The Importance of Canine Dental Care for the Longevity of Your Best Friend

Does Your Dog Need Dentures?

One of the most important and most preventable diseases for your dog is dental disease.  Periodontal or gum disease has become the number one health problem for both dogs and cats.   It is estimated that by the age of 3 80% of dogs will show significant signs of oral disease.

Dental disease is very painful!!  This pain can even lead to a change in behavior and increase the likelihood of bites and aggression.

Common Signs of Dental Disease

  • Bad breath
  • Build up of yellow deposits on the teeth by the gums
  • Red swollen or bleeding gums
  • Trouble eating and obvious pain when chewing hard objects
  • Increased salivation

However, oral disease is almost completely preventable and avoidable!

Dental disease can lead to heart, liver and kidney disease.   The infection from your dog’s mouth courses through his veins and can set up shop in the valves of the heart and in other organs of his body.

There was a veterinary study done on Labrador Retrievers that found with regular brushing a dog’s life could be extended by up to 3 years!  3 YEARS can you imagine that?  I would do anything to get an extra 3 years of life with my dogs!

What Can You Do?

Dental disease pre and post veterinary cleaning.

  • Chew treats that you can get from your vet that are impregnated with chlorhexidine and or stannous fluoride to help prevent and treat oral disease
  • Provide a nutritious diet
  • Yearly and sometimes biannual dental checkups with your vet
  • Regular brushing at home


Canned and soft dog food can often contribute to the buildup of tartar. Dry dog food provides a mild abrasive action on the teeth therefore removing some of the bacterial plaque that can harden into tartar.

Just like with children to help them evade cavities, avoid giving your dog sweets!  Table scraps can also contribute to plaque and tartar build up.

Your Dog Needs His Teeth Brushed Too!

Tooth Brushing

Dogs need to have their teeth brushed, daily, to prevent the buildup of plaque that can lead to serious dental disease.  Yes, I said DAILY!

You don’t know how often as a vet tech I have heard that the dog gets his teeth brushed while he is at the groomer once a month.  Can you imagine the shape YOUR teeth would be in if you brushed your teeth monthly or less?

People brush their teeth twice a day for a minute or two at a time.  Your dog’s teeth should get at least daily attention!

I put my dog’s toothbrush near mine for easy access each morning.

Doggy toothpaste that you can get only from your veterinarian (don’t get it at your local pet store or grocery store it is not the same quality) has chlorhexidine, stannous fluoride, and an enzyme that helps break down tartar.  Your dog only needs a couple of swipes over his teeth to be very, very effective!

It is easiest to teach a new pup to tolerate and even LOVE having his teeth brushed, but you can even teach an older dog to enjoy it!

Always make sure to praise him profusely through the process and set aside a special treat (on the sink) for when you are finished to make it even more rewarding!

Step One

Start by squeezing a tiny bit of dog toothpaste onto the tip or your finger and letting your dog lick it off.  This helps him get use to the flavor and reassures him that this is going to be fun and yummy!  After you are done give him a special treat!

DO NOT use human toothpaste, not only can it make your dog sick when swallowed it can be toxic if he swallows too much!

Step Two

Now squeeze a bit of toothpaste onto your finger and gently rub it over your gets gums and one or two teeth.  Do not make this an ordeal by trying to access his whole mouth, just wiggle a finger or two into his mouth and around his teeth and gums.  End with a wonderful treat!  Once he is eagerly accepting this step it is time to move on to step 3.

Do not risk a bite.  If your dog is adamant about not having his mouth manipulated it is not worth being bitten by him.  Your vet can provide you with chew treats and water additives that can help you in this situation.  But, nothing is as good at preventing dental disease as regular tooth brushing.

Step Three

Begin by adding a finger toothbrush, that you can get from your vet or your local pet retail store or squeezing a bit of toothpaste on a small piece of gauze and rub in a circular motion.

I gently wrap one hand around my dog’s muzzle to hold it still and prevent it from opening large enough to bite on the toothbrush or my finger as I massage the toothpaste around.   As always I end with a special treat I have set to the side on the sink!

