What is plaque and tartar, and how to prevent dental disease

Commonly referred to as... 'The gross brown stuff that has accumulated on my dogs teeth'. Plaque and Tartar are growing concern for pet owners, and is the cause of gum disease, bad breath, and rotten teeth. With over 65% of dogs and cats suffering from some form of dental disease by the age of 3, prevention is key! 

Tartar is Plaque that has hardened on the teeth. Its accumulation irritates the gums, causing them to become inflamed and the encouragement of a disease called gingivitis. 



Dental disease is the number one condition seen by veterinarians today, and something that can be so easily prevented. 

Many pet owners think that dental disease in dogs and humans is the same, when in actual fact it is very different. In humans the most common complaint is tooth decay, which is surprisingly rare in dogs, presenting in less than 10% of all dental problems. 

Periodontal Disease (dental disease) is the term used for inflammation or infection of the tissues surrounding the teeth. Periodontal disease occurs when plaque and tartar are allowed to accumulate and create periodontal pockets or gum recession around the root of the tooth promoting bacteria build up. If this is left untreated the infection can spread deeper into the root of the tooth and even into the bone. Over time, the tooth will ultimately rot and fall out and has the potential to result in some jaw bone loss.  

There are varying degrees of gingivitis (periodontal disease), and each come with their own unique problems. Below displays the four stages of dental disease. 


There are some clear signs to look out for when your dogs dental hygiene is in need of some support. The list of symptoms below is quite broad as it covers the four stages, and what you will see depends on the level of dental disease your dog is experiencing. For example, if you are seeing pus oozing, then you will need to seek veterinary attention immediately, but, if your dog is only showing signs of bad breath, using a treat like Bully Sticks to help clean his teeth, or a change in diet can be sufficient to solve the problem.  

  • Thin, red line along the gums
  • Swollen gums
  • Bad breath
  • Plaque build up, visible as stained teeth
  • Tartar build up, visible as calcified areas on teeth
  • Gums bleed, especially when brushing
  • Pus oozing when making contact with gums
  • Signs of pain around mouth
  • Difficulty eating
  • Reluctance to eat
  • Drooling
  • Loose teeth
  • Receding gums


    There are a number of ways that encourages the build up of plaque and tartar on your dogs teeth, these being:   

    • Soft food such as tin dog food or cooked leftovers. This is not to say that you can not feed soft foods, but that you need to counteract it with a food or activity that will help to prevent plaque build-up. Soft and mushy foods offer no scratching, scraping or abrasive action on the teeth. Raw diets tend to have a beneficial effect on the teeth and gums as they generally contain ground bones. 
    • Genetic makeup and the confirmation of the teeth can create areas in the mouth that are difficult to reach while chewing. Brachycephalic (short-nosed) and toy breeds are particularly prone to build-up due to poor conformation and often overcrowding of their teeth.  
    • Lack of opportunities to chew. 
    • Dogs that have long hair left around the muzzle increase the likelihood of developing dental disease if the hair is not groomed back to an appropriate level. I know that his beard makes him look super cute and smart, but the truth is that long hair often becomes tangled around the teeth, resting at the base, promoting bacteria build-up and gingivitis. For the sake of his teeth and not fashion, always keep the hair trimmed inline with his lips. 


    • Daily brushing of your dogs teeth is the gold standard, but for many pet owners, this is a timely exercise that is hard to fit into our everyday routines. I know I feel like I spend too much time already brushing teeth between my children and I. But, if you can... this is the best thing you can do! I do want to note though... NEVER use human toothpaste as fluoride is extremely poisonous to dogs.
    • Look at his diet. If you choose to feed commercial dog food, the general rule is soft/wet food aids in building tartar and dry food/kibble can aid in removing tartar while they chew through the hard pieces. For optimal results, a raw and balanced diet that consists of ground bones will create a gentle dental abrasive action while he eats, which acts like fine sandpaper scratching along the teeth. This, in turn, helps to remove debris stuck on teeth. 
    • Feeding hard bones for larger dogs and smaller/softer bones for smaller dogs, 2-3 times per week. For small, toy breeds, and cats, chicken necks, and chicken wings are often hard enough to provide some cleaning. Be careful with large thigh bones that are often cut in half as even though the marrow is like liquid gold to a dog, the sharp edges have been known to crack and chip teeth. These are recommended as an occasional treat rather than every few days, but always keep an eye on your dog and remove the bone when it becomes small enough to swallow. 
    • Raw hard vegetables such as carrots can help to clean teeth in small and toy breed dogs. 
    • Correct Treat choice. The longest-lasting natural chews available today are Bully Sticks.
    • Sticks and toys that involve rigorous chewing help to scratch away at the edges of the teeth. 
    • PlaqueAway to prevent plaque and tartar build-up and reduce bad breath. You can click here to view PlaqueAway! This is the easiest natural way to promote good dental hygiene. It is so easy that you just put onto his food! 


    It is important to note that if your dog already has significant tartar build-up, he may require a dental as tartar can be very difficult to remove and your veterinarian will also be able to clean up under the edge of his gums. But, you will want to do this before gingivitis and dental disease become a problem. If you are unsure if your dog is suffering, and what stage of dental disease he is at, make sure you book a consultation with your veterinarian for an assessment.   

    Dental's conducted by a Veterinarian can be costly and will involve a full general anaesthetic, which comes with its own risks and best to be avoided if possible. But, the good news is that dental disease can be significantly reduced and often prevented by following the simple steps above. 

    If you have any experiences that you would like to share, or have any questions, please reach out to me. I would love to hear from you. 


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