I can honestly say, dentistry has a love-hate relationship with me. On one hand, I really enjoy cleaning up "nasty" mouths and giving animals a new lease on life... But on the other hand, to do things correctly requires a lot of additional training, expensive equipment, and sometimes tedious attention to detail.
Thankfully, my client base tends to already be those people who want the best for their animals. So after a brief educational session on "why we do what we do" - it was never a horrible struggle for them to see the value in the expense of a good cleaning, examination, dental x-rays, local anesthetic blocks, extractions, or bone graft material. However, my favorite part of dentistry is when it isn't even necessary in the first place!
Prevention has always been a passion for me. When a brand new patient would come to my office, I would get all giddy to tell them about supplements, diets, training, and maintenance procedures that would help keep the health of their animal ideal for many years to come. If a new client didn't like an hour long appointment, with tons of education - I was quick to refer them down the road to the St. Elsewhere. "Dr. X would be happy to 'just give your rabies shot' and leave out all of the free advice that you should learn about your new pup." Geesh!
But onward to the care of dental disease. First - prevention. We'll focus on cats and dogs mainly, but horses and other animals do need attention to dental health as well. It is just a little bit different, and not so widely done at this time, except for actual floating and more "medical" exams. Brushing a horses teeth, IS DONE, and many people are getting into the practice of more routine care beyond just having an exam when a horse becomes thin or drops food. Rabbits, ferrets, and rodents need dental exams and occasionally cleanings and other care - but again, these are a bit more specialized. Although, I will say that Ferrets should likely be cared for similarly to cats and dogs in regards to better dental health.
Of course, we have to hit on diet. Commonly we were taught that "people food" and soft canned diets are bad for the teeth. Actually, quite the opposite is true. Kibble diets often stick to the teeth more, and offer very poor chewing habits. The best teeth I see are with dogs who chew and consume raw bones, and with cats who either hunt or are fed items that require chewing and gnawing. These are the teeth that are clean and healthy. And the natural and complete nutrients contained within "real food" is healthier for the teeth, gums, and bones as well.
Cats on high quality canned diets, are often in better dental health than their kibble eating counterparts. Cats who get to gnaw on sinewy meats, or critters, routinely clean their own teeth. Healthy people foods and table scraps are not "bad"... Unless you are a large pet food company trying to push your dog food!
Next up are supplements - items such as Digestive Enzymes, Whole Food Supplements, and Omegas support good nutrition, decrease inflammation, and help a body to build and keep healthy structures and immune systems. These are a part of what I refer to as the "Foundation of Health" - please visit our educational page HERE.
Brushing teeth can be very helpful if you have a dog or cat who will not chew, or if you need an extra layer of dental care. It is sometimes easier said than done, but for the dedicated, it can make a huge difference. We have made our own toothpaste for ourselves and our dogs (I admit, I do not brush my cats' teeth!) - and there are many homemade recipes online that you can try out. This recipe (from Mother Nature Network) turns out with a nice feel and is really similar to some of the essential oil toothpastes you can purchase.
Homemade Toothpaste Recipe
- 2 teaspoons Vegetable Glycerin
- 4 Tablespoons Baking Soda
- 1/2 teaspoon Guar Gum
- 8 Tablespoons Water
- Essential Oils to taste (this recipe had recommended 5 drops)
Place all of the ingredients into a pan (I use a glass one) - and cook on low for approximately 5 minutes, or until it looks like toothpaste. I found that by experimenting with which ingredients I added to the pan first, and how I whisked and stirred, I could get less lumps or "problem" toothpaste results. It is pretty inexpensive to make, so a few failed trials were no big deal. Usually the Baking Soda and Guar Gum were mixed together in the pan, then I would slowly add the Water with the Vegetable Glycerin and whisk while adding. Then start heating and cook it for a while. I allow it to cool, then mix in the essential oils. For our family and fur-kids - I have different requests for flavors. Cassia, Spearmint, Peppermint.... and DOG! So, I will divide up a batch and make several flavors (I personally use the DOG version!)
I store the toothpaste in a clean glass jar, and depending on which oils are added to it or not, it can spoil after a certain time frame. So, just make sure you check for any yucky smells or growth of bacteria/fungus if it takes you longer than a week or two to use a batch. Essential oils such as Oregano and Thyme within the toothpaste, really have a powerful "preservative" action and keep bacterial spoilage down to a minimum. They also are extremely helpful with tartar control.
Overall though, what I add to the natural toothpaste is far more important than the toothpaste! The absolute best things I have found are KittyBoost, Dog Breath, Any-Itis, or AromaBoost #1. These essential oil blends can be used in many ways to help dental health. Always start with an extremely small amount of essential oil being added to your toothpaste, and then gradually increase the amount as you or your animal allow and tolerate. Both KittyBoost and AromaBoost #1 contain Oregano and Thyme as mentioned above.