Step Four

You may now begin adding a toothbrush to this equation.   You can use an ultra soft toothbrush, child’s toothbrush, or even eventually a spin brush!

Gently hold your dog’s muzzle as you swipe some toothbrush on in a circular motion over his teeth.  Unlike human tooth brushing, the goal is not in the amount of time spent brushing the goal is to get the toothpaste on the teeth use some abrasive motion to break down tartar and leave the enzyme on to do its job.

Make this fun and rewarding and as always end with a special treat!

Eventually, I add a spin brush and lightly brush throughout my dog’s mouth at least once daily.

Make it Fun!!

My dogs LOVE to have their teeth brushed because they love the flavor and the treat they get afterward.  As soon as I jump out of the shower each morning, I have three chins sitting on the sink awaiting their “teeth time”.

This positive reinforcement helps remind me to get their teeth brushed and it keeps me from having to worry about the serious effects of dental disease.

Tooth brushing is not a guarantee that my dog’s wont eventually need the help of anesthesia and a veterinary dental cleaning, but it definitely helps them go longer in between visits!  I believe that genetics play a role but brushing helps ward off the tooth fairy!  For example my 11 year old dog has only had ONE veterinary tooth cleaning his entire life after they did another procedure, but my 8 year old dog had a dental cleaning about every 2 years once he passed the age of 4.  Although they both got equal brushing, my 11 year old dog just has better dental genetics than my 8 year old dog did!

Brushing their teeth is also important to our relationship, because it gets them use to me touching and manipulating them in a way that they are not use to in the beginning.  It also ensures I can monitor their gums and tartar for signs of dental disease and I can keep an eye out for broken or fractured teeth.

Broken or fractured teeth can not only be extremely painful, this can also lead to abscesses, swollen faces, fever and a refusal to eat.

It is essential to me to be able to touch my dog’s mouths, feet, ears and every other body part.  This builds a good strong relationship based in trust!   I would continue this brushing and training if this was the ONLY benefit I got out of it, but thankfully I reap the benefits of a healthier happier pet as well!

So go out and get a toothbrush and some toothpaste from your vet and set them next to your toothbrush so that you get into the habit of brushing your dog’s teeth daily!  The chance at an extra 3 years of life is worth it!

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  1. Jana Rade says:

    Dental health is so important and so often neglected, right up there with obesity. Bad teeth are not just a problem in the mouth! The mouth is not an island, it is part of the entire body. Bad oral health can not only cause extreme pain but also systemic disease, including heart and kidney issues.


  2. Irene Juurlink says:

    Just give your dog raw beef marrow bones — you can get these from the butcher’s (e.g. knuckle bones), often for free or for a small donation (they are otherwise thrown away). It gives them hours of fun chewing and gnawing away – wolves would do this in the wild. It is not dangerous as long as the bones are raw (it is cooked bones that splinter) and keeps teeth clean and pearly white. Our dog has fantastic gums and teeth — the vet agrees — she’s 3, and we’ve never had to brush her teeth.


    Roz Reply:

