dog on lawn

Top tips for cleaning your dog's teeth

Dog dental care is extremely important for your dog’s health – and dog teeth cleaning is a major part of this. Canine dental problems can be serious if left untreated, leading to issues such as infection, and even disease. James Wellbeloved investigates dog dental care and offers you some top dog teeth cleaning tips…



Dogs use their mouth for lots more than just eating, including playing and investigating. Having healthy teeth and gums is therefore vital for their everyday life. Like humans, dogs can also suffer from dental issues such as tartar, plaque and gingivitis, problems which if left untreated can even lead to kidney, liver, or heart disease. If you notice any of the following signs, your dog may have a problem:

  • Bad breath
  • Yellow/brown discolouring or deposit on the surface of the tooth (plaque / tartar)
  • Missing teeth
  • Red, bleeding, or swollen gums
  • Excessive drooling
  • Rubbing or pawing the mouth
  • Swellings around the mouth or eyes
  • Eating on one side of mouth/not eating at all
  • Change in behaviour, being quieter than normal or withdrawn
  • Reluctant to let you touch their face or head

However, as dogs are stoic animals, they can bear a lot of pain without showing it outwardly, including dental issues, so regularly checking their teeth is a good way to make sure. If you suspect your dog may have a problem, you should seek veterinary advice, as they may need special treatment.



Although dogs may not be as prone as us to problems like cavities, their dental hygiene is still extremely important. We outline three of the most common dog dental problems below and explain how they are interlinked.



Dogs have a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to ‘dog breath’ – especially after eating. However, bad breath in dogs can sometimes be a symptom of dental disease. Bad breath can occur as a result of plaque on the teeth, which is formed when food particles and bacteria are not removed from the dog’s teeth and gum line.



If plaque is not regularly removed, the combination of food particles and bacteria mixes with the dog’s saliva and minerals, attaching to the surface of the tooth and turning into a hard mass called calculus, or tartar. Tartar causes irritation of the gums, which can lead to inflammation, or gingivitis. Gingivitis is characterised by irritated, reddened gums and is an early stage of periodontal disease which can be reversed with a good daily oral care regime at home.



A build-up of tartar or untreated gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease. If left untreated, periodontal disease will erode the roots of the teeth causing irreversible damage, infections and abscesses resulting in pain, tissue damage, tooth and bone loss.  This situation requires dental treatment under general anaesthetic as left untreated can lead to widespread organ damage.


dogs running



Of course, the preferred option is to make sure your dog doesn’t develop these issues in the first place. So, how can you keep your dog’s teeth healthy? To start, you should try to establish a regular tooth cleaning routine with your dog from a young age. If you start when they are a puppy, it will be much easier to clean their teeth as an adult. Ideally you should clean your dog’s teeth every day, just like you would your own teeth, but if you can’t manage this then aim for a few times a week.



Tooth brushing remains the best way to prevent build-up of plaque, for humans and dogs alike. When it comes to tooth brushing, it’s important to be patient. Some dogs find it distressing having a foreign object like a toothbrush in their mouth, so to get them used to the feeling of having their mouth and teeth touched, you can try using a soft flannel or a finger first. When it comes to brushing, you’ll need a special dog toothbrush. You can get dog toothbrushes that fit over your finger which can make the task easier, although you’ll probably need a long toothbrush eventually to reach the back teeth. Don’t be tempted to use a human toothbrush – these are not soft enough for dogs and may irritate their gums. Dog toothbrushes are also specially designed for a dog’s mouth and tooth shape. The most important part of dog tooth brushing is the toothbrush itself and the physical abrasion of the brush against the dog’s teeth. However, to make things more pleasant for your dog, you could also purchase some canine toothpaste. Dogs should never be given human toothpaste, as most contain fluoride, which is toxic for dogs. Plus, dog toothpaste comes in dog-friendly flavours!



Before attempting to brush your dog’s teeth, it’s a good idea to tire them out first – this should result in less wriggling! Try taking them for a long walk beforehand, or play an energetic game of fetch. Some dogs may be nervous about their mouth being touched, so before you progress to an actual toothbrush, it’s a good idea to use a finger to get your dog used to the experience. To make it easier, you could put a food that your dog likes on your finger first, then gently rub your finger against your dog’s teeth and gums. Reward them with praise if they sit still with no fuss. Next, put a blob of dog toothpaste on your finger for your dog to investigate, then a blob on the toothbrush itself. A small amount will do – you don’t want to use too much. It may reassure your dog to sniff or lick the toothpaste first to check it isn’t something to be alarmed about.


dog in bushes


Gently lift your dog’s lips to expose their gums and teeth and use small, gentle brushing motions to clean. Focus on the gum line and work on two or three teeth at the same time. Focus on each side of the mouth for fifteen seconds before moving on. If your dog wriggles too much, or seems agitated, stop brushing and either wait for them to calm down, or try another time. Do not force your dog, as this may cause them unnecessary stress and will reinforce that the experience is scary or dangerous. It is key to take things slowly – you could build up the process over several days or weeks to get your dog used to the experience. Give them plenty of verbal reassurance throughout and treat them at the end of brushing to reinforce good behaviour. If your dog really hates having their teeth brushed and you have tried multiple times with no success, you could take them for a professional cleaning at the vet’s.



Puppies are born with no teeth, but they will have a puppy set by the time they are nearly 2 months old. Just like humans, young dogs lose their first set of teeth. It is normal for puppies to start losing their teeth when they are 4 months old, and they should have a full set of 42 adult teeth by the time they are 8 months old. Sometimes you will find puppy teeth on the floor, but it is normal if your puppy swallows them too. As soon as your puppy has teeth, even the baby teeth, you should begin a good brushing routine. As aforementioned, it is much easier to start training from a young age.



Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, some dogs just don’t like having their teeth brushed. There are other ways of helping to keep your canine pal’s teeth clean.

Firstly, a change in diet can help reduce the build-up of plaque. A balanced diet for dogs is key for their overall health, but dry dog food has a mildly abrasive texture which will help remove plaque from the surface of the teeth. 

Secondly, some toys or specially made chew products can naturally remove plaque and help to keep dogs’ teeth and gums healthy. Make sure the toys or chews are vet approved, or they may not help your dog’s teeth. Some toys may also break into small pieces, creating a choking hazard – so check before use and always monitor your dog while they are chewing one. You should also avoid giving your dog dense, hard items such as bones, as these can actually damage their teeth rather than help. Some types of bone can splinter and get stuck in your dog’s mouth or throat, causing further problems.

However, although all these methods can help, they are no replacement for proper dental hygiene, so if possible try to implement a regular brushing routine with your dog to ensure their mouth stays healthy! The enamel on dogs’ teeth is much thinner than ours, which when combined with their strong jaws can mean their teeth fracture easily, so extra care should be taken to look after them properly. Regular trips to the vet for a dental check-up will give you further peace of mind that your dog’s teeth and gums are kept in top condition.