AutoShip and save up to 10% | Find out more

How to clean your dog’s teeth at home

Approx. 9 minutes read

Dogs’ teeth are just like human teeth in that they need regular cleaning in order to stay healthy and strong. The moment you notice that smelly dog breath emanating from your pup’s mouth, it’s time to pay special attention to what’s happening with their teeth. Ideally, the best time to start brushing your dog’s teeth is after their puppy teething phase – when their permanent teeth have erupted.

The second best time is now.

The frightening statistic is that about 80% of dogs will have some form of periodontal disease by the time they are two years old, so the sooner you start a dental cleaning routine with your dog, the better his chances of living a longer, healthier life.

Why should you clean your dog’s teeth?

There are oral bacteria in your dog’s mouth, which feed on food debris stuck between your dog’s teeth. When the bacteria are not cleaned away, the mixture of decaying food debris, saliva and bacterial by-products causes a sticky substance to adhere to your dog’s teeth surface. If this sticky plaque is not removed, it hardens into tartar… and this is where your dog’s dental problems may get worse.

Tartar sits against and even under your dog’s gums, causing inflammation and redness. Sometimes the gums will bleed or you’ll see blood in your dog’s saliva. These are the symptoms of gingivitis. If the gingivitis is not treated, it can progress and develop into periodontal disease, which is characterised by gum infection and damage to the soft tissue around the teeth. Latter stages of periodontal disease comprise tooth and bone loss, and if the infection gets into your dog’s bloodstream, the bacteria can even cause heart, liver and kidney damage.

So, your dog’s dental health is not just about keeping his teeth sparkling clean – it’s about protecting his health overall. Here’s how to clean your dog’s teeth at home.

1. Brush your dog’s teeth

The most effective method of ensuring your dog’s oral health is by brushing their teeth. This involves a dog toothbrush, some specially-formulated pet toothpaste and a dog dental cleaning session as part of your dog’s daily grooming routine. Your dog may not enjoy it at first, but once they get used to your finger or a toothbrush in their mouth, the meaty taste of the pet toothpaste, and the yummy dental treat afterwards – they will learn to tolerate the toothbrushing. Can’t I just give my dog a dental chew or feed them a dental diet? A 2019 clinical trial proved that brushing your dog’s teeth is three times more effective for keeping teeth clean than giving them dental chews or feeding them a dental diet. Having the bacteria and food particles (gently) scrubbed away daily ensures that your dog’s mouth stays fresh and clean.

  • R60.00 Add to cart
  • R211.00 Select options
  • R149.00 Select options
  • R77.00 Select options

2. Feed your dog dental dog food

Some dog breeds are more susceptible to developing dental issues than others. For example, toy and miniature breed dogs may be small, but they still have full dentition; meaning their mouths may end up being too small for their teeth, so they can suffer from overcrowding. Similarly, brachycephalic (short-snouted) dogs can also have less space for their teeth. Crowded teeth mean more places for food debris to hide and stimulate plaque build-up.

Fortunately, there are dog foods that are designed to scrape teeth and to get plaque off dogs’ dental surfaces. These dental diets are also developed with ingredients that encourage more chewing than regular dog diets. More chewing means the kibble has more time in contact with the surface of the teeth; chewing also results in an increase in saliva production, which helps to clear away food debris from the mouth.

Dental diets also have nutrient and mineral profiles that support better dental health. However, dental dog food is just one facet of good dental care – it’s not a substitute for a dog toothbrush and dental paste.

3. Reward your dog with dog dental chews

An effective and fun method of looking after your dog’s teeth involves dog dental chews: dental treats as well as dental toys. Most dogs get great satisfaction out of chewing – it relieves stress and calms their nervous system; plus chewing just feels good! Whether you give your dog a dental chew toy or reward them with dental treats, the chewing action will help to scape sticky plaque off their teeth and keep their breath fresh.

But remember, dental chews are no substitute for a regular toothbrushing regimen. The most effective way to keep your pup’s teeth clean is to brush them daily… but then reward them with a dental chew for being a good dog!

  • R85.00 Add to cart
  • R112.00 Select options

4. Use dog dental care products

Canine dental care has come a long way, with pet product manufacturers recognising the need for various teeth-cleaning solutions. Toothbrushing is obviously the top priority and the best way to keep your dog’s teeth healthy, but you can use dog breath freshener and other dental care products in between toothbrushing sessions, which also keep bacteria at bay.