    Irene wrote to just give your dog marrow bones and the the dog’s teeth to keep the teeth clean and the calculus off the teeth. Well, if you would like a very hefty vet bill of two to three thousand dollars, go ahead and give the marrow bones and dear antlers, or Himalayan Yak milk sticks (made in USA). I have a human dental background and I work all day long in dog’s mouths as a canine oral hygiene specialist; Sparkle Bark is my business near Vancouver,B.C. Dog’s enamel is considerable thinner than ours and although it is the hardest substance of the body it is extremely brittle. If you ask any of the board certified veterinary dentist specialists they will back me up on this one. I see broken teeth after broken teeth every week from bones and hard things such as antlers, and horn. These fractures are more often than not with a full pulp exposure and if that was in our mouth we would be hightailing it into our dentist (not our GP) as the pain would be intolerable. Inside a tooth is a blood vessel and a nerve when this is exposed with a fracture it is wide open for bacteria to travel to the end of the roots of the tooth and the nerve is exposed which spells – pain. Even people who have had their dog eating marrow bones for years will say to me, “my dog doesn’t have broken teeth I have been giving my dog bones all the time” – well I take one look and there it is full pulp exposures on both sides. Most people do not really have a good look at their dog’s teeth. Most commonly the fracture is the upper big tooth at the top under the corner of the mouth. To look, keep your dog’s mouth closed hold the muzzle closed gently with your left hand if you are right handed, and stretch the corner of the mouth back with your right hand until you see that big tooth. This is also where you will see a lot of calculus. A tooth with a pulp exposure has two options, extraction or a root canal done at a dentist specialist if you are lucky enough to have one in your city. A GP vet can do an extraction but not a root canal. No matter who does it make darn sure they have a digital DENTAL x-ray machine. It is very rarely that a dog will have a cavity. The number one health problem of all dogs from the age of one year is gum disease which is rated from stage one to stage four. At stage two three and four there is bone recession below the gum line and you do not see it; and you are well on your way to having teeth extracted. It is extremely important to brush your dog’s teeth DAILY the last thing at night is best. Start young. I start scaling dog’s teeth when they are one year old and ideally every 6 months after that to prevent gum disease. Cleaning without anaesthetic is a great way to do it, as soon as dogs realize I am not going to hurt them they do really well with it. Canned food will stick on the teeth like glue. If a dog chew the rope toys that really helps to dislodge plaque. If you feel you need to give your dog bones please make them the softest bones possible (not a weight bearing bone of a cow -marrow bones) and that would be raw chicken or turkey backs and necks, and lamb backs. Ask the advise of you local raw pet food stay.They will still tell you marrow bones and that is because they do NOT have the knowledge of a dog’s mouth am more importantly know the anatomy of a dog’s tooth. Brush brush brush is the way to go and it will keep the gum tissue nice and healthy. If there is calculus buildup on the teeth it should be removed as a little calculus can do an enormous amount of damage which is where you do not see it – below the gum line in the bone – bone loss which = loose teeth. A dog’s breath should not smell, if it does smell you are smelling the sulfa compounds given off from the plaque bacteria and the teeth should be scaled. Now days there a lots of people who call themselves canine hygienists most of whom have little or no knowledge about a dogs mouth – this is a completely unregulated field. People can do a 1 or 2 week course and think they know what they are looking at in a dog’s mouth and they do not. If your groomer is scaling teeth — I ask would you have your hairdresser scale your teeth? Are the instruments sterilized, are they scaling the entire inside, and they polishing the teeth the entire inside also? I am sure not. Please do look inside your dogs mouth and take care of it daily – you will extend the life of a dog up to 4 years, and help to prevent other health issues.
    This is to educate people just a little about the number one health problem of all dogs. And, while you have me here my other pet peeve with your pets is the claws which NEED to be clipped at least every 3 weeks. For claws most groomers will let you pop in without an appointment, they do a great job it is quick and inexpensive around $10.


    Minette Reply:

    Agreed! Although not all dogs chew hard enough to damage their mouths.

    You work all day with dogs that do, so it is hard for you to get over the “maybe”. I have the same feeling when my vet tech side, meets my training side.

    If the owner hears a cracking sound coming from the bone (antler, whatever) then it needs to be taken away.

    My vet used to say if you hit your counter top as hard as you can with the item and it breaks your counter… it will break your dog’s teeth. Which is true.

    And, broken and infected teeth are not only expensive they are extremely painful!


  3. Rhonda says:

    It is not at all necessary to brush your dog’s teeth, if you provide them with proper nutrition. A raw diet which includes raw, meaty, organic bones, ensures excellent oral health. Besides being excellent for oral health, chewing raw bones brings about a relaxed state of mind. Our vet has confirmed that our dog has excellent oral health. Her gums are healthy and all of her teeth are gleaming white with no tartar or plaque. With the proper diet, your dog’s entire health and outlook will improve drastically.


    Diana Navon Reply:

    I gave my dog a raw bone once and it broke a large chunk of his back tooth. It cost me a lot to have it taken out. I have been brushing all my dogs’ teeth for years and my vet says their teeth are very clean. My 17 year old’s teeth are as clean as a young dog’s. By the way, I don’t feed my dogs meat products anymore because I think it is unethical. They have been vegetarians for 10 years.


