The best way to clean your dog's teeth (and what to avoid)

The best way to clean your dog's teeth (and what to avoid)

Your furry friend is dependent on you for everything, including their dental health!

Most pet owners take their dog to the vet, but they don’t take time to keep up their animal’s teeth.

Dogs can’t pick up a toothbrush and brush their teeth, so you’ll have to come up with clever ways to maintain your dog’s dental health.

In this guide, we’ll cover the causes of poor dog dental hygiene, why it’s crucial to your dog’s overall health and what you can do about it. We’ll also cover our top method for cleaning your dog’s teeth at home.

If you’re in a hurry, our top way to keep your canine’s teeth healthy and clean is brushing with a toothbrush and pet safe toothpaste.

What is plaque?

From your trips to the dentist or lessons in health class, you’ve probably heard of plaque. The same plaque that affects your teeth is the same bacteria ridden biofilm that grows in your pet’s mouth. When your dog eats, there’s a buildup of plaque that forms on their teeth. Plaque can harden within 36 hours, so it’s essential to have a plan in place to take care of your canine’s teeth.

What is tartar?

Plaque is the initial film on your dog’s teeth, after eating. However, once your saliva combines with that plaque, this film hardens to tartar. Having this substantial deposit around your dog’s teeth will cause periodontal disease according to the NIH.

Does your dog have bad breath?

The first sign that something is wrong with your dog’s dental hygiene is that they have bad breath. Many owners don’t even know that something is going on with their pet until they get a lick on the face that’s unpleasant.

When your dog is suffering from cavities or dental disease, their breath smells because of the build-up of bacteria. Smaller dogs have more problems with their teeth than larger dogs because their mouths are prone to tartar and plaque build up.

What causes your dog’s bad breath?

As we mentioned earlier, the cause of bad breath is usually because of bacteria build up or another dental disease. However, your dog could be suffering from an issue with their digestive system, internal organs, or their respiratory system.

The best way to figure out the cause of your dog’s bad breath is to schedule an appointment with the vet. Through a physical examination, your vet can determine what’s going on with your dog’s foul breath.

The main cause of plaque and tartar buildup

Dental issues are one of the most common conditions that veterinarians must treat. A lot of dogs have issues with their teeth as they get older, but depending on the breed, your dog might need special treatment from the beginning.

Plaque is on your dog’s teeth the minute they eat their food, a treat, or a bone. These bacteria then combine with your dog’s saliva to form tartar, which is a limestone-like material. Once there’s a tartar build up on your pet’s teeth, this material wedges into the gums which begins periodontal disease.

This plaque and tartar buildup become out of control when pet owners don’t have a dental hygiene program in place. 

the best way to keep your dog's teeth clean is daily brushing
Get in a regular routine to keep their teeth cleen!

Common dental diseases in dogs

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal Disease is the most common problem that dogs have with their health.

According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80-85% of all pets have periodontal disease. By the age of four 100% of pets have some form of periodontal disease.

Once tartar is built up under the gums, pockets of bacteria build below the surface. Your dog can have abscesses under the gums that can be visible at the gum line, or they can be further below the surface. These pockets allow for more bacteria to grow and the process continues.

The major problem with periodontal disease is that these pockets in your dog’s mouth enable the bacteria to get into your dog’s bloodstream. These harmful bacteria can negatively affect your dog’s heart, liver, kidneys, and your dog’s overall attitude according to the American Veterinary Dental College. Thankfully, this disease is preventable if you take care of your dog’s dental care today!


This occurs when your dog’s gums are inflamed because of excess plaque. Some symptoms of gingivitis include bad breath, bleeding, and swollen gums. With regular teeth cleaning, you can reverse this condition.


Bad breath is common when your dog has a dental issue. If you start to brush your dog’s teeth or use another teeth cleaning method, you can get your pet’s breath smelling good in no time!

Swollen Gums

This occurs when food and tartar are stuck between teeth and up under gums. Brush your dog’s teeth at home and take them to annual cleanings at your vet to treat swollen gums.

Proliferating Gum Disease

A condition that occurs when gums grow over teeth and need to be treated with antibiotics. This disease is common among bull terriers and boxers.

Mouth Tumors

These look like lumps in the gums, and they must be removed by a professional if they’re malignant.

Salivary Cysts

These large fluid-filled sacs appear under the tongue or around the corners of the jaw. A vet must drain these cysts, and they remove the salivary gland that’s damaged.

Canine Distemper Teeth

If your dog suffered from distemper as a puppy, they could have eroded and decayed teeth as an adult. A vet should remove these decayed teeth.

Why your dog’s dental health is important

Just like we’ve mentioned before, your dog’s dental hygiene is vital because if neglected it can lead to severe diseases. Once your dog’s dental health is compromised, bacteria can enter their bloodstream, through their gums, and travel throughout their body.

