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Dog Teeth Cleaning

Perhaps one of the most common questions dog owners ask veterinarians is – should we brush our pet’s teeth, and how can we do this at home? Responsible pet owners want to help maintain a healthy oral cavity in their pets. If you have noticed bad breath in your dog and thought that it was because of a lack of oral hygiene, you are not wrong. Dogs cannot develop cavities like humans, but they develop tartar and plaque, which can lead to gingival inflammation and, in more severe forms, to tooth inflammation, which results in tooth extraction. But you as a dog owner can prevent that.

Dog Dental Care

Dental care is very important for dogs, not only because the owner will notice an improvement in the dog’s breath, but also because improper and irregular care can create real dental problems. Most owners pay attention to the dog’s diet and to grooming, but they forget that dental care is equally important.

In addition to causing a serious problem in the oral cavity, if the dental care of the dog is not taken into account, small food pieces enter the gums and remain on the teeth, tartar is formed and a large number of bacteria is spread and can easily be transmitted through the bloodstream to the heart, kidneys and liver, causing systemic inflammation.

There is a big misconception among dog owners that it is unnecessary to maintain dental care in large dogs and in dogs that eat solid foods. It’s true that more severe forms of calculus and plaque are found in smaller breeds, but no breed is resistant to the creation of dental problems, and oral care is recommended for all dogs, regardless of size and breed.

Also, even if you give your dog only dry food, which helps to clean his teeth, that doesn’t mean that at some stage in its life, there will be no accumulation of tartar, so it’s recommended that owners brush their pet’s teeth regardless of the type of food they eat.

A dog that has problems with teeth, or some disease of the oral cavity, is in great pain and suffering, and by doing simple dental care at home, you can make your dog happier and have a longer and healthier life.

Dental Diseases in Dogs

Dogs’ dental diseases can be classified into the following categories: teeth misalignment or malocclusions, oral lesions, gingivitis, and periodontal disease.

Teeth Misalignment or Malocclusions

Dog with teeth out

Malocclusion is a condition that is considered a deviation and is most often hereditary or of unknown etiology. Put more simply, it is a condition you can see when the dog closes its mouth and there is incorrect tooth positioning or tooth protruding. There are several classes of malocclusions, depending on which teeth are in misalignment. Some breeds are predisposed to this problem due to their anatomical build.

Depending on the class and degree, malocclusions can be treated by an orthodontist. Minor abnormalities that do not interfere with the normal functioning of the dog are very often not treated at all.1Malocclusions and orthodontic treatment. Sacramento Dental Veterinary Services. Retrieved 24 July 2020.

In milder forms of malocclusions, owners are advised to pay more attention to dental hygiene because teeth that protrude are more exposed to the environment and therefore are more sensitive and require little more attention.

Oral Lesions

Oral mass

Oral lesions can often be found when examined orally. Many of them are benign, but according to many authors, the location of the oral cavity is quite predisposing to malignant tumors and when owners bring them to the vet these lesions often cover a larger area.2Hoyt R.F., Withrow S.J. Oral malignancy in the dog. J Am Animal Hospital 20 (1), 83-92, 1982

Treatment of lesions and tumors requires sampling to determine the degree of malignancy, but the prognosis of malignant conditions is often unfavorable. If the owners notice creations on the gingiva while playing or brushing dog’s teeth, be sure to visit a veterinarian as soon as possible.


Dog teeth with gingivitisGingivitis is an inflammation of the gums or gingiva. It is caused by the accumulation of multiplied bacteria that enter the gingiva, creating plaque and leading to inflammation, swelling of the gingiva and even minor bleeding. It can also occur in a traumatic way, if the dog tries to chew on a hard object or if dried pieces of grass find their way into the gums while outdoors.

The condition should be treated by a veterinarian because if left untreated, it can develop into periodontal disease, which results in tooth loss as the natural attachment of the tooth to the alveolar bone is damaged. Gingivitis is very easy to spot because the gums are more pronounced in color and they bleed. The dog eats less and calms down because of the pain.

Periodontal Disease

Dog teeth check

Periodontal disease is a disease of the gums and the deeper tissue structures caused by the infectious effect of accumulated plaque or a layer of bad bacteria due to poor oral hygiene. The disease can be found in several stages, depending on which structures are affected.

The following are some of the symptoms of this disease:

  • Swollen gums
  • Red gums with bleeding
  • Gums sensitive to touch
  • The dog eats less and loses weight
  • Loss of one or more teeth
  • Bad breath with genuine large amounts of plaque and limescale

If it is noticed in the early stages, it can be treated by a veterinarian, but if this disease affects the bone that supports the tooth, pockets form around the teeth, and then the teeth grind and fall out. This disease is really serious and can cause pain and suffering to the dog.