  • R353.00 Select options
  • R210.00 Add to cart

Dog dental spray, dental gels and foams, and antibacterial and antiseptic oral products like water additives are designed to reduce plaque and tartar by targeting the oral bacteria that cause them. Many water additives are tasteless, so your dog won’t even know they are participating in their own dental hygiene just by drinking water. Your dog may need to get used to having your finger in their mouth (to rub gel or foam on their teeth), but once they can tolerate a toothbrush, it’s just a quick rub on their molars before they can go back to playtime!

  • R414.00 Select options
  • R150.00 Select options
  • R204.00 Select options
  • R457.00 Select options

5. Take your dog for a dental checkup

No home dental care routine is complete without an annual dental check-up from your dog’s veterinarian. The vet will examine your dog’s teeth and gums, and will recommend a dental cleaning procedure if it’s required. All dogs will need to have their teeth descaled and cleaned from time to time, but the vet will not put your dog through the process of anaesthesia and dental surgery if it’s not warranted.

Non-anaesthetic dental cleaning may sound attractive to pet pawrents who want to limit their dogs’ exposure to anaesthetic drugs, but this is a very restricted procedure. Plaque and tartar cannot be completely removed, and the deep cleaning under the gumline cannot be achieved unless the dog is anaesthetised. If there are dental issues that are not visible on the surface, these will simply get worse and cause more problems further down the line. The vet also cannot extract teeth or drain abscesses without causing severe trauma if your dog is not anaesthetised.

The best way to limit your dog’s time under anaesthesia is to ensure you keep up a thorough daily dog dental routine to keep oral bacteria at bay. The better your at-home dental care routine for your dog, the less frequently they’ll need to ‘go under’ for a complete dental cleaning and polishing procedure at the vet’s office.

Q&A about keeping your dog’s teeth clean

There are many old wives’ tales and myths about good dog dental hygiene, so to answer these common questions:

Q: Do bones keep dogs’ teeth clean?

A: Until recently, it’s been argued that raw or uncooked bones are good for dogs to gnaw on, as this abrasive action helps to remove plaque and tartar, and cleans dogs’ teeth. But do the benefits outweigh the risks? It’s a huge no-no to feed cooked bones to dogs because when they chew them, the bones can splinter, posing the risk of injury to dogs’ mouths and oesophagi, and causing intestinal perforation and obstruction.

While raw bones aren’t as likely to splinter as cooked bones, they can harbour harmful bacteria like salmonella and listeria. Raw bones also pose a bite challenge to dogs, who end up damaging and even fracturing their teeth. A cracked tooth is unlikely to be detected until it’s become infected, which means immediate veterinary care, probable extraction, pain discomfort and a huge veterinary bill.

If the lucky pooch does end up biting off pieces of raw bone, these get swallowed and sit in the stomach for an extended period of time. Partly-digested bone shards still need to make their way through the digestive tract, where there’s still always a risk of them getting stuck and requiring surgical removal.

Is the risk of your dog chewing bones to clean their teeth really worth it? If you want to mentally stimulate your chewing dog, a chew toy, dental toy, or flavoured synthetic bone are safe options – supervised, of course. But to keep your dog’s teeth clean, a toothbrush and some doggy dental paste are the most efficient.

Q: Do carrots keep dogs’ teeth clean?

A: Theoretically, carrots are a tasty doggy snack that are fibrous enough to give your dog a great chewing experience. They can help to keep plaque and tartar at bay, due to the scraping action of chewing on them, but they are certainly not the be-all and end-all of dog dental health. Your dog will benefit from carrots being a safe, low-calorie, nutrient-rich natural snack that they can enjoy every day, but in terms of cleaning your dog’s teeth, don’t throw out their toothbrush just yet.

Q: Do I really need to brush my dog’s teeth?

A: The short answer is yes. The long answer is yes. If you want to preserve your dog’s dental health, keep their teeth clean and their gums healthy, then brushing their teeth is the way to go. After your dog’s last meal and drink of water for the day, make toothbrushing part of their grooming or bedtime routine. Even if they don’t enjoy it at first, be consistent about toothbrushing, and give your dog tons of praise and a for-purpose toy as a reward. This way, they will anticipate the reward every time you whip out their toothbrush, and power through their dental health routine.

