Usually I don’t remember to brush my dog’s teeth every day. Furthermore, I don’t like doing it, and sometimes I can’t see if it is having any effect. Tartar seems to build up anyhow. So, I’m writing this for myself as much as for you . . . . because there are lots of good reasons for being diligent about caring for your pet’s teeth.

Number one is that bad teeth and infected gums are one of the major causes of heart and kidney disease in canines. Infection and inflammation of the gums often are not noticed until they become severe, and once in the dog’s system can infect almost any organ and lower your dog’s resistance to other diseases.

Reason number two is that your dog will lose teeth prematurely, leading to poor digestion, difficulty eating, etc.

Reason number three: Tartar and gum disease cause bad breath. You won’t enjoy your dog’s kisses half as much!

Number four:  If you don’t do it yourself your vet will have to clean the dog’s teeth more frequently, at a cost often exceeding $100. Vets anesthetize the animal, and anesthesia carries risk, which increases as the dog ages. With senior dogs or dogs afflicted with chronic disease there can be a very high risk of death or serious complications during anesthesia.

So, what can we do? The answer is DAILY care of your dog’s teeth and gums, followed by routine checkups with professional cleaning when necessary.



Probably the best routine is nightly brushing after your pet has eaten his evening meal. Purchase a good doggy toothbrush from your vet. Don’t use the human variety. The bristles of even a child’s toothbrush are too stiff for pets. One of the best is the CET pet toothbrush, with a long handle and a 15-degree angle of the head.

Gently open the lips and hold the brush at a 45 degree angle to the long axis of the tooth. Place the bristles at the gum line and exert gentle vibratory pressure up and down the tooth. Force the bristle ends gently into the gingival area at the base of the tooth as well as into the space between the teeth. Ten strokes should be completed in a short back and forth movement in the same place without dislodging the tips of the bristles. Then live and move the brush to a new position. Avoid aggressive scrubbing action. Continue section by section until all teeth are cleaned. To reach the inside surface of the front teeth, the brush is inserted vertically and the heel of the brush pushed into the gingival and given 10 short up and down strokes.


Choose an enzymatic canine toothpaste. Human toothpaste or baking soda can be harmful, especially to older pets. Work the toothpaste down into the brush instead of laying it on top of the bristles the way we generally do when brushing our own teeth. This helps insure that the toothpaste actually comes in contact with all of the dog’s teeth.



Chemical plaque control such as Nolvadent®, or other similar products containing chlorhexidine and fluoride, can aid in reducing plaque and inflammation. Research has shown that two daily rinses with a 0.2 percent aqueous solution of clorhexidine almost completely inhibited the development of plaque, calculus and gingivitis. Squirt the rinse into the corner of the dog’s mouth. CET oral hygiene spray or Maxiguard are two products that can help to repair diseased gum tissue, thus reducing bacterial growth. Sprays and rinses should not be used as a replace for brushing, but as an added measure.

Chewing hard foods and chew toys will also reduce calculus. However some pets will not chew these products. The dog that eats soft foods and refuses to chew on toys or bones needs to have more home care and more dental care by a veterinarian. Greenies® are a good choice if the dog will chew on them, or fresh or frozen locally butchered meaty joint and leg bones. Avoid small bones that can be broken or splintered into sharp pieces such as steak bones. Be careful not to give too many rawhides or pig ears, etc., and I personally buy only those made (not just distributed) in the U.S.A.  Rawhide can cause blockages; too much rawhide is usually not digested and may be thrown up. Some dogs work at a rawhide until it is so soft it really has no effect on tartar.

There are numerous products in every pet supply store. Just make sure the size is appropriate for your dog, that you limit access so your dog doesn’t devour too many at once, and that they are manufactured without harmful chemicals, dyes, or additives.  The same is true when shopping for “doggie bones” of the biscuit type, which are slightly helpful for keeping plaque at bay.

In addition, annual checkups and professional cleaning and polishing are important measures for every dog.


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