    Gigi Reply:

    Thank you for the information. My Labrador a Shelter Rescue , 9years old, has just been operated of 2 Mast Cell cancer. I ordered online a lot of supplement and feed him dried Vegetables, which I soften with Water. I asked my Holistic Vet about making him a vegetarian, but he informed me, that the need protein, which is the meat. What do you feed your dog, to get this protein. Please reply.

    Thank you.


    Diana Navon Reply:

    My three dogs are rescues too. I feed them a dry food that is sweet potatoes and wild salmon for breakfast, and a bowl of fruit each. I give only a tiny amount of this to the elder dog, an American Eskimo, because he at 17 has developed kidney failure which is kept at a low level with a low protein diet and every other day subcutaneous fluids. He eats fruit and a variety of whole grains mixed with a small amount of that kibble for breakfast. Some days I also feed them eggs after the dry food. I give the Eskimo only the yolks because it is high in nutrients but not so much protein. The others get a little yolk and a lot of whites.

    During the day I give them vegie dry cookies and carrot or sweet potato jerky. They love it. I also give them a bowl of yogurt (regular fat for my elderly American Eskimo, and nonfat for the other two.) as an afternoon treat.

    At night I give them steamed vegies like broccoli which is their favorite, green beans and carrots, corn, squashes, spinach and other greens. They really like it. Then they get canned wild seafood (herring and salmon with vegies ) the Eskimo just gets a small amount of it with brown rice as the larger part mixed in.

    They used to be totally vegan and did well (the Humane Society makes a dry food that is cruelty free called Humane Choice, and I used tofu and beans and brown rice and quinoa as well as oils and vegies.) but I decided that even though the sea food industry causes trouble for the earth and unnecessary suffering, at least the fish we use is already a prey animal and doesn’t live under horrible conditions caused by humans. I am also very uncomfortable with eggs and dairy, although we use them. Even on the best run farms chickens and cows do not have a great or as long life as they deserve. But that is another matter.

    My vet says this is a good diet and my dogs are doing very well, they are all slender and in good health; the elderly one came to me with cancer over 10 years ago, and is doing very well now for a 17 year old. I think keeping their teeth clean makes a big difference. You can call UC Davis to talk to an expert in animal nutrition. I did. I hope this helps.


    Marianne Reply:

    Hi Diana:
    I’m curious as to what vegetarian foods you feed your dogs instead of meat and are they raw or steamed…I’ve been looking for a substitute.
    what do you think of raw chicken necks which are softer cartilage type bones for chewing? What type of dogs do you have?

    Thanks, Marianne


    David Ross Reply:

    Its unethical not to feed a canine meat.
    Just as unethical if you only fed your child meat and no vegetables.
    The reason why your dogs tooth broke while chewing a raw bone( incidently raw bone is softer than cooked bones) is that he was not fed a meat and clacium diet from bones.


    Diana Navon Reply:

    Read my second reply above. I believe if we don’t have to cause suffering for other beings we shouldn’t. And we can provide all the protien and nutrients to dogs, who are omnivores like us, without the cruelty.

  4. Jacki says:

    I’m with Rhonda – I’ve never brushed any of my dogs teeth. I’ve had dogs live to ripe old ages with no dental problems – one of them to nearly 19 years old. Mine live on a diet of raw meat, raw pulped veggies and a vet produced mix called Vets All Natural Complete mix which has a bunch of supplements, dried veggie bits and roughage in it. And sorry Diana – No dog should be forced to eat a vegetarian diet. They don’t have ethics about eating animals – that’s their natural diet. I’m a vegetarian but I would never impose my stuff on a dog like that. And if your dogs tooth broke when you gave him a bone it’s either because a) it was already dodgy and would have had to come out anyway (the bone breaking it probably prevented it staying there undetected and becoming infected!!) and/or b) you gave the dog a bone that was too hard and non-digestible. Especially with a dog that hasn’t had bones before you should start with softer bones, like a raw chicken backs or wings. I never give dogs bones that will splinter or that can’t be easily broken down and digested. But if you feed your dog a lot of commercial rubbish and no raw bones then brushing their teeth is probably necessary.


