How to clean a dog’s teeth

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Black & White dog having his teeth brushedFor some reason, people tend to overlook the dental health of their dog and don’t think about teeth cleaning. Furthermore, many of us don’t even know how to clean a dog’s teeth. While dogs aren’t prone to cavities in the same way we are, they can develop oral problems such as tartar and gingivitis that may have serious health consequences.

For example, studies show there’s a clear link between periodontal disease and heart disease in humans and dogs. The breakdown of gum tissue creates the possibility of bacteria entering your dog’s blood stream. If the immune system doesn’t kill these bacteria, there’s a chance they can reach the heart and infect it.

So, what’s the best way to clean a dog’s teeth? There are several approaches you can take. Let’s start with the one that will likely, at least in the beginning, be the most difficult to execute.

Brushing your dog’s teeth

In my experience, dogs don’t like to have their teeth brushed. And, I haven’t heard of a dog that can brush his own teeth. If you know of one, let me know.

Anyway, here are some tips to keep in mind as you embark on brushing the barker:

  • Pick a time when your dog has had a reasonable amount of exercise so he is more likely to settle down
  • Use a toothbrush specifically designed for dogs
  • Never use human toothpaste
  • Introduce your dog to the toothpaste by giving him a small sample
  • Raise his lips to expose the outside surfaces of his teeth and gums
  • Brush with gentle motions
  • You probably won’t have much luck trying to brush the inside surfaces but give it a try
  • Be sure to reach up to get those back molars and canines as these tend to get a lot of tartar build-up
  • Be sure to speak soothingly and gently to him during the brushing
  • Always reward him afterwards

If you brush every day, that’s ideal. If you have a puppy, start brushing now so he’ll get used to it. Who knows, he may eventually even welcome brushing if he knows he’ll get a reward afterwards!

Coconut cut in half

Coconut oil for brushing teeth

Evidence shows that coconut oil can help eliminate plaque-causing bacteria. It’s a more natural alternative to many of the canine toothpastes on the market that contain a number of ingredients with names you can’t pronounce.

This oil is extracted from the meat of the coconut and is one of the richest sources of saturated fats. However, these fats are healthy and are metabolized differently than others. In fact, they have several health benefits. When you use it as a toothpaste it kills harmful bacteria, fungi and viruses and is effective in preventing the development of plaque.

In addition to its periodontal benefits, coconut oil aids in digestion, immune response, improves coat and supports joints. And, most dogs love the taste!

Natural Dental Sprays

You have to be able to hold your dog’s lips open for dental sprays. Manufacturers design these to prevent plaque and tartar build-up and control the bacteria that causes bad breath to make it minty-fresh!

A spray might include the following ingredients:

Grape seed extract is an antioxidant that’s useful for treating health problems related to free radical damage. It helps to prevent dental plaque plus mitigates oral and gum disease.

Grapefruit seed extract is an immune system booster and an effective antiviral, anti-fungal and anti-parasitic agent. It’s also high in vitamin C, E and bioflavonoid. It further reduces periodontal inflammation.

Peppermint oil is effective at freshening breath.

Rosemary oil is an anti-bacterial, freshens breath and prevents plaque from adhering.

Thyme oil is a great defense against tooth decay. It helps to control the pathogenic organisms responsible for gingivitis and bad breath.

Neem seed oil prevents and reverses gum disease and contains anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. It’s also effective in preventing plaque.

Chew Toysbrown & white dog chewing on his toy

There are many types of dog chew toys available. These help to scrape the plaque off his teeth and they satisfy the primal instinct to chew. Keep in mind that dogs need to chew, so toys are an excellent way to keep their teeth clean while they enjoy themselves.

When buying a chew toy, look for these attributes:

  • Hardness. Apply the thumbnail test. It needs to give a little when you press it with your thumbnail. If it’s too hard it could break your dog’s teeth
  • Durability. Make sure it’s well-constructed so he can’t chew it to pieces
  • It shouldn’t be coated with flavorings that can cause digestive upset
  • Make sure it’s not too small to swallow
  • Make sure it’s washable
  • It should be able to provide hours of chewing entertainment

You can buy chews made from animal products as well as rubber or nylon chews. You must supervise your dog’s chewing so he doesn’t swallow pieces of the material.

