How to Prevent Tooth Decay in Dogs

Three Parts:Caring For Your Dog's Teeth at HomeFeeding a Tooth Friendly DietGetting Regular Checkups

Despite all their chewing and gnawing on rawhide bones, dogs frequently develop dental disease. By the age of two, 80% of dogs have some signs of dental disease.[1] Plaque and tartar on your dog's teeth can build up over time if not cleaned off, causing infection that can eventually lead to tooth loss. This infection can also spread to the dog's kidneys, liver and heart and causing serious damage to these vital body organs.[2] You can prevent tooth decay and periodontal disease (infected gums and tooth support area) in dogs by taking them for routine dentist visits, regularly brushing their teeth, and giving them foods that prevent plaque build-up in the first place.

Part 1
Caring For Your Dog's Teeth at Home

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    Check your dog's teeth regularly. Check your dog's teeth and gums every time you groom it. This should be done at least once a week. The more the dog is used to you checking its teeth, the more responsive it will be and the easier it'll be for you to spot anything unusual.[3]
    • Look for any bleeding, swelling, sores, lumps, discharge, cracked or fractured teeth, or growths on the gums, tongue, and roof of the mouth. Also, try to look back in the throat, under the tongue, and on the insides of the cheeks for any abnormalities. As you get to know your dog's mouth, it will be easier and quicker for you to spot any strange changes.
    • If you find any of these things, call your veterinarian to discuss your findings and how to proceed.
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    Start dental care early in your dog's life. It's a good idea to start brushing your dog's teeth when it is a puppy, so that it gets used to the process. This dental care can even start when the puppy is eight to twelve weeks old.[4] This will make a lifetime of teeth brushing easier on both you and the dog.[5]
    • Clearly, not every dog goes to its forever home as a puppy, and so may not begin a dental care routine as a puppy. Whatever age your dog is when you adopt it, it is worth starting a dental care right away, so that the dog and you can begin to get used to the process.
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    Get your dog used to teeth brushing. Introducing tooth brushing to your dog should be done over the course of a few weeks. The process begins by familiarizing your dog with the sensation of having your fingers in the mouth and ends with stress-free brushing using a dog toothbrush and using a toothpaste designed specifically for dogs.[6]
    • Put a small amount of the dog toothpaste on your finger and allow the dog to lick it off. This toothpaste comes in flavors like chicken or liver, making it a good tasting product.
    • Next, place a little more on your finger and rub it along your dog’s gums.
    • The next day, try placing a little on the toothbrush and rubbing this gently along the outer edges of the teeth and gums.
    • If your dog resists the dog toothbrush, use a gauze pad, a washcloth, or a soft child's toothbrush in place of a large toothbrush.
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    Brush your dog's teeth on a regular basis. Dog tooth brushing is the primary way to break up deposits that form on your dog's teeth soon after eating. This will wash away the nasty bacteria that leads to plaque formation.
    • Gradually build up time to run the tooth brush along the outer edges of the teeth and gums brushing them like you would your own teeth. It should not take more than a minute (usually around 30 seconds) to brush your dog’s teeth.
    • Brushing your dog's teeth should be done on a nightly basis, or a few times a week at a minimum.
    • You do not need to get the inside surfaces of the teeth.
    • Do not use human toothpaste, as the fluoride in the toothpaste can be toxic to dogs.
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    Provide some hard toys to chew on. These can assist in keeping the teeth in great shape. Many of them have rubber nibs that help massage the gums and gently scrape some of the plaque off of the teeth.
    • Ask at the pet store or at the vet's for suitable toys.
    • Make sure to clean them regularly by a good scrubbing with soap and water and then running them through the dishwasher while they are on the top rack.

Part 2
Feeding a Tooth Friendly Diet

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    Feed a diet aimed at tartar and plaque control. Home care is most successful when a combination of products are used. Some foods work on a mechanical action (large biscuits with specific fibres to scrape away at the tartar). Other products include a component that binds calcium in the saliva to reduce the conversion of plaque into tartar (like certain toothpastes). The benefit of these diets is that they work on all the teeth in the mouth and not just the chewing teeth.
    • Ask your vet to recommend a suitable dental diet or check the Veterinary Oral Health Council website for registered products.[7]
    • While ideally this should be done in conjunction with tooth brushing, dental diets are especially helpful when tooth brushing is not possible.
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    Consider adding tartar removal products into your dog's water dish. Tartar-control products are available in liquid form and are designed to remove food deposits throughout the day or when you rinse the dog’s mouth with them.[8] Products with the ingredient chlorhexidine have proven to be the most effective at lowering the bacterial counts in dogs mouths.[9]
    • If tartar build-up is too severe, this product will not be effective enough and your vet will need to perform a professional cleaning.
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    Consider whether a bones-and-raw-food diet if right for your dog. The diet is also known as a "BARF" diet or "Biologically Appropriate Diet."[10] Advocates of this diet feed daily servings of raw, meaty bones to address nutritional needs, as well as to help keep teeth clean through chewing action.
    • There is not a lot of scientific data to back up the beneficial claims made about this diet in general. Thus, it's best to consult with a veterinarian before starting your dog in this diet.[11]
    • If your dog has a chronic health problem, be sure to consult with a veterinarian before feeding this diet, as there is some concern about bacteria on the raw bones.
    • If your dog is on a prescription food for any reason, do not start this diet without careful consultation with your veterinarian.
    • Select the most organic bones you can find to minimize exposure to pesticides.
    • Choose hard bones such as bison bones, which take longer to disintegrate. Never feed chicken bones or cooked bones to dogs as these are more brittle and can create sharp shards which can injure your dog’s digestive tract.

Part 3
Getting Regular Checkups

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    Take your dog to a veterinarian skilled in pet dentistry annually. In the first appointment the veterinarian will usually just assess the state of your dog's teeth. Your vet will check for tartar build-up and signs of periodontal disease, and will determine what needs to be done to improve your dog's dental health. tooth hygiene at home.
    • If it is determined that your dog needs a dental cleaning or other serious procedure, an appointment will be scheduled.[12]
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    Bring your dog in for a thorough dental cleaning. In order to get at the plaque beneath the gum lines (which all dogs will have), the dog will need to be sedated and then anesthetized. This will also give the veterinarian a great opportunity to do a thorough oral examination as the dog will not resist having its mouth and throat examined when it is sedated.
    • During the cleaning, a motorized machine called a dental scaler is used. It uses water under pressure to blast the plaque and tartar away, both on the visible tooth surface and under the gums.[13]
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    Prepare for a large vet bill. If you have never practiced oral hygiene on your dog this first visit can be expensive, especially if teeth need to be extracted due to neglect. In some cases, the dog will also need to be put on antibiotics to control any existing infection, which will add a little cost to the bill.
    • However, this first visit will result in clean teeth. This gives you a good base from which to start practicing good tooth hygiene at home. If you keep up good oral hygiene practices with the dog moving forward, you are less likely to have expensive visits in the future.


  • Periodontal disease is reversible if caught early enough. The first signs include bad breath (doggy breath), drooling, nasal discharge, and a swollen jaw or neck.[14]
  • Anesthesia-free dog dental care performed at grooming shops is generally more affordable than having a veterinary professional clean your dog's teeth. However, this procedure only cleans the visible surface area of the teeth. It does not address tartar below the gum line, which is the primary cause of dog periodontal disease.


  • Use toothpaste specifically designed for dogs. Human toothpaste has chemical agents that are hazardous if ingested.
  • Never feed cooked bones to a dog. Cooked bones can splinter and cause choking. Uncooked bones have a different molecular structure that does not allow the bones to shatter upon chewing impact.

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