6 min read

How to Take Care of Your Dog's Teeth at Home


By Tim Falk

Published: 02/07/2023, edited: 02/07/2023

Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

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Good oral health is essential for our pups for a number of reasons — and not just to keep stinky doggy breath at bay! 

Dental disease is a serious and all too common problem for dogs. In fact, by the time they reach their third birthday, most dogs will already be showing some signs of dental disease. It can cause pain and discomfort for your dog, seriously impact their quality of life, and even lead to a wide range of other health problems.

The good news is that there are plenty of simple things you can do to look after your pup’s teeth. Let’s take a closer look at why the health of your pet’s pearly whites is so important and what you can do to care for your dog’s teeth at home.

Why dog dental care is so important

Is your pup’s dental health really that big a deal? Sure, their bad breath might make your eyes water whenever they lean in for a kiss, but other than that, it’s not really a problem, right?

Wrong. Take a minute to think about just how important your dog’s mouth is to how they interact with the world. And we don’t just mean eating and drinking — our furry pals use their mouths like an extra hand, picking up, pulling, and holding onto things, so a healthy mouth is vital to your pup’s wellbeing.

Dental disease can be very painful for our pets, even when they continue to eat. More alarming is the fact that the bacteria from dental disease can get into your dog’s bloodstream and spread to other parts of the body, including to vital organs like the heart and liver.

As with humans, the state of a dog’s oral hygiene impacts the rest of the body’s health. The mouth is a moist, warm environment, making it the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.

While most of this process is natural and normal, when tartar and plaque begin to form, the microbial balance in the mouth is thrown off and health problems can ensue. 

That’s why maintaining proper dental hygiene is crucial to your dog’s overall health. And because it can help prevent other health problems from developing, it could save you money in the long run too.

dog owner using hands to part the lips of a brown and white dog in order to examine the dog's teeth

Examine your dog’s teeth regularly

The simplest way to manage your dog’s dental health at home is to regularly brush and check their teeth. That way, you’ll come to recognize what’s normal and what isn’t, and you should be able to detect any problems nice and early. 

It’s also important that you know the key symptoms of dental disease to keep an eye out for. These include: 

It’s worth noting that some dogs can be very adept at hiding the fact that they’re in pain. So even if your pup doesn’t seem to be in any great discomfort, that doesn’t necessarily mean that nothing’s wrong. If you’re worried that your pet might have dental disease or other oral health problems, book an appointment with your vet.

And if you’re looking for the “pawfect” moment to give your pup’s chompers a once-over, there’s no better time than when you brush their teeth.

dog owner holding a red toothbrush brushing the teeth of a golden retriever dog

Brush your dog’s teeth daily

Nope, we’re not making this up. The best way to look after your dog’s teeth at home is to brush them regularly, preferably once or even twice a day!

There are toothbrushes specially designed for use on dogs, including some that slip over the end of your finger to allow easy access to your dog’s chompers. You’ll also need to make sure to use a dog-friendly toothpaste, as there are ingredients in human toothpaste that are toxic for canines.

Some pups might need a little training to get used to the idea of brushing their teeth, but the yummy flavor of dog-friendly toothpaste will help get many pups over the line. Check out our guide on how to brush your dog’s teeth for more information, or consider dog dental wipes if your pup simply isn’t a fan of their toothbrush.

Provide dental toys and chews

Does your dog love to chew? If so, you can put their munching mastery to good use with dental treats. These tasty treats are designed to prevent the build-up of plaque, acting in a similar way to a toothbrush to keep teeth clean and healthy. They also contain ingredients to improve your dog’s breath, which every pet parent will agree can only be a good thing!

It’s also worth investing in some special dental chew toys for your furry friend. Part treat, part toothbrush, dental chews add fun to teeth cleaning. These treats are designed to be extra difficult to pull apart, making your fur-baby gnaw away for minutes on end. This gnawing scrapes away unwanted plaque and bacteria, leaving your pup's breath smelling fresh and their teeth looking whiter.

Some chews allow you to tuck treats into their holes and crevices, encouraging your pup to chew as much as possible. They’re also a great source of mental stimulation for dogs and will help add a bit more fun to your play sessions. Dental chews are available at most pet supply shops and come in a variety of flavors.

