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Dog with healthy teeth

The essentials

  • Dogs need routine dental care — This includes keeping teeth clean, as well as preventative measures to prevent plaque buildup, which can lead to periodontal disease and tooth decay.
  • Regular brushing is important — Brushing your dog’s teeth may be tricky, but it provides big-time benefits. Choose a tasty toothpaste to make the process smoother for your pup.
  • Dental chews and water additives can help — To supplement your dog’s brushing routine, consider chews or supplements designed to tackle doggie dental issues.
  • Poor dental health can lead to disease and illness — Tooth issues can quickly compound in dogs, leading to more serious illnesses if left untreated.

Dog dental care 101 

Many of us brush our own teeth twice a day without a second thought. But what about our pets? Indeed, dogs’ teeth and mouths require dedicated dental care, just like our own. Failure to maintain proper dental health can lead to plaque and tartar buildup, bad breath, gingivitis, and periodontal disease. Left unaddressed, dental problems can cause more serious problems in dogs as they age, like heart disease and kidney disease. Thankfully, there are some simple steps pet owners can take to prevent doggie dental diseases from occurring.

Ways to keep your dog’s teeth squeaky clean

Like humans, dogs experience issues such as tooth loss, gum disease, and oral injuries. Since pets obviously can’t address these problems on their own, it’s up to pet owners to help keep their dog’s teeth healthy and strong. Consider adding these simple steps to your pet’s regular dental care routine.

Toothbrush & toothpaste

Brushing your dog’s teeth might seem silly to some, but it’s one of the easiest ways to prevent canine dental disease. However, there are some important things to be aware of before beginning a brushing routine.

First, you must use toothpaste made for pets. Most human toothpaste contains fluoride, which is toxic to dogs if ingested. There are plenty of dog-safe enzymatic toothpaste options that help break down plaque and tartar and keep teeth strong and shiny. While a standard toothbrush can do the trick in a pinch, consider a toothbrush or finger brush specifically designed for a dog’s mouth.

👉 Check out our favorite kinds of toothpaste for dogs for a variety of options and flavors.

Dog dental chews

Dental chews are an increasingly popular daily option for dog owners. Besides cleaning teeth, dental chews provide mental stimulation and help alleviate boredom. Most dental chews take dogs longer to consume than normal treats. They often contain tartar- and plaque-fighting ingredients.

While dental treats shouldn’t replace brushing, they can act as an effective extra line of dental defense. But, it’s important to find the right texture for your pup’s teeth. Chews that are too hard run the risk of damaging or breaking teeth. A simple measuring stick is the “finger dent” test. If you press your finger into the chew and it doesn’t leave a dent, it’s likely too hard for your dog’s teeth and may be unsafe. Our list of best dog dental chews includes choices for dogs of all sizes.

Dental water additives

If you’re looking for a simple supplement to your dog’s oral hygiene routine, consider a dental water additive. Like mouthwash for humans, these pet-safe solutions help freshen breath, fight bacteria, and prevent gum disease. Many contain ingredients like sodium citrate to combat bacteria that causes bad breath.

If you’re worried about a discerning dog, many dental water additives are odorless and tasteless. This means most pups probably won’t even notice it in their water dish. Though water additives shouldn’t replace brushing, daily use can certainly aid in overall dental health.

Annual cleanings

Let’s be honest — going to the dentist isn’t fun. While we’re supposed to go every few months, plenty of people push it off as long as possible. The difference between us and dogs is that most humans still brush our own teeth daily. But, even if you’ve got a dedicated dental routine for your dog, many pets still need a professional dental cleaning. Plaque and tartar buildup increases as pets age, and sometimes at-home care for your dog just doesn’t cut it.

Consult with your veterinarian to determine how often your dog should receive professional cleanings. The suggested frequency may depend on age, breed, and/or the state of your dog’s teeth. While sedation-free teeth cleaning does exist, most vets recommend general anesthesia for the procedure. This helps keep dogs as calm and comfortable as possible. It also allows vets to clean under the gum line, where plaque can commonly build up.

What’s the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC)?

Despite the long history of dogs as “man’s best friend,” the field of dedicated pet dentistry is relatively young. Around the 1980s, dental services for dogs and cats began shifting from a specialty service to a widespread practice among veterinarians. In response, vets and medical professionals assembled a panel to develop a dental product review system. The result was the official launching of the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) in 1997.

Formed to educate owners on safe and effective products, the VOHC has become a gold standard for pet dental care. Dog owners seeking dental care help should always look out for VOHC-approved dental products. These products are consistently evaluated and reviewed on their ability to fight plaque and tartar buildup. In an increasingly crowded pet product market, the VOHC Registered Seal helps give owners confidence and peace of mind.

