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Keep dog teeth clean: Seven ways to keep them clean and healthy

dog teeth clean
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Keeping dog teeth clean and healthy can be tricky. If you notice yellow or brown build-up along the gum line, bad breath, or red gums, then your dog is likely suffering from dental disease. It’s estimated that 80% of dogs have some form of dental disease by the age of three, and this can have a negative impact on their overall health. The bacterial build-up from dental disease can cause or worsen disease in other areas of the body, including the heart, liver, and kidneys. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent dental disease and keep your dog’s teeth clean and healthy!

1. Brush your dog’s teeth with pet-specific toothpaste every day

Just like you need to brush your own teeth for dental health, your dog’s teeth need daily brushing too! The mechanical action of brushing helps break up and remove food particles and bacteria that can cause bad breath and dental disease. If your dog won’t tolerate full mouth brushing, start by brushing just a few teeth every day and gradually work your way up to brushing the whole mouth as your dog gets used to the process. Never use human toothpaste on your dog – it contains high levels of fluoride that can be unsafe for your dog to swallow. You can find pet-specific toothpastes at most pet stores, or ask your veterinarian for a product recommendation.

2. Use dental wipes or pads for dogs that hate having their teeth brushed

Regular brushing is the best way to keep your dog’s teeth clean, but what if your dog simply won’t tolerate it? If you’ve tried training and gradual brushing without success, then dental wipes may be the answer. Many dogs will tolerate this method of cleaning because it’s gentler than a brush. Just like with brushing, it’s best to wipe your dog’s teeth at least once a day. Focus on gently wiping along the gum line, where bacteria and food particles are most likely to build up. You can find dental wipes and pads at most pet stores.

3. Avoid hard bones and chews that can damage the teeth

Chewing on hard objects – like bones, rocks, and hard toys – can permanently damage your dog’s teeth. When the object is too hard for a tooth to penetrate, there is a risk that the tooth will fracture. A fractured tooth can cause chronic pain for your dog, and may increase the risk of infections. Once a tooth is fractured, professional veterinary care is the only way to address the problem. To prevent fractures, make sure your dog’s favorite chews aren’t too hard for his teeth. A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t indent the object with your thumb nail, it’s too hard for your dog to chew!

4. Choose dental chews and treats that are proven to reduce plaque

Dental treats, toys, and food are a great way to clean your pet’s mouth in between brushings. These products are designed to help scrape the teeth as your dog chews, scrubbing away plaque and residual food particles. Dental treats aren’t a substitute for daily brushing, but they can help keep your pet’s breath fresh. Look for products labeled with the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal, which indicates that the product has been tested and proven to reduce plaque. Read our guide to the best dental chews for dogs for some buying advice.

5. Try using water additives for low-maintenance dental care

Water additives are an easy way to reduce plaque and prevent dental disease. These products contain enzymes that naturally break down plaque and inhibit bacterial growth to keep your dog’s mouth clean and fresh. And because most of these products are flavorless, odorless, and colorless, your dog won’t even notice that you’ve put something new in his bowl. Like dental treats, water additives are not as effective as brushing, and should always be used in combination with regular dental care to achieve the best results.

6. See your veterinarian regularly for wellness exams and check-ups

A lot can change with your dog’s mouth in a short period of time. Regular check-ups and preventive care from your veterinarian are essential to keeping your dog’s teeth clean and healthy. During your appointment, your veterinarian will look in your dog’s mouth to assess factors like the amount of plaque and tartar build-up, and to look for problems like inflamed gums, fractured teeth, or areas of pain. Monitoring these changes over time is a great way to ensure your home dental care plan is working effectively. When problems are discovered, it’s important to address them right away.

Prevention is the best way to keep your dog’s mouth as healthy as possible. But once dental disease starts, no amount of brushing will reverse it. The only way to treat dental disease is with a professional dental clean by your veterinarian. Your dog will need to be placed under general anesthesia so that the whole mouth can be carefully examined and cleaned. X-rays of your dog’s mouth should also be taken to identify areas of disease hiding under the surface. 

If your dog has any loose, fractured, or diseased teeth, these may need to be removed as well. After the dental procedure your dog’s teeth will be clean and fresh, and a good home dental care routine can help keep them that way!

Home dental care is a must for clean teeth!

Dental disease is a progressive condition once it starts, so it is essential to have a good home dental care routine to prevent it. Daily brushing is the best way to keep your dog’s mouth clean, but other dental products like treats and water additives can be helpful tools as well. Most importantly, see your veterinarian regularly for preventive healthcare to ensure your dog’s oral health always stays in top shape.

Elizabeth Racine, DVM

Dr. Elizabeth Racine is a small animal general practice veterinarian covering all things pet health and wellness.  Her special interests include veterinary behavior, nutrition, and internal medicine.  As a freelance writer, Dr. Racine has written content for major companies in the industry such as the American Kennel Club, Merck Animal Health, Bayer PetBasics, Elanco, and CareCredit.  In her free time, Dr. Racine enjoys playing trampoline dodgeball, hiking with her beagle Dasher, and spending time with her three mischievous cats.  Dr. Racine can be found at and at