You Kiss Your Dog, Right? So How’s Your Dental Health?

A new study says dogs and their people can share harmful mouth bacteria.


Psst, want to help advance science? Great! Then please tell us about your tooth and gum health.

Er, what?

Yeah, we can’t blame you for thinking it’s a weird request coming from Dogster. This isn’t Toothster or Gumster, after all. Let me explain.

A new report in the Archives of Oral Biology says that dogs and their people can exchange mouth bacteria, which can lead to gum issues and tooth decay for canines and humans. Researchers working with dog owners in Japan found several harmful bacterial species in dog and human mouths that are normally found in only one or the other.

Much more research has to be done to evaluate and validate these findings. Previous studies have shown that parents can give their children some of their less-than-spiffy bacteria when they do things like “wipe off” pacifiers with their mouths or share a toothbrush (usually done by accident in a dark bathroom after a long day of parenting).

But it’s a little odd to think that dogs and humans could swap germs so easily. Aren’t dogs’ mouths super clean? Some people would have you believe that dogs’ mouths are as germ-free as the bottle of Lysol under your sink. Turns out it’s just not true.

My daughter (yes, the one I accidentally shared a toothbrush with on more than one occasion — she still has good dental health) did a really interesting science fair experiment once, which showed that Jake’s mouth harbors all kinds of bacteria of the not-so-great kind. She was trying to prove otherwise, but that’s science for you. We later found many papers that bore out her finding that dog mouths are plenty germy. Of course, humans’ mouths are probably more so.

It’s pretty easy to understand how mouth bacteria can be shared. But those who get doggy mouth-kisses or share licks of ice-cream cones aren’t the only ones who had an increase in the doggy periodontopathic bacteria in the Japanese study. The typically canine bacteria were even present in the people with fairly low physical contact with their dogs.

Some media outlets went crazy with the news when the study came out. The Daily Mail had this headline: “Why a smooch with your pooch could make your teeth fall out! Pet owners warned that dogs can pass on gum disease.”

I personally don’t smooch my pooch, but it’s not because I don’t love him. It’s because I see where his mouth and nose tend to go, and it’s nowhere I need to visit, even somewhat vicariously. But I did have some gum issues a while back. I figured it was just all the usual causes (some crowding in the lower teeth, being older than 30, etc.). I never thought about adding Jake to the list of culprits. He does lick our plates sometimes, but they always go in the hot cycle of the dishwasher afterward. And he has sneaked a big lip-lick on plenty of occasions. But germs that cause dental woes? Hmm ….

Of course, if I’m somehow getting germs from Jake, I bet I’m giving plenty more right back to him. Sorry, Jake.

This study got Dogster HQ thinking about the kind of dental health most dog lovers have. We figure your stories may be able to help contribute some anecdotal “evidence” in the name of science. Who knows, if it’s good enough, we may alert the researchers. So we ask these unlikely Dogster questions:

How’s your mouth doing these days? Do you have good dental health? Gum issues? Tooth problems? Whatever your answer, do you share dishes, snacks, or lots of kisses with your dog?

Also, will this study will make you do anything different? As for me, I still let Jake lick my dishes (and I still use the hot cycle on the dishwasher), and I’m sure Jake will still manage to sneak a big, wet kiss every so often. But I’m definitely not going to let a little science get in the way of me and my best pal. How about you?

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