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  • Writer's pictureCaryl Wolff

Dog Dental Tips

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

Dog Dental Tips

Oral disease is the most common dog clinical disease, and 85% of dogs over four years of age have dental problems. Cleaning your dog’s teeth is extremely important because the mouth has an ample blood supply. If there is infection in your dog’s mouth, the blood can carry it throughout your dog’s body, and it can settle in your dog’s organs. Periodontal disease is associated with chronic diseases of the heart, kidneys, and liver.

Dog Teeth Names and Functions

The front knife-like teeth, which are called incisors and canines, are for cutting through tissue and tearing raw meat. The flat back teeth, the premolars and molars, are for chewing, gnawing on, and crushing bones.

There are 28 baby or deciduous teeth which are in place when your dog is 8 weeks old. The 42 permanent teeth start erupting at 2 months, are in place by 7 months, and are settled into the jaw by 12 months. During this entire period, your dog needs to chew, chew, and chew some more to help the teeth settle in. It’s up to you to provide ample appropriate items for him to chew on. Make sure that they have different textures and consistencies– some should be hard, some should be soft, some should be smooth, some should be rough. You can also help him out by giving hIm ice, frozen bagels, and frozen carrots if his digestive system does not get upset.

Ask your vet to examine your dog’s mouth at 7 weeks and again at 7 months to see

  • if the teeth are coming in correctly

  • if there are retained baby teeth (meaning the baby teeth don’t fall out when the permanent teeth came in)

  • if your dog has extra teeth

  • if your dog has Tetracycline staining due to antibiotics taken during teeth-forming stage

  • if your dog has malformed enamel

  • if any of the teeth did not erupt and are impacted

  • if your dog’s upper and lower jaws do not meet properly and he has malocclusion (where the top and bottom jaws don’t line up) occurring from defects in cartilage growth and development.

When to See your Vet about your Dog’s Teeth

Look at your dog’s gums, especially at the gum line at the large teeth towards the back of the mouth. Healthy gums are pink. If your dog’s gums are a reddish color, this can be an early stage of periodontal or gum disease, and your dog’s teeth need cleaning. Other more obvious signs are bad breath and the yellow-brown tartar deposits on the teeth themselves.

Generally speaking, the older the dog and the smaller the dog, the more dental problems he will have. Dogs with long thick hair around their muzzles and those that are mouth breathers generally have more dental problems.

Just because your dog exhibits some of the following symptoms does not mean that he has dental problems. However, it’s best to be aware of the potential problems so that you can see if they get worse. The most obvious signs of your dog needing his teeth cleaned are bad breath, visible tartar, and inflamed gums. Other symptoms include:

  • bleeding, inflamed, or receded gums, which can be periodontal disease

  • loose or missing teeth

  • sensitivity around his mouth

  • lumps and bumps which can mean an abscessed tooth or tumor

  • damaged teeth

  • pimples around his mouth

  • sudden onset of drooling or bad breath

  • not eating

  • poor self-grooming

  • incessant nose licking

  • hesitancy to open or close his mouth all the way

  • decreased chewing of toys

  • pawing at his mouth

  • facial rubbing

  • sneezing

  • one-sided nasal discharge

  • favoring one side of his mouth when he chews

  • teeth grinding or chattering

  • reluctance to perform retrieves

  • personality changes

  • blood on toys or bones that he chews

Definitions in Doggie (and human!) Dentistry

Plaque: a mixture of food, bacteria, and saliva that sticks to the teeth. It is a thin transparent film that can only be removed by brushing or dental instruments. It can and does get below the gum line and forms a pocket which collects bacteria and damages the attachments that hold the tooth in place.

Tartar or calculus: hardened plaque. It is heaviest at the salivary gland duct openings at the large carnassial teeth (the biggest teeth) located on the upper jaw and the inside molars and premolars on the lower jaw.

Gingivitis: inflammation or redness at the edge of the gums. It is reversible if caught in time.

Periodontitis: infected gums and infections around the roots of the teeth. Your dog’s gums are very red and inflamed and begin to recede or pull away from where they normally should be. The “glue” that attaches the gums to the teeth disintegrates. Every time your dog chews, the bacteria goes deeper into the tissues and eventually goes into his bloodstream. As it progresses, your dog’s teeth begin to loosen, his gums become increasingly inflamed, and it is very painful. It is irreversible, and ultimately your dog’s teeth will need to be pulled.

Doggie Dental Trauma

Dogs that have multiple worn or chipped teeth are, generally speaking, chewers. Types of trauma can include the tip being broken off, a slab fracture, and erosion of the enamel.

The tip of a tooth can be broken off, which is especially common in the canine or eyeteeth, and that can happen because the tooth has been hit or perhaps he has chewed a bone “the wrong way.”

A slab fracture is common on the very large upper premolar called the carnassial tooth. The enamel is broken along a large portion of the outer vertical surface of the tooth. It can come completely off, or it may be still attached at the top.

The incisors or front teeth may be worn down so that only a small portion of the tooth is visible. These teeth often have a brown center which was the pulp cavity. Because the wear on the tooth is gradual, the pulp tissue recedes ahead of the wear, and they usually don’t need to be removed.