How is Periodontal Disease Treated?

Professional help is needed to treat this disease. You should not treat or brush your pet’s teeth on your own, under no circumstances, because you can do more harm than good. If you notice any of the symptoms, be sure to contact your veterinarian, who will give adequate help and therapy.

In medicine and veterinary medicine, there are dentists and oral surgeons who know how to approach this disease. The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) advises that every owner can prevent this disease by maintaining the oral hygiene of their dog.

Dog Breed Prone to Dental Diseases

By knowing what problems your dog may face, you will have a better chance of preventing the disease or at least reducing the damage. The following dog breeds are genetically prone to dental disease.

Brachycephalic Dog Breeds/Short-headed Dogs

Small dog with teethBreeds of dogs that fall into this category have a specific anatomical structure of the skull and are therefore predisposed to malocclusions, problems with the arrangement and folding of the teeth in the jaw. For these reasons, they are more likely to have problems with jaw joints, teeth protruding outside the mouth, plaque buildup and soft tissue trauma in the oral cavity.

Breeds that most often have problems with dental problems:

  • Pug
  • Pekingese
  • Boston Terrier
  • English Bulldog
  • Shih Tzu
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Boxer
  • French Bulldog

The authors who conducted a study of the prevalence of the periodontal disease consider that in addition to skull morphology, the constitution and thickness have a lot of influence on the disease.3Stella JL, Bauer AE, Croney CC. A cross-sectional study to estimate prevalence of periodontal disease in a population of dogs (Canis familiaris) in commercial breeding facilities in Indiana and Illinois. PLoS One. 2018 Jan 18;13(1):e0191395. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0191395. PMID: 29346448; PMCID: PMC5773197.

Dolichocephalic or Long-headed Breeds

Long head dog

These breeds have a long snout and often have problems with an overbite, which can be noticeable when they are puppies.

In this group of dogs, these breeds most often have dental problems:

  • Collie
  • Shetland Sheepdog
  • Dachshund
  • Greyhound
  • Whippet

An overbite can often lead to malocclusions, and as the teeth often protrude out of the dog’s mouth, they are more prone to external influences, and tartar builds up on them more often.

Small Breeds of Dogs and Toy Dogs

Small breeds of dogs most often have two problems when it comes to teeth. These are the retention of deciduous teeth and tartar with the consequent occurrence of periodontal disease. A survey was also conducted that showed in 49 dogs assessed at 37 weeks of age, 98% had at least one tooth or aspect with early periodontitis.4Wallis C, Pesci I, Colyer A, Milella L, Southerden P, Holcombe LJ, Desforges N. A longitudinal assessment of periodontal disease in Yorkshire terriers Corrin Wallis. BMC Vet Res. 2019 Jun 21;15(1):207. doi: 10.1186/s12917-019-1923-8. PMID: 31226991; PMCID: PMC6588847.

Small dog breeds and toy dogs prone to dental issues:

  • Yorkies
  • Chihuahuas
  • Toy Poodle
  • Maltese
  • Chinese Crested

Dog teeth treatmentSmall dogs and toy breeds, due to their size, anatomy and genetic predispositions created during crossbreeding, are more prone to dental problems. Owners often report to the vet thinking their pet has excess teeth, and often they are not wrong. In smaller breeds, it is more common for deciduous teeth not to fall out when new ones erupt. Problems occur when a permanent tooth and a deciduous tooth overlap, creating lesions on the gingiva and suitable sites for tartar formation. The problem is solved by tooth extraction by a veterinarian.

Dog Teeth Cleaning Cost

Tooth cleaning refers to the thorough cleaning and removal of tartar and the polishing of teeth with specialized devices. If the amount of tartar is minimal and the dog is cooperative, a quick cleaning can be done without the use of anesthesia or with a mild sedation where the collected tartar is removed using an instrument.

However, most owners bring dogs that have a large amount of tartar on their teeth that has retracted under the gingiva. In such cases, an ultrasonic cleaning is done with the device, which is much more thorough and goes under the gingiva so all the tartar can be removed. After removing the tartar, the teeth are polished with a device and by using special dog dental pastes.

The cost for teeth cleaning can range from a few hundred dollars ($200-500) to a few thousand dollars ($1,000-2,000).

