Dog Teeth Cleaning & Dental Care

Does your dog have bad breath? Are their teeth clean? We take a look at the importance of proper dental care for your dog and share some tips to help ensure their mouth stays clean and healthy.
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Statistics suggest that over 80% of dogs have some degree of dental disease by the time they are 3 years old. Your dog can’t tell you when he has a toothache, so it’s essential that you take steps to keep his teeth clean. While your veterinarian does play a role in keeping your dog’s sparkly whites in good health, there is much you can do at home to prevent dental disease.


When you bring your new canine family member home at 8 weeks of age, he’ll have a full mouth of sharp baby teeth. There isn’t anything you need to do for these teeth, but it’s a good idea to get your pup used to having his mouth examined and his teeth cleaned. Make a game of opening his mouth, looking at his teeth and giving them a gentle rub with a soft toothbrush.

His temporary teeth will start to fall out at around 4 months of age and by 7 months he’ll have all of his permanent teeth in place. This is when you need to get serious about dental care, because these teeth need to last him for the rest of his life.

One of the first indicators that your dog’s teeth need attention is that his breath smells bad. As his dental disease progresses, he may drool and paw his mouth, and he may have trouble eating.

There are a number of things you can do to keep your dog’s teeth and gums in good condition. Bearing in mind your pet uses all his teeth for different purposes, sometimes using a combination of things works best. Not all teeth will accumulate tartar at the same rate and this can be dependent on factors like how your dog chews and whether there is good alignment of the teeth.
Source: Wikipedia

Dogs use their large, pointy canine teeth (fangs) at the front of the mouth for grabbing a hold of something (eg. a prey item if they were hunting, or a big bone or toy), but don’t use them for chewing. The best way to look after canines is with brushing, as these are the easiest to get to.

There are 12 incisors in total. These are those little single-rooted teeth at the front and are mainly used for grooming and sometimes for delicate chewing (or snipping off a mouthful of grass). These are also very easy to brush and can also be kept clean with water additives.

Behind the canines are the sharp premolars. These multi-rooted teeth are used for cutting large food items. They number 16 in total (4 on each side top and bottom). You will notice that most dogs move larger food items to the back where the cutting teeth are. The best way to keep these clean is by brushing and using a dental food or chew.

The larger 10 flat molars at the back are ideal for grinding up hard dry food. Using dental biscuits keeps these healthy and clean, they can be a bit tricky to brush since they are so far back.
What you can use to keep your pets teeth clean

Water Additives

There are various additives you can add to your pet’s drinking water that can reduce tartar formation. They do work best as a preventative, so should ideally be introduced when your dog is young or just after a dental clean. We recommend using one that has the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval, like Healthy Mouth.

Chews and bones

Chewing can really help to keep your pet’s teeth healthy, particularly those premolars. There is certainly much debate on the safety of bones in dogs and as vets we probably see the what goes wrong with bones, more than what goes. We see countless broken, chipped and damaged teeth from dogs chewing bones.

The only chews that has the VOHC seal of approval are Greenies. Rawhides or pig’s ears and dehydrated chews are safer than bones, but may not do a particularly good job of cleaning teeth for many pets. Whatever your pet chews, they need to be able to sink their teeth right up to the gum line, so usually things like Kongs and Nylabones are not a good way to prevent periodontal disease (even though they are good for other reasons!).

Dental Diets

They help by mechanically brushing the teeth, as they are formed with larger pieces. Dental diets are best fed as sole-diets, but there is still some benefit in mixing them in with your pet’s regular food. There are a number of diets that make claims to prevent dental disease, however to ensure they do what they say, we recommend choosing a diet from the VOHC list to ensure the claims are backed up by evidence.
Veterinary Care

Your vet can examine his teeth every 6 months during a physical exam if your dog is accustomed to having his mouth examined. It may not be possible to probe around the teeth with a dental probe to check for pockets between the tooth and gum, but your vet can assess for tartar gingivitis, accumulation and tooth fractures.