If you see red in the center of the tooth, it is a freshly injured tooth, and a vet should examine your dog. Dogs show varying degrees of tolerance from no signs of trauma to reluctance to bite or chew when this happens. As the pulp dies, tooth sensitivity is lost. There may be no clinical signs until there is an abscess or the tooth falls out.

Another type of dental trauma occurs when dogs chew on chain link fences. The insides of the canine teeth wear down which predisposes them to fractures.

A tooth with a black center has had an acute injury and needs to be watched carefully for abscesses. If your dog has an abscessed tooth, he needs to be seen by a vet who may put your dog on antibiotics and/or remove that tooth to avoid further problems.

Preventing Dental Problems for your Dog

The best way to prevent dental problems is to brush your dog’s teeth daily. The plaque turns to tartar in 48 hours, and you need to brush it away so it can’t turn to tartar. How much plaque and/or tartar develops depends on a lot of factors, one of which is your dog’s own body chemistry. Some dogs just naturally have clean teeth; others do not.

Other factors that influence the formation of tartar, including diet and dog chewies. But brushing is the key.

There are also gels and rinses on the market which may help in the prevention of tartar buildup. Always check with your veterinarian before using any products.

Dog Chewies


Chewies massage your dog’s gums, and the abrasive action helps prevent tartar formation.

Some dog chewies are:

  • Bones (raw knuckle bones are best)

  • Doggie dental floss

  • Rawhides impregnated with dentifrices

  • Dental Kong, which is a soft rubber toy that massages your dog’s gums as he is chewing, and you can put broth or peanut butter in the grooves.

Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth

First, go to a quiet area. Begin by gently stroking your dog’s body, eventually ending up at his head and mouth. Pick up your dog’s lips and look at his teeth – all his teeth. Run your finger along the gum line. Do this several times a day for a few days to get your dog used to your touching his mouth. The best time to do this is when both you and your dog are relaxed. Speak to him in a soft, reassuring voice, and give him lots of praise, love, and affection before, during, and after touching.

The next step is to let him sniff the doggie toothbrush or gauze and dog toothpaste. If you choose to use toothpaste, don’t use human toothpaste or baking soda because they can have adverse effects on your dog’s digestive system. Use doggie toothpaste or just simply wet the toothbrush with either water or chicken broth, and place it on the canine teeth and work your way back. The incisors or the small teeth at the front of the mouth are very sensitive. Do those last.

Gently brush up from the lower canine teeth and down from the upper teeth, using lots of praise. Brush only a few teeth the first few times, and gradually increase the number of teeth you brush. Slowly make your way to the molars at the back of your dog’s mouth. Then do the other side of his mouth, always slowly and giving lots of praise. Finally, brush the front teeth. Brushing his entire mouth may take several days for him to get comfortable with.

Dog Teeth Cleaning

There are two ways to have your dog’s teeth cleaned: through your veterinarian who uses an ultrasonic machine, and the second way is by using a hand scaler.

Ultrasonic cleaning with anesthesia

If you choose to have your vet clean your dog’s teeth using anesthesia and your dog is over six years old or has a preexisting medical condition concerning his heart, kidneys, lungs, liver, or immune system, he should have a blood panel run to determine that his internal organs are functioning properly before he undergoes anesthesia because the anesthesia is removed from his system through his lungs, liver, or kidneys.

Be sure to tell your vet about all drugs that your dog is currently taking and if he has had any adverse reactions to any previous drugs or anesthesia. Some dogs do not tolerate anesthesia well and may take several days to get back to normal.

If your dog is undergoing anesthesia, ask your vet

  • what kind of monitoring equipment he uses

  • if a person who is not cleaning the teeth will be monitoring the equipment

  • what kind of anesthesia is being used and how quickly it gets out of your dog’s system

  • whether he uses another drug to lose and induce consciousness

  • if there are any side effects

He should not get any food for 12 hours or water for 6 hours before cleaning because dogs can sometimes vomit when they are losing or gaining consciousness; and if his stomach is not empty, he can breath in the vomit and suffocate.

Hand scaling without anesthesia

I always recommend that whenever your dog is undergoing anesthesia for any reason, that you have his teeth cleaned. If your dog has any problems with his heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, immune system, or has diabetes, he may have to have antibiotics before and after the cleaning.

Teeth cleaning is considered a veterinary procedure in California which legally may only be performed in a veterinarian’s office. It should not be done at a groomer's if there is no veterinarian supervising. There are some veterinarians who are offering nonanesthesia teeth cleaning in their offices! Do your research to find one in your area.

I hope that this has given you an understanding that keeping your dog’s teeth clean and brushed is a vital and necessary part of his overall health and well-being. Remember, as with anything, habits don’t change overnight. Give yourself and your dog a chance.

I’ve used this PlaqueOff to help stop tartar and plaque from forming on my dogs' teeth, and it has helped my dogs. Be sure to read the instructions!

Please DO NOT call or email me for any further advice or information. If you have any questions, ask your veterinarian.

Thanks for visiting Dog Dental Tips. I make a small commission on any products or books I recommend.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only. It does not replace a consultation with a dog trainer, dog behavior consultant, or veterinarian and may not be used to diagnose or treat any conditions in your dog.

If you need help with puppy or dog training, we do both private in-person and virtual lessons via Zoom. Please contact us by calling or texting (310) 804-2392 or sending an email to . We look forward to working with you.


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