Dog Dental Tips for Healthy Teeth & Gums

| Jasey Day

Keep your dog's teeth and gums healthy by focusing on pet dental care. Find tips for using dental chews, veterinary teeth cleaning, using a muzzle, and more.


Dirty dog teeth make for stinky dog breath!

One big perk of cleaner teeth is better breath. In addition to improving the “air quality” around your dog’s chompers, supporting good oral hygiene helps maintain your dog’s health. You can ensure healthy dog teeth by following these four steps:

1. Offer Edible Chews for Enhanced Dog Dental Health

Take advantage of enzymatic chews (a specially treated rawhide chew) and green dental chews – these treats are specially formulated to loosen tartar and control plaque. These special products are also easier on a dog's digestive system than some other types of chews, and that's because they are made specifically for the purpose of cleaning teeth and reducing dog halitosis. Dogs of all ages need and like to chew anyway, so making good use of this activity to enhance their dental health is always a good idea! My dogs do well with the Virbac C.E.T. brand of dog chews.

The best place to find safe chews (green or not) is your vet’s office. If your vet doesn’t sell dental dog chews, ask the staff to recommend an appropriate and safe brand.

2. Provide Appropriate Toys for Healthy Dog Gums and Teeth

Many dogs enjoy chewing on soft, non-edible bones that have bumps and some flexibility. These bones help remove plaque and clean teeth. Again, ask your vet for recommendations and see if any options are sold at your vet’s clinic. My dogs do well with the Nylabone brand.

Consider the toys your dog is using. If your dog uses a fake plastic bone for chewing, is it soft enough for them or hard enough that your dog could crack a tooth? Avoid hard toys that could break teeth and avoid toys that may rub off enamel -- even a tennis ball can have a negative impact on the enamel coating of your dog's teeth!

It’s not just chew toys that may be too hard. Your dog’s fetch toy may be too firm for an overly exuberant dog as well. One of my dogs would chomp his solid rubber red ball so hard during fetch that he eventually cracked three incisors! Age was probably also a factor, as dogs teeth become more fragile over time. When the same dog was seven years old, he had three incisors removed by the vet and now he looks like a pirate when he smiles. I switched to a hollow, soft Hol-ee Roller ball for his fetch toy to help protect his remaining chompers.

3. Practice Handling of Your Dog’s Muzzle

Handle your dog’s mouth often – touch their cheeks and lips, hold their muzzle, pull back their lips, and look at their teeth. Gradually increase the duration of your exam. Not only does regular handling make an exam at the vet’s office easier and less stressful for your dog, but regular handling also allows you to see any discoloration or chipped teeth that need to be examined by your vet.

You may want to take handling a step further by brushing your dog’s teeth. Take baby steps at first by getting your dog used to having the brush near their teeth, then touching the teeth, and brushing for longer durations. Be sure to use professional pet toothpaste; dogs cannot use human toothpaste because they don’t spit the toothpaste out. Dogs need a safely digestible paste. Try peanut butter or poultry flavor for the best results.

When brushing your dog's teeth, you will also want to be sure to use a dog toothbrush, as a human toothbrush is not going to be able to reach all the way back or between your dog's teeth with the same efficacy as a dog toothbrush. Again, you can find these at your vet's office, or you may opt to ask your vet for a brand or style of dog toothbrush that they recommend for purchase elsewhere.

4. Consider Veterinary Dental Cleanings When Needed

Some dogs don’t need regular professional dental cleanings until they are older. Your vet can evaluate the build-up on your dog’s teeth at your annual exam and let you know the best course of action. Dogs who regularly have their teeth brushed and cared for are less likely to need professional dental cleanings -- prevention is key!

Many owners dread professional dog teeth care due to the cost and need for sedation. However, you can take advantage of having your dog sedated to perform other necessary procedures, including nail clipping and imaging. I use the dental cleaning as a time to get orthopedic x-rays done or to have fatty tumors removed. Talk to your vet about the best strategy, and consider dog insurance add-on plans from AKC Pet Insurance (underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company) to get reimbursed for some preventive care costs, including annual wellness exams and dental cleanings.

The information provided in this blog is intended for educational purposes only and should not serve as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your veterinarian. Always consult your veterinarian with questions about your pet’s health before initiating any treatment regimes.

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Jasey Day

Jasey Day holds the Certified Canine Fitness Trainer (CCFT) credential through the University of Tennessee. She is a member of the Bobbie Lyons K9FITteam - a team of compassionate canine fitness instructors who actively teach others and continually expand their own knowledge. Since 2004, Jasey has taught a variety of workshops and classes on the following: Puppy, Canine Good Citizen/Family Pet, Advanced Family Pet, Canine Fitness, Canine Swimming, Rally, and Agility. In addition, Jasey has earned over 60 titles in Dock Diving, Agility, Rally, CGC and Trick Dog. Jasey has worked full time for the American Kennel Club since 2007 and teaches at Care First Animal Hospital in Raleigh, NC. Jasey’s Labrador Retrievers spend their free time hiking, training, and snuggling with Jasey.


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