Finally, chewing a bone can also help prevent plaque build-up. However, both raw and Cooked bones splinter easily and can cause choking, constipation, gut obstructions or internal damage. They are not recommended by all vets.

Choose the right diet

Diet can also play an important role in maintaining oral health. Some pet food brands offer diets specially designed to boost dental health. These dry foods are made with kibble that reduces the build-up of plaque and tartar, kills bacteria, and will also give your pup fresher breath.

Chat with your vet to find out whether one of these diets might be right for your dog.

veterinarian wearing blue scrubs and a stethoscope brushing the teeth of a brown dachshund dog

Get your pup a dental health check

Finally, even if you’re taking the best possible care of your dog’s teeth, dental problems can still develop. That’s why it’s a good idea to take your pup in for an annual check-up with your vet, during which they can examine your dog’s teeth and gums. This will ensure that any developing problems are detected early.

Your vet may recommend that your pet has a professional tooth cleaning, which is carried out under general anesthesia. They can also suggest any other dietary or lifestyle changes that might help your pup’s teeth stay as healthy as possible. 

Paying for your dog’s professional dental care can be expensive. The good news is that wellness plans can put 100% of the bill right back in your pocket within 24 hours. Check out our pet wellness plans, which provide add-on coverage for the cost of dental cleaning, to find the right match for your pet!

Consider an oral rinse or a food or water additive

Your veterinarian might also recommend a couple of other oral hygiene products to help maintain optimum dental health, including:

  • Oral rinses and gels: Oral rinses and gels can reduce the amount of acid-producing bacteria in your dog's mouth. Look for a pet product containing chlorhexidine, or speak to your vet for recommendations. These are super simple to use and often just involve applying the gel to a cotton swab and wiping it over the outer surface of the teeth.

  • Food or water additives: Ideally, look for a product with the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) seal of approval. These additives work by manipulating the pH of saliva to make it more hostile to bacteria, plus break up sticky plaque that clings to teeth. Add the recommended amount to fresh drinking water or food on a daily basis.

Frequently asked questions about at-home dental care for dogs

How often should dogs get a dental checkup at the vet?

An adult dog should have their teeth checked as part of their annual wellness exam. However, senior dogs require twice-yearly vet visits, and your vet will take advantage of these opportunities to give your dog’s dental health a thorough examination.

Related: How Often Should I Take My Dog to the Vet?

How can I tell if my dog needs a dental checkup? 

Keep an eye (and nose) out for any signs that your dog may have dental disease. These can include:

  • bad breath
  • discolored teeth
  • broken or loose teeth
  • drooling
  • bleeding gums

Any signs of pain around the mouth area, bad breath, vividly red gums or even simply a loss of appetite, could also indicate your dog has dental problems. If you notice any symptoms, book your dog in for a dental check-up.

person squeezing dog-safe toothpaste onto a red toothbrush with a golden retriever dog lying down in the background

Can I use human toothpaste on my dog?

No, it’s not safe to use human toothpaste to clean your dog’s teeth. Toothpaste made especially for pooches is free of many of the chemicals found in human products, meaning it is safe for your dog to swallow (because how on earth could you stop them from trying!).

What should I do if my dog doesn't like getting their teeth brushed?

If your dog hates brushing, focus on gradually training them to accept the toothbrush. Start slowly — they may need to get used to the idea of having their mouth handled before you even think about using a brush. Use treats as rewards to help them associate the toothbrush with a positive experience, and adopt a patient and gentle approach.

Your vet will also be able to advise you on other products to help maintain proper dental health, from dental wipes and chews to water additives and prescription foods. 

Is it okay not to brush your dog's teeth?

Brushing your dog’s teeth is an important part of their dental care. It’s a simple and effective way to prevent the build-up of plaque, which can lead to dental disease. That’s why it’s important to try to incorporate daily brushing into your pup’s routine — or at least do it as often as possible. 

Need help covering your doggo's dental care costs? Check out Wag!'s pet wellness plans! Our dental care add-on will reimburse up to 100% of vet costs within 24 hours.

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