The following factors affect the price:

  • Type of tooth cleaning
  • Anesthesia
  • Blood tests
  • X-rays
  • Tooth extraction
  • Root canals
  • Painkillers and antibiotics

When you take your dog to a dental check-up, a general clinical examination will be performed to determine his health, if necessary. Usually, in older dogs, veterinarians suggest a blood test to check for a biochemical status if there is a systemic problem.

According to the 2019 AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats, veterinarians should do a conscious oral evaluation where they examine the teeth and determine the condition of the gingiva and openness of the teeth, and look for anything that may indicate the need for additional procedures and tests that can only be done when the dog is anesthetized.

Dog teeth operationAn unconscious oral evaluation can be done when the dog is anesthetized; sometimes, this is the only way to obtain a detailed and accurate picture of the condition in the oral cavity. It is also recommended that if a general practitioner finds there is a serious dental problem, the dog should be referred to a specialist.5Bellows J., Berg M.L., Dennis S., Harvey R., Lobprise H.B., Snyder C.J., Stone A.E.S., Van de Wetering A.G. Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. Retrieved 7 July 2020.

Dog Teeth Cleaning Risks

General anesthesia, which involves placing the dog in a state of complete relaxation and insensitivity to external stimulance, endotracheal tube placement, premedication and appropriate monitoring are necessary for dental procedures, including professional cleaning and tartar removal, tooth extraction and more advanced procedures. Expert opinion as well as a growing number of published data supports and recommends the use of general anesthesia in veterinary dentistry.

“So-called ‘anesthesia-free’ dentistry has not been shown to be safer or comparable to the capacity to supra and subgingivally clean teeth in an anesthetized patient and is therefore unacceptable.”6Bellows J., Berg M.L., Dennis S., Harvey R., Lobprise H.B., Snyder C.J., Stone A.E.S., Van de Wetering A.G. Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. Retrieved 7 July 2020.

Vet checking dogAs dogs cannot rest while their teeth are ultrasonically and manually cleaned by a veterinarian, and since they do not cooperate in this process, it is necessary to introduce the dog to anesthesia. The cleaning process itself depends on the amount of tartar, and that’s also what determines the duration of anesthesia.

Dogs respond to anesthesia differently. Although the recommendation of a veterinarian is to perform a blood test before such a procedure – which, in addition to a clinical examination, may indicate a health problem – we can never know for sure how the dog will react to the anesthetic. The cleaning process itself is not as risky as the anesthesia.

The procedure is riskier for older dogs, obese dogs, and dogs with cardiovascular problems, and veterinarians approach these categories with greater caution.

During the process of cleaning, veterinarians are sometimes forced to remove a broken or deeply damaged tooth. Post-operative recovery with such procedures takes a little longer and includes antibiotic therapy and painkillers.

How to Clean a Dog’s Teeth at Home?

Certainly, the best way to prevent your dog’s dental disease is to maintain good oral hygiene and to clean their teeth at home regulary.

Dog teeth cleaningIt is recommended that you teach your dog a cleaning routine from an early age, in order to form a habit. If your dog refuses to brush his teeth, there are several other methods you can use. Brushing your dog’s teeth is done with a special toothpaste that is intended exclusively for dogs; it breaks down dirt and plaque, and reduces bad breath. You must not use toothpaste for humans because it is toxic to dogs, and the brushes you need to use are also intended for dog jaws and teeth.

How to Clean a Dog’s Teeth Without Brushing?

The best way to maintain a dog’s oral hygiene is to brush their teeth using toothpaste and toothbrushes designed for dogs, but not all dogs are cooperative when it comes to brushing their teeth. Fortunately, there are also ways to maintain oral hygiene without brushing your dog’s teeth.

Dog Dental Wet Wipes

Dog teeth cleaning with dental wipesWet wipes are a tool used to clean teeth in dogs on a daily basis. They can be found as wet pads or wet wipes. These wipes have active ingredients that serve to break down bacteria and food remains on the teeth and peppermint-based supplements that refresh the breath. The best way to use them is to put a wipe on your finger and gently run it over your pet’s teeth and gums, removing dirt, refreshing breath and stimulating blood flow in its gums.

The disadvantage is that it does not remove all accumulations like a toothbrush does, but it is certainly better to use this as a preventive measure than to do nothing.

Dog Dental Water Additives

These products are similar to mouthwash in humans. They are used by adding them to drinking water. The amount and method is different for each product, and with each, you can find instructions for use. It is important to note that this product is easy to use; there is no need to brush, and their task is to prevent the formation of tartar and to reduce the amount if it is on the teeth. as well as to refresh the breath of your pet.