    Marianne Reply:

    Hi Jacki:

    I do agree that vegetarianism is extreme and lacking for dogs
    but I did write Rhonda to see what vegetarian foods she uses.

    Do you use chicken necks also? what type of dogs do you have?

    And, one last question: I’ve been giving my two pugs raw organic
    beef…do you have any other types of meats you like for your dogs?

    I am also looking for a finger toothbrush with bristles that
    has a silicone sleeve if you know of any such thing…so I can
    at least brush their teeth a few times/wk.



    Jacki Reply:

    Hi Marianne

    I don’t use chicken necks for my adult dogs (only for the pups) but only because my dogs snort them down in less than a second (choke risk) and I want them to chew on their raw bones. They are dalmatians, big hoover mouths!! LOL. But for smaller dogs like yours chicken necks are fantastic. Also, necks are more expensive than frames/backs so that’s a consideration for me too.

    I feed mine mostly raw chicken meat – but that is also to do with them being dalmatians and needing a moderate to low purine diet. Occasionally they get beef, kangaroo meat or raw fish. But for most dogs beef is fine! Mine also get poached eggs (so the yolk is raw but not the white) and sometimes cottage/ricotta cheese.

    THere are lots of finger toothbrushes around. Just do a google search or look on Amazon! There are some great innovative designs too.

    Hope that helped!


    Rhonda Reply:

    Amen to that, Jacki! Everyone comments on how fresh our dog’s breath is. That is the ultimate test. We also incorporate veggies in our dog’s diet; but I agree that a diet based solely on vegetables is not acceptable. They’re carnivores, after all. That’s why they have pointed teeth. One might argue that it is unethical to force a carnivore to become a vegetarian. A dog living to an age of 19 is truly impressive, particularly when they have good quality of life. We had a border collie who lived to be 22. Our vet called him the miracle dog. He too was on a raw diet. One of my favorite supplements is cold water fish oil. There are tons of benefits and it is very affordable. Also, for antioxidants, our dog loves blueberries and cranberries. One of her favorite summer treats is to munch on an ice cube. I started adding a few of the frozen berries to the cubes to create a “puppy pop”. We have our own water distiller as well so she gets pure, fresh water, which is also very important to overall health.


    Diana Navon Reply:

    My vet told me that it isn’t good to give bones to dogs for this reason and others. That was a good tooth. He was young and in good health.

    The raw diet represents a lot of horror for the animals that are tortured all thier lives and then killed. I am not a vegetarian for my health so much as for the well being of the animals.

    I think it is unacceptable to feed animals to animals if you don’t have to, and you don’t!


  5. Naomi says:

    I personally agree with raw bones. Every 2 or 3 days my dogs get frozen raw soup bones.. ( my local butcher loves my dogs & makes sure to give them meaty ones.) both my large dogs have great teeth.. Sometimes I stuff a treat in the hallowed out center or some peanut butter & it makes them re-interested in an old bone. I always have given my dogs real raw ham or beef soup bones & The only dog I’ve had with dental problems was a 8 year old retriever that I adopted from the shelter that came with the issues.


  6. Katherine says:

    Oral care is ridiculously important and a healthy diet is critical too. I have a 5 year old Golden Retriever who’d teeth look like a 1 year old. I brush his teeth Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (I’m trying harder to do it more). I have 2 other, younger dogs who have pearly white puppy looking teeth too. It’s really sad how people overlook dog’s health. They just look at it as an extra expense. My dogs are on very healthy dry dog kibble, they get some canned food maybe once a week and I give them lots of fruits and veggies. They definitely have meat in their diet but they get lots of other goods too. They also get raw bones and rawhide and other dental chews. I don’t make much money but I make sure my dogs’ health is good so they live a long, healthy, ACTIVE life. It’s really sad, I have a friend who’s dog is 2 and his teeth make him look like he’s 10. He’s on decent food, never has his teeth brushed and doesn’t have anything to chew on. I’m betting my Golden will outlive him just because of their diets, oral care and lifestyles. It’s really disturbing how selfish people are to not even properly care for these lives they’ve chosen to have.


