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Dog Teeth: How to Maintain Your Dog’s Dental Health

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Dog Smile picture

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links, meaning that Embark may receive a small commission if you make a purchase. All linked products have been reviewed by a veterinarian.

You’ve got the brush-twice-a-day thing down pat for yourself and go to the dentist regularly, but you might be asking, how often should I brush my dog’s teeth? You might also be wondering if a professional should do your dog’s teeth cleaning and if so, what that involves.

 Your dog’s dental health is more important than you might think about regularly. You love seeing that toothy smile when you walk in the door and give your dog chew toys and treats, but when’s the last time you brushed your dog’s teeth?

While February is National Pet Dental Health Month, good oral hygiene is important all year round. Learn why your dog’s teeth are a crucial component in their overall health, how to perform a dog teeth cleaning, and when it’s time to see a professional.

Your dog’s teeth and their health

It can be tough to tell if your dog’s teeth cleaning routine could use improvement. Some signs are bad breath, a reduced appetite, bleeding around the mouth, and swollen gums, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Periodontal disease is very common in dogs and it’s often due to plaque that turns into tartar. About 80 percent of dogs have some form of gum disease by age 3, so statistically speaking, your dog might have it. That buildup of tartar and plaque below the gum line can lead to infection and cause serious health problems in your dog, including jaw health problems, heart disease, kidney, and liver issues. Every time you take your dog to the vet for a check-up, they should be doing a dental evaluation. Use that time to ask questions about your dog’s dental health and the veterinarian’s recommendations.

Lifetime oral health should include an individualized periodontal disease prevention and treatment plan. Learn more about the importance of dental care throughout a dog’s life

Regular teeth cleaning

It’s recommended that pet parents brush their dog’s teeth daily, but if that’s not possible, aim for a few days a week. Set a reminder in your phone to brush your dog’s teeth every other day. Even if you ignore it a few times, you’ll have a few sessions done by the end of the week.

When purchasing dog-safe toothbrushes and toothpaste, look for products accepted by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), such as:

  • Petsmile Professional Dog Toothpaste: The “no-brushing required” formula means you can apply Petsmile toothpaste on your dog’s teeth and let their tongue do the rest.
  • CET Dual End Toothbrush: This dual-ended toothbrush is tapered to fit a dog’s mouth, and the soft bristles are gentle on their teeth.
  • CET OraClens Dual Ended Toothbrush: This dual-ended toothbrush is ideal for small dogs (and cats).
  • Nylabone Advanced Oral Care Finger Brush: The simple design allows you to slip the brush onto your finger and gently brush those hard-to-reach areas. “This type of toothbrush is great for puppies and dogs not yet accustomed to a regular canine toothbrush,” says Jenna Dockweiler, MS, DVM, DACT, CCRT, CVAT, Veterinary Geneticist at Embark. To help your dog get used to the brush, Dr. Dockweiler recommends first applying some flavored, dog-safe toothpaste to the brush and letting your dog lick it off. Gradually add in brushing motions, starting with the canines and front teeth. “Be sure to keep it positive by giving your dog lots of praise throughout the process,” Dr. Dockweiler advises. “Ultimately, your dog should allow you to brush all their teeth and even look forward to this bonding time.” 

Dental chews

Using a dental chew can help augment the daily brushing, but shouldn’t replace it. Giving your dog a daily dental chew helps remove some of the plaque on the teeth and gums, according to the American Kennel Club.

Remember to always supervise your dog with any chew. We recommend the following dental chews:

  • Greenies Original Natural Dental Dog Treats: The unique texture of Greenies dog chews cleans down to the gum line to fight plaque and tartar. Greenies treats are veterinarian recommended and accepted by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. They are available in petite, regular, and large sizes.
  • Milk-Bone Original Brushing Chews: These chews help reduce tartar buildup, maintain healthy gums, and freshen breath through scrubbing action. “These treats physically remove tartar from your dog’s teeth as they chew,” says Dr. Dockweiler. “Be sure to supervise your dog with any chew, as large pieces can become a choking hazard. And don’t forget that treats and chews count towards your dog’s total calorie intake!”
  • Checkups Dental Dog Treats: Checkups treats can help reduce plaque and tartar buildup while also freshening your dog’s breath.

Chances are that your dog will love a treat, making it easy to check this off their daily care list. 

Dog Teeth Picture

How to clean your dog’s teeth

If you and your dog are new to the process, start slowly and practice patience.

  1. First, make sure you have dog toothpaste and either a toothbrush for dogs or a fingertip toothbrush. Let your dog taste the toothpaste so they know it’s delicious and not something to fear.
  2. Angle the bristles of the brush up along the gum line. Work from the back of the mouth to the front, making small circles along your dog’s gum lines on the upper teeth.
  3. If your dog lets you keep going, work from the back to the front along the bottom jaw. 
  4. Your dog might not let you brush many teeth the first time or the first few times. That’s okay, you’re making progress and taking steps towards prevention.
  5. Praise your dog afterward and spend some quality time together so they associate brushing with positive actions.

When to take your dog to a veterinary dentist

It’s generally recommended to take your dog to the veterinarian for a teeth cleaning about once a year after they’re six months old. If you’ve done a great job of brushing your dog’s teeth and the vet tells you that their teeth are in good shape, you might be able to skip the visit. Talk to your vet about your at-home oral hygiene routine and the recommended frequency of dental cleanings.

When you take your dog for a professional teeth cleaning, know that they’ll be put under general anesthesia and get X-rays. That’s so that the veterinary dentist can do a good job of removing tartar and plaque and polishing their teeth. 

Now is a great time to start a regular brushing habit and take care of your dog’s teeth. You’ll be doing your part to keep them as safe and healthy as possible with this preventative care habit.

Continue learning all about dog teeth with this explanation of the various stages of puppy teeth and adult teeth.

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