Dog Breath is our animalEO product that was created specifically for dental health, inflammation, and tartar in mind. You can rub this blend onto the teeth and gums (with a finger, gauze square, etc.), brush with it, or add it to toothpaste. It does have a "peppermint flavor" - so some dogs will like it, some will tolerate it, and some will not like it one bit! That is just the nature of anything with a flavor - but when it can be used, we are seeing great results, even when it is diluted even further with additional Coconut Oil!
With the pooch pictured above, Dog Breath was applied one time, and only a few drops were placed within additional Coconut Oil, and then applied to the teeth. The tartar literally started to fall off of the tooth! Now, this is NOT going to happen with every case. And, if your dog truly has dental disease, damaged teeth, or problems that require veterinary attention - THIS IS NOT GOING TO FIX IT! Can I say that again!? One of my biggest pet peeves is using a product to replace truly needed veterinary care. And I do rank dentistry right up there with something as important as casting or repairing a broken bone! No essential oil in this world will fix a broken bone without stabilization, and no essential oil will repair a broken tooth or completely reverse extreme dental disease (we're talking loose, wiggly, and rotten teeth)... But from what I can see in the picture, this dog actually has a pretty healthy mouth (at least the forward teeth) - and so the absence of the tartar, and also addressing the slight gingivitis that the tartar had caused on the canine tooth with the Dog Breath - is a PERFECT scenario!
Using Dog Breath or the other essential oils mentioned AFTER a dental cleaning is also a great idea. Not only will it decrease inflammation caused by the dental procedure, it will start you on the road to preventing the issues in the first place. After a dental extraction or surgery, we use Dog Breath to aid in healing, and find that the sites heal very fast and with much more comfort.
Everyone will always ask about using Dog Breath for cats. I usually do not recommend it. Not that it isn't safe, but they really don't tend to enjoy it. And it won't be long before you won't be able to go near your cat if you try to force the use of Dog Breath on them! With cats - pretty much you only need one main product! It is truly amazing - and really not just for cats! KittyBoost. I probably should have named it something else - because it is so great, for so many things. I personally use it as a massage oil for myself, in my toothpaste, on my kids (human ones), on my cats, on my dogs... The uses are almost endless! But back to cats...
With our feline friends, we know they are opinionated. You must do things carefully, and respectfully, or they will stalk your feet at night! All joking aside, it is important to do things that cats enjoy, and also bring them great benefits. KittyBoost is one of those things. Just click on one of the highlighted names to read about all of the amazing oils within KittyBoost and all of their incredible properties. Most important however, is that about 99% of cats enjoy the application of the KittyBoost - and when they groom themselves, all of these amazing oils will be inside their mouth. Problem solved! We don't have to try to get them inside of the cat's mouth - they will usually do it for us. Gingivitis, stomatitis, immune systems, and various health issues are all supported with the use of KittyBoost!
Dogs don't tend to groom themselves unless they have a skin issue. So, using oils topically with the intent to get them inside their mouth, is not so rewarding. However, KittyBoost can still be added to their toothpaste, used to wipe onto their teeth, or brushed with. All of the oils of Dog Breath are within the KittyBoost - so all of the benefits will still be there, plus a few others. With the addition of oils such as Oregano and Thyme - extremely powerful anti-bacterial actions are gained. KittyBoost alone, or with Dog Breath can be added to a toothpaste recipe. The combinations and strengths are endless. And, I personally love a toothpaste that has Oregano and Thyme within it. There is a huge sense of clean that I get when these oils are in my toothpaste, but they are strong tasting, so you have to use them lightly. The KittyBoost is already a pretty light solution, and if you rub it onto your own gums, you'll have a sense of what I am talking about. If you have been following me for long, you'll know that I will never do something to an animal, that I wouldn't do to myself. So, brushing with their toothpaste, rubbing their oils onto my gums, or spraying myself with various recipes is all part of "knowing your product"!
Earlier, I also mentioned that Any-Itis or AromaBoost #1 could also be added to a toothpaste recipe. These are basically just variations on the anti-inflammatory blends and the Oregano and Thyme containing blends - but they will be much more potent and strong. Way less of these blends will be needed, however in such a situation as an abscessed horse tooth - the AromaBoost #1 formula (either NEAT or RTU) would be a wonderful thing to use.
Again, prevention of dental disease should be a priority. Diet, chewing, supplements, and brushing or application of helpful products should be a part of a regular regimen from a young age. If a young cat can have occasional KittyBoost applications, and then grooms the beneficial essential oils into their mouth on a regular basis - there are tremendous health benefits to be obtained, and not just for oral health.
If a young dog can learn to properly chew on raw bones, and also learns to accept regular dental home care - whether it is brushing with essential oil toothpaste, brushing with essential oils, or wiping on an essential oil containing product like Dog Breath - again, tremendous health benefits can be obtained, and possibly the dog may not need dental cleanings or extractions in the future! A healthy mouth, is a great indicator of overall health. Just remember, take the time to expose your animal to the experience in a kind and "light" manner.
