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How to Avoid the Doggy Dentist

Is anyone ever excited to visit the dentist? For dogs it’s even worse. Even something as simple as a teeth cleaning at the vet involves anesthesia and can be quite painful. If teeth are in bad enough condition, they may even need to be taken out. With such a costly procedure and no option for doggy dentures, what is the best at home dental care to give your dog in order to avoid a trip to the doggy dentist?

It is best to first understand what causes tooth decay and gum disease in dogs. A decline in dental health all starts with the buildup of plaque. Plaque is a colorless film that builds up on the surface of teeth. This film is made up of bacteria which attach to saliva on the teeth and digest the sugars from the dog’s food. As the bacteria breakdown and ferment the sugars, they produce acids. These acids lower the pH of the mouth, promoting tartar build up and the degeneration of teeth.

Periodontal stages of Canine dental disease

Tarar is the result of a build up and hardening of plaque. An excess of tartar can lead to dental disease, including gingivitis and periodontal disease. Aside from bad doggy breath, gingivitis and periodontal disease can cause redness and inflammation of the gums and surrounding tissue. This can be very painful for dogs and may lead to a dog refusing to eat. Dental disease affects the majority of dogs and It is estimated that around 80% of dogs show signs of dental disease.

Signs of dental disease wheel chart leading factors

An easy guide to giving your dog the best dental health

Brushing teeth

Just like humans, the best way to give your dog a picture perfect smile is to brush their teeth. Veterinary dentists recommend that you brush your dog’s teeth every 12 hours. Understandably, this may be a heavy undertaking for some dog owners and many other veterinarians suggest that tooth brushing every 2-3 days will suffice.

Toy Poodle biting on toothbrush

Steps to teeth brushing:

  1. Work with your dog to get them used to you touching their head. During teeth brushing you’re going to have to manipulate your dog’s head and this will be much easier if your dog is comfortable with you touching its face and mouth. If your dog has never had its teeth brushed, introduce them to the toothbrush as well. By gently touching the toothbrush to their mouth, this will show your dog that the toothbrush is not something to be scared of.
  2. Select a toothbrush that is the correct size for your dog’s mouth. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to invest in a special dog toothbrush, a children’s toothbrush will work as well!
  3. Next, you will have to buy a dog safe toothpaste. Human toothpaste can be toxic and irritate a dog’s tummy. 
  4. Once you’ve gathered the proper supplies, find a quiet, calm room with good lighting. It will be much easier to brush teeth if there are limited distractions. 
  5. Start brushing by lifting the upper lip and brushing the top row of teeth front to back. Follow the same procedure with the bottom teeth. Make sure to get as close as you can to the base of the tooth, as this is where the most tartar is built up. 

It is good to praise and reward your dog throughout each step of brushing so that your dog associates the process as a positive experience.


There are a multitude of dental diets on the market, most of which are crunchy kibble designed to scrape at your dogs teeth. The reality of these diets is that the kibble only scrapes at the top of the dogs teeth and does not help with tartar build up at the base of the tooth.

If dental health is a concern, opt for diets that have low sources of sugar. Diets that have ingredients like corn or wheat flour have higher available sugar content and can promote the growth of plaque forming bacteria. Fresh-cooked pet food typically contains whole carbohydrate sources, instead of milled flour. As a result, there is a higher fibre content and lower sugar availability in the carbohydrate sources found in fresh-cooked pet food. Additionally, it is good to look for ingredients like spearmint, ginger or parsley. These ingredients are natural antibacterials and can also help to reduce dog breath.

Mint leaves on white background
Golden coat canine smiling with belly up
Golden coat canine smiling with belly up

View Sources


  1. Rosan, Burton, and Richard J. Lamont. "Dental plaque formation." Microbes and infection 2, no. 13 (2000): 1599-1607.
  2. Forsberg, Arne, Curt Lagergren, and Tore Lönnerblad. "Dental calculus: a biophysical study." Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology 13, no. 9 (1960): 1051-1060.
  3. Pet MD. How Often Should You Brush Dog Teeth and Cat Teeth? (2019)
  4. AKC. 12 Steps to Dazzling Dog Teeth. (2015)
  5. AAFCO. Official publication. (2008).
  6. Koo, Bon Gill, Myung Jin Lee, and Chan Mi Chon. "Pet dental chew." U.S. Patent 8,776,729, issued July 15, 2014.
  7. Hills Pet Nutrition. Dental Disease in Dogs: Symptoms & Treatment. (2019).

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February 20, 2024
5 minutes
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