How to brush your dog’s teeth 

The idea of brushing your dog’s teeth may be daunting to you. But, there’s no reason why the routine can’t be enjoyable for both you and your pup. While many vets recommend daily brushing, even weekly sessions can go a long way toward healthy mouths. Before getting started, consider these tips for a better brushing experience.

  1. Start slow and steady. Many dogs don’t enjoy having their teeth brushed. Make sure to take things slow so you don’t overwhelm your dog or make them uncomfortable.
  2. Find a proper dog toothpaste. There are plenty of VOHC-approved pet toothpastes to choose from. Many contain enzymes to break down bacteria, and ingredients to help freshen doggie breath. Dog toothpastes also often come in palatable flavors for pets, like chicken or beef. You can even make your own DIY dog toothpaste with the right ingredients.
  3. Let your dog examine the toothpaste. Before brushing, let your dog sniff and lick a bit of toothpaste off of your finger. This can help put them at ease and accept it as another tasty treat opportunity.
  4. Choose your toothbrush. Some dogs might be understandably wary of plastic toothbrushes in their mouths. Consider using a finger brush, which slips right onto your hand and gives you better control inside your pet’s mouth. If you decide on a traditional toothbrush, make sure to introduce it slowly. One way to keep your dog comfortable is to start with your finger and gradually work your way up to a proper brush.
  5. Be patient and proactive. Teeth cleaning can be upsetting for some dogs. So, make sure to check your pet throughout the process. If they seem to be anxious or agitated, take a break or stop altogether. There may be underlying injuries around your dog’s mouth, and you don’t want to make anything worse. If your dog doesn’t mind the procedure, carry on calmly until the job is done.
  6. Praise and reward! Making it through a teeth cleaning is an achievement for any dog, and they should be rewarded as such. Giving your dog praise and a treat after cleaning creates a positive association with the process. Over time, your pup will learn to look forward to it and the tasty treat that comes once it’s over.

Protecting your pup’s teeth

Besides brushing and utilizing chews and water additives, there are some easy measures pet owners can take to prevent dental problems down the road.

Consider your dog’s diet — Not all kibble is created equal. If your dog doesn’t seem to be responding to other approaches to dental hygiene, their diet may be to blame. A visit with a veterinarian can help pet owners get answers. In some cases, vets may prescribe a diet or dry food specially formulated for oral health.

Avoid extra hard chews or bones — Dogs are natural chewers, but many products out there are simply too hard. Bones or chews that are too hard can wear down the protective enamel on dogs’ teeth and also cause breakage. Look for dog-safe bones and chews with firm but forgiving hardness levels.

Experiment with dog dental toys — Unlike treats, dog dental chew toys can last for months or even years. Some classic brands like Nylabone have been around for years. But, there are plenty of newer options available with shapes, flavors, and textures to entice dogs of any preference and aid in oral health.

Dental care in senior dogs

Oral hygiene becomes especially important when dealing with senior dogs. Like all dogs, seniors are prone to dental disease and bad breath. Up to 80% of dogs will experience periodontal disease at some point in their lives. But, aging dogs are also at higher risk for serious problems like heart and kidney disease, which can stem from a tooth infection or decay. A regular oral hygiene routine can reduce the risk of these complications later in life.

Teeth cleanings can be expensive and may run from several hundred dollars to over $1,000. Nevertheless, you may have to prepare for this expense more regularly as your dog ages. For senior dogs, your vet may recommend professional teeth cleaning once a year or more frequently. While the cost can be concerning, keep in mind that untreated tooth issues can quickly compound in aging dogs.

Most pet parents would agree that the costs of preventative measures like cleaning far outweigh the risks of dogs developing more serious health problems. When in doubt, always trust the advice of a professional veterinarian over your own instincts or concerns, especially when it comes to senior dogs over the age of seven.

Frequently asked questions

Do dogs need dental care?

Yes! Dogs’ mouths and teeth are susceptible to infection, decay, and disease, just like humans. A regular oral hygiene routine can help keep these problems at bay.

What are common signs of dental problems in dogs?

Signs of dog dental issues include bad breath (halitosis), inflamed or bloody gums, and difficulty chewing or eating. Yellow coloration is also a sign of plaque buildup.

What’s the best way to care for my dog’s teeth?

Daily or weekly tooth brushing is an essential part of a dog’s oral health. Beyond that, owners can try dental chews, dental water additives, and annual professional cleanings.

Do dogs need professional teeth cleaning?

It depends on the dog, but many vets agree that a lot of dogs could benefit from a professional cleaning. Senior dogs are more likely to need professional cleaning at least once a year or more.

What kinds of dog dental care can I do at home?

Brushing your dog’s teeth daily is an easy and effective way to stay on top of their oral health. Choose a VOHC-approved pet toothpaste or even make your own at home.