You may want to dilute Dog Breath even further in Coconut Oil before applying it (taste it yourself first!) - to make sure the experience is a great one. Heck, with a super picky dog, I would even just feed them a small amount of Coconut Oil (the kind that gets hard when cool) for a while, and let them think it is a great treat. Then, progress to rubbing or brushing their gums with just the Coconut Oil. Then, VERY GRADUALLY, add tiny amounts of essential oils to the Coconut Oil. Increase the amount of essential oils added to the Coconut Oil (or toothpaste, or whatever...) every week or so. This way, it is never an intense flavor that the dog was not used to. You can even reward them with food or a special treat or play session after allowing you to brush or wipe - so that the activity of allowing the dental care starts to be associated with something pleasurable!
Not every animal needs to be handled with such "kid gloves" - but it is nice to know how to go about it in the lightest way.
If your dog or cat already has significant dental disease - you will need to work with your veterinarian first to see if a dental cleaning and possible dental extractions are needed. You can certainly start using essential oils like Dog Breath or KittyBoost while you are evaluating things, but sometimes a mouth can be so painful and inflammed, that it can be very hard to apply anything within the mouth, and brushing could be a surely painful experience.
WARNING - if you don't like gross pictures...
You may want to stop reading here!
This poor dog had pretty severe dental disease. Often times, tartar can cover up what is truly going on "beneath" the surface. Once cleaned off, this dog would experience severe pain from the exposed roots of the teeth. Would Dog Breath, KittyBoost, or brushing have helped this dog?
In some ways yes, and in some ways no. Decreasing inflammation, providing for anti-bacterial actions, and supporting healing could be benefits of using oils within this mouth. But, sadly, if the tartar was to fall off of teeth like this, the dog would likely be in more pain than with the protective "tartar armor"! When teeth are severely diseased, it can be hard to know it without anesthesia and dental x-rays. Just looking at the outer surfaces, can never tell you what is truly going on. Like the "iceberg" scenario, what we see of the teeth is just the tip. What is going on below the gum line, is often far more important. Dental infections are not just a problem for teeth - they affect the heart, kidneys, liver, and entire body. I have had several patients who resolved heart murmurs, just from having proper dental work performed! Sadly, I have also seen patients die of secondary blood infections (septicemia) because dental work was delayed, avoided, or thought to be impossible for "such an old dog".
Essential oils will help ANY animals' dental condition, or post-operative healing. But please do not use it as a replacement for needed procedures or care.
Since I am often asked many "how to" questions about essential oils - I'll describe a case of dental disease that does need a cleaning and extractions - so you can see what I might recommend.
Your dog was just examined by the vet. A dental cleaning was recommended, and the vet suspects that there is a tooth that will need extraction, but there could be more based on what the x-rays reveal. You schedule a procedure for next week. What to do in the mean time? Although I would avoid aggressive brushing or chewing until the dental procedure (because it would likely hurt), I would not have a problem with you applying Dog Breath or even KittyBoost to your finger and swiping it onto the teeth and gums. If tooth brushing was already a part of your normal regimen, adding one or both of these oils to the toothpaste or brush would not be a bad idea. The oils will reduce the bacterial load, decrease inflammation, and provide for a better cleaning and surgical environment, while providing some of the "advanced" oils for healing after the procedure (like Helichrysum and Myrrh). You could apply the oils daily or even twice a day. If your veterinarian thought your dog should start on antibiotics prior to the procedure, I would still use them along with the essential oils. (If this was a cat, I would start to apply the KittyBoost, and hopefully have them groom it into their mouth. If the cat is used to KittyBoost applications, daily applications may be warranted.)
Next - I always support my patients with additional nutrition. So Standard Process supplements (whole food derived, and basically raw) - are in order. I would start right away, with small amounts and gradually increase to the recommended dosing. Canine Whole Body Support, Canine Immune Support, Tuna Omegas, and BioDent are generally selected. (Again, a cat can use the Feline formulas, or even the Canine formulas.) These would be continued after the procedure as well, for at least 3 months - and then depending on the health status - the Whole Body Support and Tuna Omegas would be continued always. (The Tuna Omegas and BioDent are human products from Standard Process.)
Post-surgically in our hospital, essential oils are applied directly onto the dental surgical sites. If this is possible, great! If not, just continue your application regimen as before. Again, the essential oils will provide antibacterial actions, reduce inflammation and discomfort, and speed healing - however, you should still provide any pain medications and antibiotics recommended by your veterinarian for the short term. Depending on the dog, daily to twice a day applications of oils to the gums/teeth can be done. For cats, again, just continue with the KittyBoost applications.
Generally for 3-7 days after a procedure, you may be using essential oils more often. Then, you can reduce down to a maintenance schedule. About 2 weeks after extractions, you may have a recheck exam with your veterinarian, but you would generally be in the clear to start to introduce teeth brushing or chewing to help with keeping that "new" mouth clean and healthy. Following a regular schedule of prevention will now be your goal!
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Until Next Time!
Melissa Shelton DVM
Disclaimer: This information was provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, prescribe or treat any illness. If you or your animal have a health concern, you are encouraged to seek the counsel of a health care professional who is knowledgeable in your area of interest.