Your home care will help to prevent plaque and tartar from accumulating on your dog’s teeth but it won’t get rid of what’s already there. Even with regular brushing, as humans we need to visit the dentist every 6 months. The same goes for our pets.

A regular dental scale and polish every 6– 12 months is the key to keeping all your pet’s teeth and avoiding unnecessary and costly dental extractions.

Once teeth have disease around the gums and significant pockets of infection around gum line, the damage to the ligaments holding the tooth in the jaw is usually irreversible, which is why sometimes teeth need to be removed. If damaged teeth aren’t removed they will just serve as a source for further infection down the track.
What does a dental involve?

When we go to the dentist we are happy to sit back in the chair, keep our mouths open and we would most likely not bite our dentist as they work. Pets are designed a little differently, their mouths do not open as wide and even the most well behaved dog will not allow a full dental exam and clean. It is impossible to properly clean your pet’s teeth without having them under anaesthesia and safely intubated to protect their lungs from inhaling stray bits of tartar and bacteria during the clean.

When your vet cleans your pet’s teeth, the steps involved are:

Your pet is anaesthetised and an endotracheal tube is placed to ensure no plaque, bacteria or fluid gets into your dog’s lungs.
Each tooth and the surrounding gum is checked with specialised probe to ensure there are no deep pockets between the gum and tooth.
Any teeth that have periodontal pockets of more than 3mm are xrayed to check the bone around the tooth.
The teeth are scaled with an ultrasonic scaler, like what your dentist uses.
Should any teeth be found to be unhealthy (and therefore painful) they can be removed at the same time using a local anaesthetic block, sectioning and gentle elevation to remove the tooth with minimal trauma.
All teeth are polished to ensure the surface is smooth and less likely to attract plaque.

The good news for dogs is they’re not as prone to cavities as human beings are. Despite the old conventional wisdom that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a humans, dogs can still develop problems like tartar and plaque buildup and gingivitis. It’s not just bad breath and yellow teeth you have to worry about. As with humans, these canine dental problems can actually lead to life-threatening infections and issues including heart, liver, and kidney disease.

Here’s how to practice good dog dental care that will extend your dog’s life:
How to brush your dog’s teeth

You can stop reading this article and start posting the video to YouTube if your dog can brush his own teeth. For the rest of us, we have to use a little strategy and a canine toothbrush. The best brush to use is double-headed with the brushes at a 45 degree angle to clean below the gumline, like those offered by Petosan.
Related: Bye bye bad breath

Your dog might not go for the tooth brushing at first, but hopefully, you can make it a reasonably pleasant experience for both of you. Make sure to speak soothingly and pleasantly during the brushing and reward your dog with a treat afterwards. Before too long, your dog should start looking forward to the event.

Start early with your dog as a puppy!

Grown dogs can learn to become comfortable with dog teeth cleaning, but make things easier for yourself by working with your dog as a puppy.
How to pick the right tooth paste for your dog

This is very important. Do NOT use regular human toothpaste for your dog. Most human toothpastes include fluoride, which is extremely poisonous to dogs. You can find toothpaste formulated for dogs at most good pet stores.
Dry food is better than soft food

If the tooth brushing ends in blood, sweat, or tears, there are still choices you can make to help improve your dog’s oral health. Crunchy kibble is better for your dog’s teeth than soft food, as soft food is more likely to stick to the teeth and cause decay.
Chew bones and chew toys to clean teeth

There are many synthetic bones and chew toys that are specially designed to strengthen your dog’s gums and teeth. Just make sure you’re providing safe objects for your dog to chew on. Hard objects can cause broken teeth.

Giving your dog a good bone to chew on can help get rid of build up and keep teeth strong, but imagine a human who only chews gum and uses mouth rinse. That’s not an effective means of ensuring good dental hygiene and overall health. The same is true for your dog.
When to see a veterinarian

Whether you brush your dog’s teeth or not, you should have a look inside his mouth every week or so. If you notice any of these signs of dental problems, then take your dog to the vet:

Bad breath
Change in eating or dog chewing habits
Pawing at the face or mouth
Excessive drooling
Misaligned or missing teeth
Discolored, broken, missing or crooked teeth
Red, swollen, painful or bleeding gums
Yellowish-brown tartar crust along the gum line
Bumps or growths within the mouth

How often to see a vet?

