Dogs can develop dental issues like gum disease that can affect their overall health.
You can brush your dog’s teeth at home to help support their dental health.
Professional teeth cleanings are also an important part of your dog’s dental care.
Reviewed by Mera Goodman, MD, FAAP
Just like we brush our teeth and go to the dentist, your dog also needs dental care. Brushing your dog’s teeth regularly can help prevent health issues like gum disease. It can help keep your dog comfortable too. Professional teeth cleanings at the vet are also important.
Read on to learn why teeth cleaning is great for your dog’s health and what you should know about professional cleanings.
Why should you have your dog’s teeth cleaned?
“Just like humans, dogs and cats get plaque and tartar buildup on their teeth and over their gums,” she explains. “Over time, this can lead to oral diseases like periodontal disease (gum disease) and gingivitis.”
These dental diseases can be painful. They can also cause inflammation, tooth decay, and tooth or bone loss. It’s also possible for plaque and bacteria to enter your dog’s bloodstream. If that occurs, the plaque and tartar can affect your dog’s heart, liver, and kidneys.
Cleaning your dog’s teeth can minimize plaque and tartar. This helps keep your dog’s teeth healthy and supports their overall health.
How often should you clean your dog’s teeth?
Richardson suggests brushing your dog’s teeth regularly. “Ideally, owners should clean their dog’s teeth once per day,” she says. “However, if your dog won’t tolerate that, anything is better than nothing.”
In addition to brushing your dog’s teeth at home, professional dental cleanings help remove the tartar that you can’t remove by brushing. During a professional dental cleaning, your dog will receive a dental examination, teeth cleaning, and polishing.
During the cleaning, your vet will remove plaque and tartar. They will clean above and below the gum line on both the insides and outsides of the teeth. These are areas that you can’t access with a toothbrush. That’s why it’s important to keep up with both brushing teeth at home and professional cleanings at the vet.
What tools do you need to perform a dog teeth cleaning at home?
To clean your dog’s teeth at home, you’ll need an appropriate toothpaste and toothbrush. Richardson explains that human toothpaste is toxic to dogs. Instead, be sure to buy a toothpaste that’s designed specifically for dogs.
You can also find pet toothbrushes and finger brushes for sale at pet stores. Depending on your dog’s size, a human baby toothbrush may also work well.
If your dog doesn’t like brushing with a toothbrush, you can use a piece of gauze instead. While not as effective as a toothbrush, gauze can still help remove plaque and bacteria. You can wipe the piece of gauze over your dog’s teeth two to three times a week to help maintain their dental health.
How to brush your dog’s teeth
If you introduce teeth brushing gradually and in a positive way, many dogs learn to accept it. It’s ideal to start this habit when your dog is a puppy. But adult dogs can also learn to have their teeth brushed.
Richardson recommends a gradual method of introducing teeth brushing:
Start by letting your dog taste a little bit of the toothpaste. Then, put some toothpaste on your finger. Rub your finger onto your dog’s teeth and gums. It may take your dog a week to a month to get used to this process.
Once your dog accepts your finger with the toothpaste, start to use a piece of gauze. Gently rub the gauze against your dog’s teeth to get them used to the rubbing feeling.
Next, progress to using a toothbrush. Gently lift up one side of your dog’s upper lip, then brush in small, circular motions. Only brush a few strokes at a time, and then stop and praise your dog. Repeat this process until you’ve brushed the outside of all of your dog’s teeth.
This can be a slow process, and it’s important to be patient with your dog. If your dog is ever anxious, stop. In the beginning, you may need to brush just a few teeth at a time. As your dog gets more comfortable, you’ll be able to brush more teeth each day.
Do dental treats really keep your dog’s teeth clean?
If you walk through a pet store or browse an online pet retailer’s site, you’ll find many dental products for sale. Dental chews, treats, foods, supplements, toys, and water additives are all marketed as being good for your dog’s health. But are they?
Richardson notes that the majority of dental products are not scientifically proven to be effective. She recommends that you review the Veterinary Oral Health Council's list of dog dental products. The products included on that list have been proven to be beneficial to your dog's health.
If you do decide to purchase dental treats or other products, know that they’re not a substitute for good dental care. Use those products in addition to, but not to replace, brushing your dog’s teeth.
How often should you see your vet for a professional dog teeth cleaning?
Age: Older dogs tend to need more frequent cleanings than younger dogs.
Breed and size: Smaller dogs and breeds tend to need dental cleanings more often than larger dogs. Smaller dogs have small mouths that can cause their teeth to be overcrowded. That overcrowding can lead to more tartar buildup.
Lifestyle: Lifestyle factors, like the food your dog eats and whether you brush their teeth at home, can affect how often your dog needs professional cleanings.
Your vet can provide advice about your dog’s teeth cleaning needs. They will perform a professional teeth cleaning under sedation. They will be able to do a more thorough cleaning than you can accomplish at home. Be sure to ask your vet about your dog’s dental health during their annual checkup.
Does pet insurance cover the cost of dog teeth cleaning?
According to Richardson, pet insurance typically doesn’t cover the cost of dental cleanings. However, some plans may include dental cleanings as part of a wellness package. Sometimes, the cleanings are covered up to a set amount each year.
Some pet insurance plans may include coverage for dental issues that are caused by a specific injury, like a broken tooth due to your dog chewing on a stone. It’s best to carefully check the fine print of your policy so you know exactly what’s included.
The average cost of professional dog teeth cleaning can range from $50 to $300, depending on your dog’s needs. If your dog has a dental disease, you can expect to pay around $500 for treatment on average.
The bottom line
By caring for your dog’s teeth, you’ll also be caring for their overall health. Regularly brushing your dog’s teeth can help minimize tartar buildup and prevent issues like gum disease. Pairing good dental care at home with professional teeth cleanings at the vet can maximize your dog’s dental health. It can also help you avoid expensive and painful health issues later.
American Veterinary Medical Association. (n.d.). Pet dental care.
Antioch Veterinary Hospital. (2021). How often does my dog need teeth cleaning?.
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Bellows, J. (n.d.). Dental cleaning in dogs. VCA Hospitals.
Brooks, W. (2019). Dental home care for dogs and cats. Veterinary Information Network.
CareCredit. (2021). Cat and dog teeth cleaning cost and financing.
Richardson, J. (2021). Small Door Veterinary. [interview].
Veterinary Oral Health Council. (2022). VOHC accepted products for dogs.
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