The long-term benefit of brushing your dog’s teeth is that they will need fewer dental treatments at the vet, and less exposure to anaesthetic.

Q: How often should I brush my dog’s teeth?

A: It’s impawtant to brush your dog’s teeth at least every second day; at best, every day. If the point of brushing their teeth is to remove plaque and oral bacteria, then logically, daily brushing will serve this very purpose. Finish your dog’s brushing session with a drink of water containing a dental water additive, or with a rub of dental gel on their molars and canines.

Q: How do I brush my dog’s teeth?

A: All puppies and adult dogs can get used to having their teeth brushed. Some dogs might not tolerate a dog toothbrush at first, but that’s where the handy finger toothbrush will work pawfectly!

Step 1: First, get your pup used to having your fingers near their mouth. This is easily achieved if your finger delivers a small, irresistible blob of peanut butter. Take the opportunity to quickly rub your finger on your dog’s molars and say, “Good dog!” Do this a couple of times a day for a few days.

Step 2: After a day or two, swap the peanut butter for a small squeeze of dental gel or doggy toothpaste. Using your finger, rub the gel or paste on the sides of your dog’s back teeth/molars, as well as on their front teeth. There will be a lot of licking and perhaps a little grimacing, but keep your tone pleasant and excited when you say, “Good dog!”

  • R132.00 Add to cart
  • R237.00 Read more
  • R214.00 Add to cart
  • R77.00 Select options

Step 3: When your dog has accepted the gel or toothpaste, pop a finger toothbrush on the tip of your finger and apply the toothpaste or gel to the toothbrush. For just a few seconds at a time, brush in a downward motion from gum to tooth tip. At the end of this brushing session, say, “Good dog!” Now would also be a great time to offer your dog a dental chew toy as a reward.

  • R59.00 Add to cart
  • R60.00 Add to cart
  • R32.00 Select options

Step 4: The ideal dog toothbrushing session will last for 30 seconds and will allow you to brush the outsides of the top teeth and the bottom teeth, from gum to tooth tip. If you and your dog are happy with the fingertip toothbrush, then keep at it. However, if your dog is tolerant enough to progress to a handled toothbrush, this should allow you to brush further in your dog’s mouth and at a more comfortable angle.

  • R115.00 Add to cart
  • R149.00 Select options
  • R32.00 Select options

Step 5: Finish each session with an oral rinse, dental gel or foam, and/or a water additive that will combat oral bacteria – giving your dog a cleaner mouth for longer, and a fresh breath.

If you have any questions or concerns about your dog’s dental health and how to instil a toothbrushing routine that is comfurtable for both you and your pup, visit your dentist and request an oral examination and some advice.

For everything else pet-related, sign up for the Pet Hero Weekly Paws newsletter. You’ll get a weekly round-up of promotions, content, advice, new products and more! Don’t miss an issue, and become a pet hero in a flash! (No spam – that’s a purromise!)

Subscribe to our newsletter
Share this article
Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents
    More like this...
    A step-by-step guide to your puppy’s health

    If you’re thinking of adopting a new puppy, that fuzzy baby’s adorableness can eclipse the real responsibility that’s required in raising a healthy pup. Here’s all you need to consider when it comes to your new puppy’s health and routine, when building a strong foundation for their future.

    Common health problems in small breed dogs

    Small breed dogs can experience a variety of illnesses and health problems based on their size. Find out which health issues they are susceptible to and what to expect as a small breed dog owner.

    Common health problems in dogs

    Not all dogs will get sick, but if they do, it’s likely to be because of a common illness or disease. Read our article on the most common illnesses that dogs experience – some according to size, and others… simply because they’re dogs.

    How to choose the right vet for your furry friend

    If you’ve relocated or are thinking of adopting a pet, finding a new veterinarian is not something to take lightly. As the true pet heroes of this world, good veterinarians are worth their weight in gold, so here are some tips on how to find the right one for you and your furry (fuzzy, feathered or finned) friend!

    Save with AutoShip

    Sit back and we will place your next order

    100% Secure Checkout

    MasterCard / Visa / America Express

    Pet Hero

    Leaving already?

    Sign up for our newsletter and get R50 off your first purchase.