Even with healthy teeth, just like you, your dog should have his teeth checked by a professional every six to twelve months. Your vet should include a dental examination with a normal checkup, but ask for it if they don’t.

Dental care can be a hassle for humans and dogs, but proper maintenance can be a money saver in the long run and even a lifesaver. Many dogs have to be given anesthesia to have their teeth and gums cleaned if the buildup is bad enough.

How often do you brush your dog’s teeth?
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Your pet is recovered from anaesthesia safely with continual nurse observation.
Most dog owners never take a good look inside their dog’s mouth. Upon displaying the dog’s loose teeth, infected and sore gums, and rotting tooth sockets to the dog’s owner, the response usually is one of surprise and shock.

” Well, she does seem to have bad breath, Doctor” is the usual reply. “But I’m sure at her age she can’t have anything done now.” My response is that the continual presence of bacteria and their associated toxins have a daily impact on the dog’s health; anything we can do to change that for the better is appropriate. Privately I’m thinking “How would you like that pathology going on in your mouth?”.

Partly because the mouth is warm, moist and has significant nutrients present for organisms to grow on, the oral cavity of dogs is a perfect incubator for all kinds of bacteria. Most are normal and natural, but once plaque and calculus (tartar) form on the teeth the normal microbial flora gets out of balance– and if pathogenic organisms proliferate, trouble ensues.

Far too often veterinarians discover during the physical exam that their canine subject has a foul odor to the breath as a result of generalized periodontitis. Foul breath is a mere shadow of a much more insidious disease process.

To help understand the topic of oral hygiene let’s take a look at a few basic definitions below:.

Definitions Click on image for close-up.
Gingivitis – inflammation of the gums.
Periodontitis – a general term for a disease of the oral cavity that attacks the gum and bone and delicate tissues around the teeth.
Pyorrhea – inflammation of the gums and tooth sockets, often leading to loosening of the teeth and accompanied by pus.
Caries – an area of decalcification of the tooth enamel leading to cavities in the tooth. Caries are very rare in dogs.
Plaque – the first buildup of material adhering to tooth enamel. Composed of a mix of intercellular matrix of bacteria, salivary polymers, remnants of epithelial cells and white blood cells, it can cause caries, calculi buildup and periodontal disease.
Calculus (Tartar) – calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate combined with organic material, deposited on the surface of the tooth.

Adverse Effects of Poor Oral Hygiene.

I asked a Diplomate of the American Veterinary Dental College, Jan Bellows DVM, of Hometown Animal Hospital and Dental Clinic in Weston, Florida, about the adverse health impact chronic periodontal disease can have on a dog. After periodontal disease is treated, and the owners give proper home care, most dogs respond wonderfully due to the decreased pain and infection.”.

The adverse effects of periodontal disease are due in part, as Dr. Bellows states, to the toxins the bacteria secrete and the damage these toxins cause to delicate kidney, cardiac, and brain tissue. In addition, many veterinarians believe that actual bacterial colonies can spread via the circulation and set up housekeeping within the animal’s tissues, commonly in the heart valve areas, kidneys and liver. Far better than extracting teeth, performing gingival flaps, filling erosions or doing root canal procedures, would be to prevent the health damaging periodontal disease in the first place.

Your dog can’t tell you when he has a toothache, so it’s essential that you take steps to keep his teeth clean. There isn’t anything you need to do for these teeth, but it’s a good idea to get your pup used to having his mouth examined and his teeth cleaned. Not all teeth will accumulate tartar at the same rate and this can be dependent on factors like how your dog chews and whether there is good alignment of the teeth.
Dogs use their large, pointy canine teeth (fangs) at the front of the mouth for grabbing a hold of something (eg. Upon displaying the dog’s loose teeth, sore and infected gums, and rotting tooth sockets to the dog’s owner, the response usually is one of surprise and shock.