How To Keep Your Dog’s Teeth Clean

How To Keep Your Dog’s Teeth Clean

Teeth cleaning is important to your dog’s overall health, just like yours. Learn what you can do to keep your dog’s teeth clean and help prevent dental disease … as well as avoid the need for veterinary teeth cleaning under anesthesia. 

The main reason dogs need to have their teeth cleaned by a veterinarian is when plaque and tartar accumulate that can lead to periodontal disease. But you can avoid this by being proactive and keeping your dog’s teeth clean at home. 

How Can I Keep My Dog’s Teeth Clean?

Diet, supplements and at-home dental care are all important ways to keep your dog’s teeth clean and healthy. Just like the gut, your dog’s mouth has a microbiome that needs to have a good balance of good vs bad bacteria to be healthy. And a healthy microbiome starts with diet.

Best Diet For Dental Health

Dogs fed a species-appropriate raw, wholesome diet almost always have healthy mouths. Chewing on muscle meat and gnawing on raw meaty bones promotes good bacteria and enzymes that help prevent tartar from building up. Plus, chewing on bones keeps your dog entertained, and strengthens his jaw, neck and shoulder muscles as well/ Provide your dog with plenty of bones to keep him happily chewing and cleaning his own teeth in the process!  Knuckle bones and neck bones are great choices to support your dog’s oral health.

Kibble Doesn’t Clean Teeth

Dry kibble diets, on the other hand, are often the culprit when it comes to poor oral health. That’s because kibble is full of starch, which, when digested by the bacteria in your dog’s mouth, creates acids that wear away at the enamel on the teeth. And even though kibble manufacturers tell you crunchy kibble cleans your dog’s teeth, that’s not true. The starches in kibble break down into sugars that create inflammation in the body. 

Foods that are high in starch cause an imbalance in your dog’s microbiome, and lead to poor overall health and accumulation of tartar and plaque. Eventually this can cause periodontal disease with gum inflammation plus tooth decay, as well as inflamed ligaments, and even bone issues.

Here are a few other ways to keep the plaque off your dog’s teeth.

Add Prebiotics And Probiotics

Adding probiotics and prebiotic supplements is good for dog oral health because it helps promote a healthy bacterial environment in your dog’s digestive tract, including the mouth. There’s now a great deal of research into the use of pre and probiotics for oral health. A 2011 review found several studies “highlighted the potential of probiotics in combination with prebiotics for improving oral health.” (1)

Include Antioxidants In Your Dog’s Diet

Chronic oxidative stress may be linked with periodontal disease. A 2019 study found that people with periodontal disease has a decreased ability to control damage caused by oxidative stress (2). So be sure to feed your dog plenty of antioxidant-rich fresh foods or a supplement that’s high in antioxidants.

Give Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids help manage inflammation and support periodontal tissues (as well as brain, joint and heart health). Adding a good omega-3 supplement to your dog’s food can bring many benefits. Avoid fish oil if you can. While it’s a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, it’s very unstable and can easily turn rancid. And it’s non-susstainable and harmful to the ocean environment.

Brush Your Dog’s Teeth At Home

The best age to start routine dental care at home is … as young as possible! The earlier you get your dog used to having his teeth looked at as well as familiar with dog toothpaste and toothbrush, the easier it will be do it over the long term.

Check the inside of your dog’s mouth regularly – at least once a week. The sooner you catch an issue, the easier it will be to solve. Don’t wait for plaque and tartar to build up.

Be proactive about gently brushing your dog’s teeth every day. Start very slowly with a tiny bit of brushing daily (just a few seconds to start) and build up gradually until you’re able to brush thoroughly without your dog fussing. Holistic veterinarian Dr Jodie Gruenstern DVM CVA recommends daily brushing before bed to remove food particles and plaque. She says “you don’t need to pry your dog’s jaws open. Just push the lips up and apply the toothpaste to your dog’s teeth and gums.”

Instead of buying commercial dog toothpaste that may have chemical ingredients, look for a tooth powder or dog toothpaste with all natural ingredients like baking soda, essential oils or herbs.  Here’s a recipe for a DIY home made dog toothpaste from veterinarian Dr Katie Kangas DVM.