There are various dental water additives on the market. If you do not know how to choose the right product for your dog, it is recommended that you look for natural-based products.

PROS of dog dental water additives:

  • Easy to use
  • Safe to use
  • Used as a prevention of teeth tartar
  • Natural-based formulas
  • Refreshes pet’s breath

CONS of dental water additives:

  • Can’t completely replace teeth brushing
  • Must be used frequently in order to have an effect

There are some active substances in human mouthwash that are toxic for dogs; therefore, you should never give them to your pet. Be sure that products that you use for pet dental hygiene are natural based. This kind of oral hygiene will help your dog, and breeds that are more prone to tartar formation will need less professional help.

Dog Dental Chews

Dental chews are products intended for dogs to maintain dental care. These products clean the teeth and entertain the dog at the same time, so they are more useful.

Important features to consider when buying dental chews:

  • Size – Big dogs require big chews. If you give something too small, he will not chew long enough and therefore the chew will have no effect.
  • Hardness – If you have a dog that is older or has more sensitive teeth, you should not give him too hard chews because he could injure his teeth and gingiva.
  • Caloric content – If you often give your dog chews, you must pay attention to caloric content, especially in obese dogs and in dogs with less physical activity.

They work by mechanically cleaning the teeth from the rest of the food and bacteria, but also by constantly chewing the production of a larger amount of saliva, which destroys bacteria and impurities in the mouth.

Dental Sticks for Dogs

Dental sticks are products intended for dogs to combine health with some that is great tasting. Dogs like to chew; it is in their nature, and in order not to chew furniture and shoes, there are dental sticks. In addition to fun, by chewing them, dogs clean both front and back teeth and gums, which is difficult to reach when brushing.

Many dental sticks can be found over-the-counter in stores, and some can be purchased from a vet. They can be found in different sizes and flavors that you choose depending on the size of your dog and his own preferences.

Here are some of the guidelines when buying dental sticks:

  • Size: Size is important, both in small and large dogs. If you have a small dog, his jaw is narrow and you will buy a smaller stick in proportion to its jaw size. If you give a small dog a larger dental stick, he will not be able to chew it, and such a stick will be used only as a toy and not as a cleaning tool. If you give a big dog too small a stick, he will eat it instead of chewing it.
  • Taste: Today sticks can be found with a variety of flavors, so you need to take the one you know your dog favors.
  • Edibility: When taking edible sticks, you should pay attention to their caloric content and include it in the daily portion, especially in dogs prone to fattening. The advantage of inedible dental sticks is that they do not affect the daily calorie intake.
  • Ingredients: When choosing dental sticks, it is best to look for ones that are naturally based and easy to digest.

Dental Treats for Dogs

Dental treats are dental chews of various sizes and shapes made as tasty treats which, thanks to their composition, reduce the amount of calculus formed and are thus used to prevent the occurrence of dental diseases. Apart from the purpose of cleaning teeth, they can also be used as rewards when training a dog.

Dog Chew Toys

Dog running with a toy

If you have been wondering if these toys can have any positive impact on your dog’s teeth condition, the answer is yes. In addition to mechanically scraping dirt from the teeth, chewing stimulates the secretion of saliva in dogs, which destroys bad bacteria in the mouth and controls the pH of the oral cavity.

Dogs that are active by nature are very often bored with various objects in the apartment, which can be very frustrating for the owners. These toys can help dogs have fun. Chewing toys will stop them from chewing on your shoes and furniture and at the same time they’ll be cleaning their teeth.

When choosing toys, pay attention to the size, because large dogs will not be interested in small toys; they can swallow them, and that can cause a big problem. Toy material is also important when choosing: go for harder material for a larger dog and a younger one while older dogs prefer soft toys.


A dog’s dental health is very important for his general health, happiness and longevity.
According to the Veterinary Information Network, 85 percent of pets have periodontal disease by age 3 years.7Brooks W. (January 2001). Dental Home Care for Dogs and Cats. Veterinary partner. Retrieved 7 July 2020.

Dogs can’t brush their teeth on their own; as a responsible owner, you should do it instead. As some dogs do not allow owners to brush their teeth, today we have a variety of tools and products that you can use so you have no excuses for not starting with dental hygiene today.

If you notice that your dog has bad breath, plaque on their teeth, or if you notice that your dog eats less or refuses solid foods, contact your veterinarian because dogs often show no signs of dental problems until the problem is more serious.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Dog Teeth Cleaning

Do Dogs Really Need to Have Their Teeth Cleaned?

