if you absolutely can’t brush their teeth, please at least feed a species appropriate raw meat based diet and follow the meal with a raw goat’s milk based Rewards!

The case against High Pressure Pasteurization.

What is HPP?

High Pressure Pasteurization is a USDA-approved non-thermal pasteurization process that is commonly used in the food industry. It’s viewed as an effective way to eliminate disease-causing bacteria, or pathogens such as E. coli, in food. It achieves this result through the application of using extremely high pressure exerted by a liquid through a water bath that surrounds the food. The pressure is uniformly applied from all sides in order from the product from being crushed.

The case against HPP.

+ Once HPP process is used, food cannot be considered legitimately raw

+ Pasteurization depletes and irreversibly denatures enzymes, vitamins, essential
fatty acids, and benefical bacteria

+ Processing deteriorates the molecular composition of meat

+ HPP does not kill the spores that may form when bacteria go into hibernation mode

High Pressure Pasteurized raw foods are no longer truly raw.

Pressure pasteurization strips away naturally-occurring probiotics, proteins, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. There is no good bacteria left to protect against bad bacteria. After the HPP process, meat is reground, due to the cooked appearance. Regrinding can contaminate meat with harmful bacteria, and further have a deteriorating impact on the chemical composition of the meat; including grinding, mixing, vacuum stuffing and freezing.

Standard mass market approach.

Much of the meat in this country contains pathogenic bad bacteria loads–a direct result of the crowded housing conditions, poor hygiene, and improper feeding and handling techniques of livestock animals. Thus the reason many companies chose or need to use HPP.  This is why we only use livestock that is not kept in confinement.

HPP loopholes.

Although HPP kills both bad pathogenic and beneficial bacteria, many bacteria will hibernate and form spores when faced with a hostile environment like HPP. Since beneficial bacteria have been destroyed, pathogens (bad bacteria) have no competition in the environment, and harmful spores can freely proliferate to infectious levels.

Our unique process sets us apart in the pet food industry



Our nutritional vision is to make the best pet food available. We found that the best way to accomplish this was by using fermented raw foods. Since the birth of our company in 2009, we have enjoyed organic growth all over the country thanks to the fantastic results of pets switching from processed, raw or so-called raw foods to our fermented diet.


Unlike any other raw diet, Answers Pet FoodTM enhances the nutritional value of raw food through the process of fermentation. It’s a safe, healthier option to standardized HPP. Fermentation produces a natural medicine known as bacteriocins, which destroy unwanted bacteria. By utilizing kombucha (fermented organic decaffeinated green tea), raw cultured whey, cultured raw goat’s milk, and kefir, we created our own category by becoming the first and only fermented raw pet food diet in the industry.


Good bacteria is needed to create a thriving gut, and we believe that bacteria is the number one missing ingredient in pet food. We inoculate every one of our foods with this beneficial bacteria and allow the organisms to thrive. These bacteria go to work pre-digesting the food, making it easier for pets to assimilate nutrients. Fermentation helps support immune function; it increases B-vitamins, digestive enzymes, antioxidants, and lactic acid that fight off harmful bacteria. Good bacteria fill up the food and also inhibit the growth of bad bacteria. Safety through inhibition—just like nature has done from the very beginning. Fermentation is the most natural and effective way for us to make our products as safe and healthy as possible.

From Farm to Bowl

We knew there needed to be a higher level of quality nutrition, food bioavailability, and a more humane way to source farm animals in the pet food industry.

Knowing the state of operations and quality of food that were currently on the shelves, we didn’t want to be a large, industrial corporation that outsourced materials, or one of the so-called raw food companies employing harsh processing techniques like high pressure processing or freeze-drying.

We knew it was time to offer a humane, sustainable way of organic, pasture-raised farming that protects the food state, environment, animals, and our pets’ well-being. From farm to bowl, this is how Answers Pet FoodTM was created.

Our standards are set both by science and by socially and environmentally-conscious principles. We’d like pet owners to re-examine how to meet their pets’ nutrition requirements and health care needs.

Our mission is to be more than a pet food manufacturing company, but an ethical, social,
environmentally-conscious and best-practices-based movement in the raw pet food industry. And our goal is to improve the probability that our pets live longer, happier, and healthier lives.

Beyond the Bowl was created to meet the needs of our pet parents that were looking to us for guidance on nutrition, feeding practices, health concerns, current and upcoming events, and sharing advanced medical news and research in the holistic pet health care industry.