Homemade Toothpaste For Dogs

Mix all ingredients until smooth and use toothbrush or gauze wrapped around finger to brush your dog’s teeth daily. 

Dental Additives For Water

You can buy products to add to your dog’s water bowl that can help loosen or minimize plaque. A good formula is one that has prebiotics that help strengthen the “good” bacteria in your dog’s mouth. Always use filtered or spring water for your dog to avoid harmful chemicals.

If you follow the above steps, your dog’s teeth and gums should stay healthy for many years. But if he does develop periodontal disease, you need to know what it is and signs to watch for. 

Dog Periodontal Disease

Dog periodontal disease means there’s inflammation and possibly infection of the gums and other tissues surrounding the teeth. Early stage disease is called gingivitis. This is very common in dogs and is not just a problem for the mouth. If left unchecked, more advanced periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss, as well as chronic inflammation throughout the body, which can cause  other serious health problems for your dog (3).

Small dogs are much more likely to develop dental disease. That means if you have a toy breed, you should pay even closer ttention to his diet and home dental care. You’ll read about how a natural diet can help your dog’s teeth a bit later. 

What Does a Healthy Dog Mouth Look Like?

  • Teeth should be mostly white
  • Gums should be a healthy pink, with no inflammation around the edges of the teeth
  • Breath should smell like normal dog breath (not too bad!)

Signs Of Periodontal Disease In Dogs

Here are some signs your dog may have a dental problem … 

  • Red inflamed gums
  • Receding gums
  • Tooth loss
  • Discolored teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Behavior that indicates mouth discomfort or pain (like not wanting to chew bones)

If you see any of these signs, it’s best to take your dog to a veterinary dental specialist. Just as you wouldn’t go to your doctor to have your teeth checked, you shouldn’t assume your regular vet is able to do a thorough check of your dog’s teeth. Specialists are highly trained in dog dental procedures and they’re better qualified to do a thorough oral exam and x-rays needed, as well as any follow up procedures your dog may need. 

Veterinary Teeth Cleaning For Dogs

Many vets recommend regular dental cleanings under anesthesia. But that’s because most of the dogs they see have plaque and tartar build-up because they eat kibble. So following the steps above should help your dog avoid professional cleanings. If your dog does develop problems, there is another choice before opting for a full cleaning under anesthesia. 

Anesthesia-Free Dentistry For Dogs

It’s worth looking for a specialist who does anesthesia-free dental cleaning. Do your research to find a good provider and ask for references. There are some highly skilled practitioners who’ll do a thorough job of examining and cleaning your dog’s teeth .

Some veterinarians say that anesthesia-free cleanings aren’t able to do as thorough a job as the full procedure under anesthesia. They may not be able to get deep enough under the gum line, or the inside surfaces of the teeth. But if you catch problems early, anesthesia-free procedures can help a lot. Obviously, if your dog needs an extraction or other more complex treatment, he’ll need to be anesthetized. 

Dog Teeth Cleaning Under Anesthesia

If you decide to go ahead with this procedure, your vet should do a pre-anesthesia exam and blood work to make sure your dog is healthy enough.

With your dog under anesthesia, your vet will look for gum bleeding and periodontal pockets where food can accumulate. She’ll clean and polish your dog’s teeth to remove the tartar and plaque. She’ll also do a thorough mouth exam to detect any problems, such as slab fractures or loose teeth. 

Ask your vet to contact you before going ahead with any other treatment they think is necessary .. such as extracting teeth. 

Are Dog Dental Cleanings Safe?

Any time your dog goes under anesthesia, there’s a risk of complications. This is especially true for senior dogs, small dogs or dogs with health issues that may make anesthesia more risky.  So do make sure your vet does the appropriate pre-anesthesia testing as mentioned above. 

The safest approach is to make sure you keep your dog’s mouth healthy in the first place. Otherwise, a full dental cleaning under anesthesia is risk you may want to avoid unless your dog needs an extraction or other more complicated dental treatment. 

So …remember to regularly brush your dog’s teeth, check his teeth and gums, and feed a fresh, whole food, raw diet to prevent oral issues so that you can avoid risky and expensive teeth cleaning.


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