Yes, dogs need to have their teeth cleaned. Most veterinarians recommend owners to use different methods of cleaning teeth and maintaining oral hygiene at home. Some breeds are predisposed to dental disease, so it is recommended that the owners pay special attention to brushing their dog’s teeth to prevent disease.

What Happens If You Don’t Get Your Dog’s Teeth Cleaned?

If the dog’s teeth are not cleaned, food debris remains on the teeth and is drawn into the gingiva. These remains become food to bacteria and a layer of plaque is formed. The result of not cleaning the teeth is the formation of tartar, and large accumulations of tartar lead to tooth damage, inflammation, bad breath, and even to periodontal disease and tooth loss.

How Often Should Dogs Have Their Teeth Cleaned?

If your dog is prone to plaque and tartar and eats soft food, you will need to maintain dental hygiene at home more often. If you are used to brushing your dog’s teeth, then you can do it 2-3 times a week, depending on the type of food dog eats or if you are using other methods of teeth cleaning as well. If you use wet dental wipes, they can be used every day, as well as dental water additives. You can also use dental chews every day but you have to be careful not to overdo it because dogs love them as treats.

How Often Should I Have My Dog’s Teeth Professionally Cleaned?

It depends on how quickly tartar builds up on your dog’s teeth, how old the dog is, the food he eats and how much the owner takes care of brushing his teeth at home. Some dogs brush their teeth only a few times in their lives and some brush their teeth once a year. Your veterinarian will definitely give you a recommendation when examining your dog’s teeth.

What to Expect After Dog Teeth Cleaning?

After cleaning, the teeth recover quickly, and your dog will have bright teeth and better breath. If the gingiva is found to be inflamed during cleaning or if the tooth had to be extracted, your vet will prescribe your dog antibiotic therapy. Recovery will then take a little longer, and your dog will not be able to eat hard food immediately. If your dog has been on a routine cleaning the next day, he will be able to eat solid food and will behave normally, and it will be up to you to help him keep his teeth and mouth as long as possible by brushing his teeth.

How Can I Get Plaque Off My Dog’s Teeth?

You can take your dog to have a professional teeth cleaning done. You can also brush their teeth with toothpaste and a brush designed for dogs, use wet dental wipes, or give them dental water additives, dental chews and dental chewing toys. If you notice plaque on your dog’s teeth, do not try to scrape it with sharp objects because you can hurt your dog.

Are Dental Bones Safe for Dogs?

Dental bones are safe for the dog, but when you are buying, pay attention to the size, which should be in line with the size of the dog. The ingredients should be as natural as possible and hard. It is recommended not to use raw bones, because they can do more harm than good. If a dog breaks off a part of the bone that is sharp, it can get stuck in any part of the digestive tract and put your dog in serious health danger, no matter breed and size.

What Are the Best Dental Chews for Dogs?

When choosing dental chews for your dog, pay attention to choosing the size and shape that is appropriate for your dog and the taste that your dog loves; make sure the ingredients are as natural as possible.


1 Malocclusions and orthodontic treatment. Sacramento Dental Veterinary Services. Retrieved 24 July 2020.
2 Hoyt R.F., Withrow S.J. Oral malignancy in the dog. J Am Animal Hospital 20 (1), 83-92, 1982
3 Stella JL, Bauer AE, Croney CC. A cross-sectional study to estimate prevalence of periodontal disease in a population of dogs (Canis familiaris) in commercial breeding facilities in Indiana and Illinois. PLoS One. 2018 Jan 18;13(1):e0191395. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0191395. PMID: 29346448; PMCID: PMC5773197.
4 Wallis C, Pesci I, Colyer A, Milella L, Southerden P, Holcombe LJ, Desforges N. A longitudinal assessment of periodontal disease in Yorkshire terriers Corrin Wallis. BMC Vet Res. 2019 Jun 21;15(1):207. doi: 10.1186/s12917-019-1923-8. PMID: 31226991; PMCID: PMC6588847.
5, 6 Bellows J., Berg M.L., Dennis S., Harvey R., Lobprise H.B., Snyder C.J., Stone A.E.S., Van de Wetering A.G. Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
7 Brooks W. (January 2001). Dental Home Care for Dogs and Cats. Veterinary partner. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
Dr. Anida Dinarevic (DVM)
Dr. Anida Dinarevic (DVM)
Dr. Anida Dinarevic is working in a dog shelter “Animal Care” in Mostar, specialized for small animals. She has successfully completed several seminars and internships at prestigious colleges in Vienna and Istanbul. Currently, she is supporting a stray dog neutering project. She is the mom of the 6-years old Maltese ”Bully”.

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