If you choose to ignore your dog’s dental health, they’ll have worse problems, impairing their health and your wallet. If you haven’t been paying attention to your puppy’s teeth, you can start today, which saves you and your pet a lot of pain in the future.

Army troop cleaning guard dog's teeth with a toothbrush
We support our troops and clean teeth! Photo: US Army

Which dental care methods work for your dog?

When you take your dog to the vet for the first time, they should advise you on options for dental care. Some of these methods won’t work with your dog because they’ll cause too much anxiety. Thankfully, there are many different methods that you can choose from.


Just like you brush your teeth, you would use a toothbrush and warm water to brush your dog’s teeth. This is an excellent way to clean a puppy’s teeth, but older dogs could have issues with you putting a toothbrush in their mouth.

  • You can brush daily or weekly.
  • There are many different types of brushes for you to choose from.

Water or Food Additives

You can choose between a liquid and powder additive to add to your pet’s food or water. This is the perfect method for dogs that won’t let you near their mouths.

Cleaning Treats

This is one of the most common ways to help improve your dog’s dental health. You can buy treats that your canine chews on.  This reduces the amount of soft tartar in their mouths and also reduces their stress levels.


If you’re wary about tending to your dog’s dental health on your own, you can always take your dog to their vet. Also, some groomers are now offering teeth cleaning as a service.

Brushing your dog’s teeth

When you talk to your vet, brushing your dog’s teeth is one of the easiest ways to keep up with your pet’s dental hygiene. In fact, many vets will give you a toothbrush in a puppy starter pack at their offices. The sooner that you introduce a brush to your puppy, the easier that tooth brushing will be.

However, some adult dogs aren’t fond of you placing foreign objects in their mouth. Most vets tell you to brush your dog’s teeth after each meal, but 1-2 times a week is commonly accepted as a good dental regimen by most owners.

Here are some things you should consider if you are going to brush your pup’s choppers at home.

Selecting Toothpaste

There are many options when you choose toothpaste. Make sure that you choose toothpaste that:

  • Is made for pets- You should never use a toothpaste meant for humans. Fluoride, an ingredient in most toothpaste, is harmful to your pet’s stomach. Also, foaming toothpaste can be a negative experience for your dog. Make sure that you purchase toothpaste specially made for your furry friend.
  • Has a good flavor- Just like the pet food you choose, your canine will have preferences. Many hounds prefer a meaty flavored toothpaste versus a sweet or minty taste. However, meaty flavored toothpaste can leave your pet with foul smelling breath. There are gels that you can choose from that have no scent at all, so the option is up to you.
  • Is safe- We mentioned before that you should use toothpaste that’s made for pups, but just because toothpaste is made for dogs doesn’t mean it’s the best on the market. Check the ingredients list of your toothpaste to make sure there’s no alcohol or artificial sweeteners.
  • Your pet likes it- When purchasing a new tube of toothpaste for your pooch, select a small tube to try out. If they don’t like it, you haven’t spent a lot of money, and you can move on to a new brand. To see if they will enjoy the toothpaste, first try to give them some as a treat. If your furball enjoys it, you can use the toothpaste to brush their pearly whites.

Selecting a Brush

There are many toothbrushes that you can choose from, and your dog’s mouth and temperament will determine the type of brush you use.

  • Size- A toothbrush should not be big too big for your pet’s mouth, and it should fit comfortably in your hand. This can be an awkward situation, so you want to make the experience as comfortable as possible.
  • Check the handle- Experts recommend that you should use toothbrushes with a smaller handle.
  • Finger brushes- These brushes slip on your finger and are perfect for larger dogs. You can slip this brush on your finger and get all the way in the back of your dog’s mouth. Smaller dogs are better with regular toothbrushes because your hand is bigger than their mouths.

How to brush your canine’s teeth

Now that you’ve selected the toothpaste and toothbrush, how do you brush your dog’s teeth? Follow these steps to learn how to brush your dog’s teeth.

  1. Pick a calm time to brush your pooch’s teeth, and make sure that they have eaten for the day.
  2. Choose a location that has good lighting, so that you can see all the way into the back of their mouth.
  3. Touch your pet’s teeth and gums with your fingers first. Make sure that your hound is comfortable with you handling their mouth. Lift the top lip while you touch the teeth, and then repeat this step with the bottom lip.
  4. Now, slowly touch the toothbrush to your dog’s teeth. Touch all sides of teeth on the top and bottom. Then, treat and praise them after this step.
  5. Slowly introduce toothpaste to your dog by letting them sniff and lick the paste. Praise your dog, like the toothpaste is a treat.
  6. Place toothpaste on the toothbrush.
  7. Start at the front teeth on the top of the mouth and move around to the sides.
  8. Move to the bottom of the mouth and move from the front to the sides.
  9. Now that you’ve brushed everything make sure to treat your furball, praise them, and make them feel good. Brushing teeth isn’t a natural experience, so you need to encourage them.
  10. Choose to brush your dog’s teeth daily after meals, or several times a week for the best dental hygiene routine. Even once a mouth is better than not at all.

