Are Dog Mouths Cleaner Than Human Mouths?

Profile of a Chocolate Labrador Retriever with his Tongue Out at Sunset

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Is your dog's mouth cleaner than your own mouth? This is something that many of us have been told or perhaps even said while a dog licked at our face. But, as with most old wives' tales, the actual answer is a little more complicated than a simple yes or no.

Do Dogs Have Cleaner Mouths Than Their Owners?

Simply put, no, dog mouths are not cleaner than our mouths. In fact, your dog's mouth can have hundreds of different bacterial species and even parasites living in it. The myth probably originates from the fact that the bacteria in your dog's mouth is different than the bacteria in a human's mouth. Common bacteria that can be found in your dog's mouth can include:

  • Pastuerella, which is considered to be normal flora for your dog's mouth
  • Bartonella, which can cause stomatitis in cats as well as cat scratch fever
  • Salmonella, E. coli, Clostridium, and Campylobacter, all of which are normal intestinal flora and can be found in your dog's mouth if they eat stool or even if they just clean themselves after going to the bathroom.

In addition to picking up intestinal bacteria, your dog's mouth may harbor intestinal parasites if they eat stool or debris in the yard such as fallen leaves and sticks. Even if your dog spends the majority of their life indoors, if they play in or eat the potting soil you use for your plants they are at risk of ingesting roundworm eggs .

The specific types and concentration of bacteria in your dog's mouth is dependent on several factors, including:

  • Diet: crunchy kibble tends to lead to less plaque build up on your dog's teeth than canned food
  • Genetics: smaller breed dogs tend to be more susceptible to dental disease
  • Environmental Factors: if your dog routinely gets into debris in the yard or detritus on walks, they may be more at risk of picking up some particularly nasty bacteria

Can You Get Sick From the Bacteria in Your Dog's Mouth?

For the most part, you won't get sick if your dog gives your a random lick or two. However, if you are immunocompromised, you should be extra cautious. Ways to prevent yourself from getting sick from your dog can include things like:

  • Washing your hands after touching your dog
  • Having your dog's stool checked for intestinal parasites every 6 to 12 months
  • Keeping your dog up to date on their heartworm prevention. Although heartworms are not intestinal parasites, the monthly preventions your veterinarian sells can also prevent several intestinal parasitic infections.
  • Routinely washing your dog's toys and bedding in hot, soapy water

How Important is a Dog's Oral Hygiene?

Oral hygiene is important in any breed of dog, but it is especially important in smaller breed dogs. The reason for this is two-fold. First, most small breed dogs are predisposed to poor dental health. In fact, it is a rare occurrence for a geriatric yorkie, chihuahua, or other toy breed to still have the majority of their teeth, let alone all of them! Second, a lot of small breed dogs are also prone to heart disease later in life. Similar to people, gum tissue is highly vascular and because of this, your dog's gum tissue is the number-one place that bacteria can enter the bloodstream. The septicemia that can arise from oral bacteria can lead to a heart condition known as endocarditis, which can exacerbate any concurrent heart disease.

Brushing Your Dog's Teeth

Unfortunately, dogs can't brush their own teeth, so they have to rely on us to keep their teeth clean. It's never too late to start brushing your dog's teeth, but getting a puppy used to it can definitely set them up for success later in life. There are different types of doggy toothbrushes and finger brushes that you can use, but if you're just starting out it may be easier to begin with using a gloved finger. The most important thing to know about brushing your dog's teeth is to make sure that you are using pet-safe toothpaste. Unfortunately, the toothpaste in your bathroom cabinet has too much fluoride in it for your dog's teeth. Plus, most dog toothpastes come in flavors that will be more palatable for your dog. If you can get in the habit of brushing your dog's teeth once a day, that is fantastic, but most veterinarians are realists and they will be happy if you can simply manage every couple of days.

Dental Chews and Rinses

There are a variety of different brands of dental treats and dental chews. Most of them are relatively safe to feed your dog, although they are less effective than brushing. Some rawhides are specially made to be dental friendly, but as with any rawhide you should only give them to your dog when you are able to supervise them. Rawhides can become a choking hazard: Some dogs will try to swallow a rawhide whole once it becomes soft enough.

There are also rinses that you can add to your dog's drinking water. These act as a kind of sealant for your dog's teeth and can definitely help with bad breath. As with the chews, though, they are less effective than brushing.

Tip

Dental health in pets may seem like a money-making scheme but it's actually vitally important for the health of your furry friend. If you have questions on your dog's risk of dental disease, speak to your veterinarian.