  7. Noel Petter says:

    i agree with Jacki and Rhonda that the natural diet for dogs should include meat along with vegetables. I keep a supply of beef rib bones for my young Cavalier King Charles puppies and their breath is clean and their teeth are white. However 11 year old golden Lab. has a lot of tarter and I just signed her up for a wide awake ultrasound teeth cleaning! My vet said that would be Ok but after 2 of these he recommends a sleeping (anesthetic) cleaning plus brushing to smooth out the roughness of dental tool scrapings. Years ago I lost a middle aged dog to rotten teeth. I believe brushing regularly is very important to a dogs health.


  8. Gwen says:

    hello everyone,

    I know I am late to this post, but I heard from someone that giving a dog antlers to gnaw on would help keep teeth clean? I had never heard this before in my life, and it sounds a little strange. Please let me know what you think!


    Nancy Reply:

    Greetings all! I heard about giving dogs deer antlers to chew on, and I found some at Foster and Smith. I asked about them (because my husband has all kinds of deer antlers in a box…). They said to make sure you don’t give them any of the deeply grooved antlers because they may harbor dangerous bacteria that can make your dog sick. No worries about that – anything that large is hanging on my wall LOL! So we found some smaller ones and cut the sharp points off. The dogs LOVE them!


    Minette Reply:

    I use very large elk antlers which are cut and marketed for dogs and they do entertain them for hours.


  9. Freddy says:

    We give ProDen PlaqueOff to our sleddogs since a few years back and that has improved their oral health considerably. It’s a natural product based on a seaweed that is sprinkled on top of their food. Our dogs like the smell and taste of it so it’s really easy to use. We brush their teeth too and have noticed they have less tartar on their teeth and their gums look healthier too (no bleeding when brushing). Since it works for the dogs I’ve recently started to use the human version of PlaqueOff myself. 🙂


  10. KJ says:

    I liked the bit about the “three chins” on the bathroom sink. 🙂


    Minette Reply:

    I’m just lucky I get to brush my own teeth 😉


  11. Liz says:

    I read above about the dangers of giving your dog bones. I was encouraged to give my lab mix a bone because he loves to chew. However, I do not want to risk damaging his teeth. Do you have any suggestions for items I can give him? I can’t give him anything too soft because he chews then eats EVERYTHING. I feel so bad because he no longer has any toys except his KONG and no bed because everything else he destroys- stuffed animals, towels, rope toys, nylabones, tennis balls, rubber, etc.- and then I have to worry about damage that can be done to his intestines if he eats it.


    Minette Reply:

    I still use bones and elk antlers unless my dog is chewing so hard I am worried about them cracking their teeth. Most don’t, most can chew them without incident.


  12. Shannon says:

    I have been brushing my dogs teeth for about 2 weeks now, since reading this article, and am amazed at how you you manage to get your dogs to enjoy it!? I followed the steps described in the article, and while my dog tolerates it, so far showing no signs of aggression, it is still a very stressful and frustrating few minutes for both of ups! While I am brushing, she attempts to lick and close her mouth, making it difficult for me to do a good job. She also turns her head in avoidance and ‘whale eyes’ when I attempt to access her mouth, which are both sure signs of stress (she has never been headshy). I always use a happy voice while brushing and even have raw chicken cut offs for rewards (probably the only reason she doesn’t run for the hills when it’s brushing time), but she will not be convinced and I am not sure where to go from here. Any tips or advice?


    Minette Reply:

    I lightly hold my dogs muzzle shut and just get in there for a few seconds hahaha. I use prescription CET and just coat the teeth and then give my dogs a treat afterward.

    By holding the muzzle shut I can get in under a lip and get it done fast.


  13. Trish Miller says:

    Thank you for sharing this! I’ve been wanting to do this.That is very interesting. I have noticed more tartar on my dog’s teeth lately and we have switched to grain free food in the last week. I have started brushing their teeth every night we will see how long this lasts.


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