If you’re not much for reading (who is these days) you can check out this great instructional video that summarizes the steps for brushing above.

Powder and water additives

If brushing isn’t working for you, then you can use powder and water additives. Powder additives are added to your pup’s food. You apply this mix daily, and it helps reduce the plaque in their mouth.

Water additives are liquid and added to your pet’s water bowl daily. The water additive can give your canine minty breath and will reduce the bacteria in your dog’s mouth and bowl. This is a great option for difficult dogs, and you can use these additives in addition to brushing.

Dog dental chews

Many people buy chews for their dogs because they’re an easy option, but they’re the least effective and one we think you should avoid. In fact, the only way to ensure that dogs have the best teeth is by brushing daily.

Chews don’t last long enough to give your pet a thorough cleaning. Also, many of these chews have ingredients that aren’t natural and can upset your pooch’s stomach.

However, the worst thing that can happen with chews is that they break off large pieces and swallows them. Now, you have a choking hazard, and the chew isn’t cleaning their teeth. We recommend not using chews unless you supervise, and only to use this option as a last resort.

Professional cleaning

Occasionally, even if you are brushing your puppy’s teeth, you’ll need to get them cleaned at the vet. When your vet cleans the teeth they put the animal under anesthesia to complete the process. This procedure can be expensive but is essential if there’s any signs of serious dental disease or need for tooth extractions.

Groomers do offer to brush teeth, but one brushing or picking every six weeks isn’t enough to promote good dental health. You need to tackle dental hygiene daily to make sure they’re as healthy as possible.

Dental care products

There’s a wide range of dental products available for your dog on the market today. Not every product will work or be effective in every situation. It’s okay to choose a product and test it out with your dog. If they don’t like it be willing to adjust and try another method instead. 

Dental chews

We don’t love this option, but some pet owners use them religiously. We think that you should still look at other methods, but if you want a chew these are your best options:


This is the most popular dog chew on the market and is popular because it may help give your dog fresh breath and reduce tartar buildup. They work by combining a chewy texture with vitamins and minerals to promote overall health. However, some question if the “chewy texture” is enough to reduce or remove plaque build up. Most dogs love these as treats, so at the very least they’re getting an enjoyable snack. 

You can purchase Greenies Dental Treats on Amazon.


  • Uses chewy texture to clean the gum line
  • Natural ingredients, with vitamins and minerals
  • Made in the USA


  • Complaints of stomach issues
  • Short shelf life
  • Can’t use more than once a day

Zukes Z-Bone Apple Crisp Dental

There’s no question reviewers rave that their dogs love these treats. However, some reviewers question the effectiveness of them as a teeth cleaning product. Owners report the treat is typically consumed in 2-3 minutes leaving them wondering how effective the treat can clean their dog’s teeth in that time period.

The ingredient list made up of almost entirely natural ingredients, so this treat can be a nice addition to daily brushing with little downside. However, we wouldn’t recommend using this as the sole method for cleaning your dog’s chompers. 

You can read more reviews about Zukes Z-Bone Treats on Amazon.


  • Available in three different sizes
  • Vegan and grain-free
  • Made in the USA


  • Might be too soft for effective dental cleansing
  • Not made for dogs under 10 pounds
  • Not made for puppies under six months old

Powder and Water Additives

We feel that this is the second-best option to brushing, and should be used as a supplemental part of your dental hygiene program. However, make sure to review the ingredients on any products before you give them to your pets.

Proden PlaqueOff

Proden is a 100% natural powder additive supplement made from a specific strain of seaweed. It’s harvested in Scandinavia and ground into a powder. Proden claims that this seaweed has developed a natural defense mechanism to against bacterial biofilm, like the kind that builds up on your dog’s teeth.

The product works by entering the dogs system and exiting through the saliva. Once in the mouth it works to break down the biofilm that forms around the teeth and gums. It prevents the bacteria from taking hold and eventually turning into plaque, tartar and bad breath. 

Some customers were skeptical if the product actually worked for their dogs, but the reviews are overwhelmingly positive. If you can afford it this product has a lot of potential benefit for your canines dental health and very little, if any, downside. 

You can read more reviews and purchase Proden PlaqueOff on Amazon.