Dental Wipes

Dental wipes are soft, disposable and uniquely textured to gently clean a dog’s gums and teeth. They come in different flavors and are suitable for dogs of all ages and breeds. Using wipes is a great way to introduce your dog to the oral care routine by giving him a positive and gentle experience. As a matter of fact, once your dog gets used to dental wipes, you might have an easier time introducing him to a tooth brush.

Make sure to proceed with caution when you use a wipe since you don’t want your dog to bite you. Also, make sure he doesn’t accidentally swallow the wipe.

Water Additives

Using a water additive can decrease the chances of infections in your dog and improve his breath by killing bacteria.

Using a water additive is similar to humans using a mouth wash. That is, it’s nice to include in the dental routine but it doesn’t replace brushing. Brushing provides the friction needed to remove the tartar and obviously an additive can’t do that.

The ingredients used include organics such as mutanase and dextranase enzymes to break down the filmy plaque on your dog’s teeth. Also included are zinc gluconate which is an antibacterial agent, cetylpyridinium and chlorhexidine gluconate which are chemical antiseptics.

Some problems can arise with chlorhexidine gluconate such as an increase in calculus formation, inflammation of the mucosal lining of the mouth and gums and inflammation of the salivary glands. Additionally, products containing chlorhexidine gluconate have been associated with deafness in cats.

Some oral rinses also contain xylitol which can cause an upset stomach.

Vet cleaning dog's teethProfessional Cleaning

This always begins with an initial examination by your veterinarian so she can get a general idea of your dog’s oral condition. You as a pet owner also have the opportunity to ask questions at this point.

Your dog will also have his blood drawn to see if there are potential problems and to determine if he’s healthy enough to undergo anesthesia. Even though pet owners often worry, anesthesia under the proper protocols is very safe. In addition to the general, some veterinarians will use a local anesthetic.

While your dog is under anesthesia, a cleaning will include the following:

  • A complete oral exam and x-rays to identify problems below the gum-lime such as broken teeth and roots, periodontal disease, dead teeth abscesses and infected teeth
  • A full cleaning under the gum-line
  • Professional scaling/scraping and polishing of the crown to remove plaque and calculus
  • After recovery, your dog will usually be able to go home unless another procedure is necessary

How to tell if your dog has a dental issue

If you notice any of these signs, it’s time to take your dog to the veterinarian:

  • Bad breath
  • Pawing at the face and mouth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Bumps or growths in the mouth
  • Misaligned or missing teeth
  • Discolored teeth
  • Broken teeth
  • Swollen, painful gums
  • Change in eating and chewing habits
  • Yellowish-brown tartar crust along the gum line
  • Depression

Make sure your veterinarian examines your dog’s teeth every 6 months to a year. Remember, letting his oral health go can be very costly in the long run for your pocket book and his health!


There are many ways to maintain your dog’s oral health. In my opinion however, nothing beats a good brushing or professional cleaning by your veterinarian.

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2 comments on “How to clean a dog’s teeth

  1. Babsie Wagner

    I am really glad I came across your site.  I have never seen my son brush his dog’s teeth, and I didn’t even realize that was something that should be done.  We are big coconut lovers in this household, so we already have that on hand.  I am going to get him a toothbrush.  Is there any special kind, like I use the soft bristles on my teeth.  Thank you so much for sharing this great information.

    1. Christopher Mitchell Post author

      Hi Babsie:

      Thank you for your comments!

      You can use different types of brushes that are designed specifically for dogs. These are brushes with angled handles, brushes with multiple heads (so you can simultaneously brush several different surfaces) and finger toothbrushes. For some dogs you can use a very soft brush.

      The type of brush you use depends on the size of your dog and your own dexterity

      In all cases, be gentle when you brush.


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