  • Can be used daily
  • Natural Seaweed Base
  • Reduction in Plaque and Tartar with daily use (regardless of the size of pet)
  • Systematically works by preventing natural bacteria in the mouth


  • Must be careful when your dog has thyroid issues
  • Some dogs refuse to eat powdered food
  • Some customers reported no difference

Tropiclean Fresh Breath

Tropiclean Fresh is an all natural water additive that aims to fight off bad breath by killing bacteria. The main ingredient is decaffeinated green tea leaf extract, which according to Tropiclean is a great natural source of fluoride. It has a minty flavor and many report their pets bad breath is significantly reduced after adding this to their water for a few days. 

While this product will help to reduce your dog’s bad breath we feel it shouldn’t be used as a complete replacement for brushing. 

You can read more reviews and purchase Tropiclean Fresh Breath on Amazon.


  • Reduces bacteria in the mouth
  • No harsh ingredients
  • Easy to use
  • Owners report their pets breath smelling minty fresh after only 2-3 days of use


  • Some pets won’t touch their water
  • Made some pets sick


Although brushing your dog’s teeth is the most time-consuming option, this is the most effective method. We believe that you can find the right toothbrush and toothpaste to make this process as enjoyable for your pet as possible.

Petrodex Enzymatic Toothpaste

This is by far one of the best toothpastes on the market for your pet. It’s safe for them to ingest and owners have given it overwhelmingly positive reviews. Several report their veterinarians were shocked at how healthy their dogs teeth were after using this toothpaste and simple brushing daily. 

The toothpaste is specifically made for pets and doesn’t include any foaming agents which human toothpastes have. Since dog’s don’t spit the toothpaste out foaming agents can be potentially dangerous for them to ingest. Plus, it’s also made in Omaha, Nebraska giving us an extra vote of confidence. 

You can read the overwhelmingly positive reviews and buy Petrodex on Amazon.


  • Made for pets
  • Controls plaque
  • No foaming agents
  • Made in the USA
  • Poultry Flavored


  • Gives poultry flavor breath

Next Level Pet Triple Toothbrush

We recommend brushing as the top option to keep your dog’s teeth clean, so that means you’ll need a toothbrush. This is a great option because it has two different size brush heads on the same toothbrush, which gives you the option for small and large breeds. The brush has a nice rubber grip and it’s dishwasher safe if you decide to clean it that way.

It also comes with two finger brushes. Be careful with these finger brushes though because they may slip off your finger easier than a rubber finger brush.

You can purchase the Next Level Pet Toothbrush on Amazon.


  • Ergonomic grip
  • Variety pack
  • Free toothpaste recipes
  • Perfect for dogs of all sizes


  • Some dogs don’t like brushing

New Pet Fingerbrush

If you want to have a bit more control or just like getting down and dirty then you’ll need a finger brush. The New Pet finger brush is made of a soft 100% toxin free silicon. This means it will fit on your finger tighter (helping prevent slippage) and will be gentle when brushing. Plus they have a 30-day refund policy. 

You can purchase the New Pet Fingerbrush on Amazon.


  • Free of Toxins
  • Perfect for larger mouthed dogs
  • 30-day refund policy


  • Not hard enough to remove large amounts of plaque
  • Bristles are short

Final thoughts

We’ve gone through all the ins and outs of dental hygiene so that your dog can have the best dental health. Since they can’t brush their teeth, you’ll have to figure out which methods work for you.

Many pet owners choose to feed treats and have dental cleanings every year. However, if you want the most affordable and effective method, you’ll choose to brush your dog’s teeth daily.

Your dog will thank you for daily attention to their teeth, so they don’t have to suffer through the dental pain. Your pet’s mouth can affect their health and mood, making them less sociable when they’re in pain. Remember:

  • Chews- Questionable, and some report they cause indigestion.
  • Additives- Are great to add to a dental hygiene plan, but should be used with brushing.
  • Brushing- Best option to keep your dog’s dental health on track.
  • Professional Teeth Cleaning- An expensive, but necessary, option when your dog is suffering from dental issues.

Diet can help dental health

A nutritious diet is also important for their dental health. Air-dried food, check out our top air-dried food pick, as well as ground raw diets, help your dog reduce the amount of tartar build up on their teeth. You can feed your dog carrots and apples that are difficult to chew, so they end up cleaning your dog’s teeth.

Paying attention to your dog’s dental health now will save you money in the long run. Processed food is one of the chief reasons that dogs have issues with plaque.

Now that you have all the keys to your dog’s dental health, what kind of hygiene plan will you create?

Even if you haven’t paid attention to your dog’s dental health before now, it’s still possible to reverse most dental diseases with a toothbrush. However, if you feel uncomfortable cleaning your dog’s teeth, you should take them to the vet to get them professionally cleaned. Your dog deserves to be able to enjoy their food without dealing with dental issues. Take responsibility for your dog’s dental health today; you won’t regret it!

Until next time!

-Nick B.