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Caring for Your Dog’s Teeth

by Lauren Samet

If you’ve ever experienced tooth ache, nerve pain or a mouth ulcer, then you can understand why poor dental hygiene can be such a threat to your dog’s general wellbeing. Just as we look after our own teeth, a dog’s oral health requires the same care and protection to help prevent a build-up of plaque, tooth decay and gum disease.

It’s not always be easy to tell when an animal is feeling unwell or experiencing pain, so often these problems can go undiagnosed and gradually become chronic, which negatively affects your pet’s welfare. Recent studies have even shown that dental issues, such as periodontal disease (PD), are some of the most common reasons dog owners to seek veterinary care in the UK.  

Daily health checks should be a regular part of your dog’s routine, but understandably, it’s not always convenient (or safe) to look inside your pet’s mouth, so sneaking a peak when they yawn or lie on their backs can still be good opportunity to keep an eye on what’s normal. 


How to Spot the Signs of Dental Health Problems


Teeth Quality:

Missing or cracked teeth, yellow / brown plaque build-up, red, inflamed gums or swellings around the jawline are all signs that a trip to the vets may be required. 

Bad Breath:

Although dogs aren’t known for having the freshest breath, if you notice that the odour has gotten worse or is significantly unpleasant, this can indicate a sign of poor dental health or gum disease.  

Increased Drooling:

Dogs drool for many reasons like excitement, hunger or fear, and some breeds naturally produce more saliva than others, but if your dog suddenly starts to drool in excessive amounts, this can often be a key indicator that they’re experiencing pain. 

Behavioural Change:

Have you noticed that your dog has recently become snappier, head shy or less willing to play? Perhaps they’re sleeping more than usual, acting lethargic or just don’t seem like their normal selves? These can all often be signs that your pet is hurting or feeling unwell. 

Eating Differently:

Changes in their mealtime behaviour such as refusing to eat, not chewing properly or dropping food, not finishing meals or they’re eating with a tilted head can all be signs of avoiding pain in the mouth and should be taken seriously.

Lost Weight:

If your dog starts to lose weight for no clear reason then keep a close eye for any changes to their mealtime behaviours and take them to the vets for further examination. It’s good practice to always monitor your pets’ weight and body condition score so you know what is normal for them.


The Common Types of Canine Dental Health Problems


Plaque and Tartar 

This yellow/brown build-up on the teeth is one of the first signs of poor dental hygiene. If plaque and (its associated bacteria) remain on the teeth over a long period, it can calcify and form tartar, which encourages more bacteria and leads to gum disease. Regular brushing and good dental hygiene practice should help to keep plaque levels under control.


Commonly caused by plaque and tartar build-up, gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums and can be painful for dogs. Symptoms to look out for include a thin red line along the gums, swollen gums, bad breath or excessive drooling. Your vet will be able to distinguish the severity and provide you with a recommended treatment plan.   

Cracked, Worn or Broken Teeth 

Nerve exposure and infections are common with this type of dental injury, which can cause pain and discomfort for your dog. Try to keep an eye on what your dog’s teeth come into close contact with and avoid them playing with hard toys and rocks to minimise risk of injury. 


How to Look After Your Dog’s Teeth


Brush Your Dog's Teeth Daily 

This is the best method to help keep your dog's dentition healthy. There is quite a knack to brushing teeth that are not your own, so here are some tips for brushing your pooch’s pearly whites:

Dental Treats or Chews 

This is a popular choice to support your dog’s dental hygiene because most dogs are more than happy to receive an extra snack in their day! 

Dental treats tend to work due to their abrasive texture that help to gently polish and remove plaque from the teeth’s surface as they chew. Some treats also include extra ingredients that may help to freshen breath too. 

When choosing a treat, make sure you get the right size for your dog. If it’s too small then not enough chewing will be done, whereas if it’s too big then the dog may not be able to chew effectively for teeth cleaning to take place either. This is one of the reasons why it’s thought toy breeds have poorer oral health than larger breeds.  

If you do choose to give your pet dental chews, then always remember to account for the extra calories by reducing the size of their meals to help prevent obesity. Some dental chews and treats can contain more calories and fat than a meal of complete dog food!

Review Your Dog’s Diet

There are many factors to consider when choosing the best diet for your pet and some options will be better for your pet’s teeth than others:

Teeth-Friendly Dog Toys

Avoid throwing very hard toys or stones for your dogs, no matter how persistent they are for a game of fetch! These can cause tooth wear or even risk a fractured tooth if the dog catches the toy in its mouth.

A Professional Dental Cleaning Procedure 

This may not be appropriate for every dog because an anaesthetic is required, however your vet may recommend this option for removing severe cases of tartar build up and explore any dental issues that could be causing you pet to suffer unnecessarily.

In Summary

Our pet’s teeth require daily attention and should also be regularly checked by a vet during routine visits. Healthy teeth and gums can make or break an animal’s day-to-day wellbeing and it’s never too late to start making positive change because the long run, they’ll thank you and it could save you some expensive vet bills!

Capík, I. (2011). Periodontal health vs. various preventive means in toy dog breeds. Acta Veterinaria Brno, 79(4), 637-645.
Gawor, J. P., Reiter, A. M., Jodkowska, K., Kurski, G., Wojtacki, M. P., & Kurek, A. (2006). Influence of diet on oral health in cats and dogs. The Journal of nutrition, 136(7), 2021S-2023S.
Gorrel, C., & Bierer, T. L. (1999). Long term effects of a dental hygiene chew on the periodontal health of dogs. Journal of Veterinary dentistry, 16(3), 109-113.
Logan, E. I. (2006). Dietary influences on periodontal health in dogs and cats. Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice, 36(6), 1385-1401.
Niemiec, B. A. (2008). Periodontal disease. Topics in companion animal medicine, 23(2), 72-80.
O’Neill, D. G., James, H., Brodbelt, D. C., Church, D. B., & Pegram, C. (2021). Prevalence of commonly diagnosed disorders in UK dogs under primary veterinary care: results and applications. BMC Veterinary Research, 17(1), 1-14.
Wallis, C., & Holcombe, L. J. (2020). A review of the frequency and impact of periodontal disease in dogs. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 61(9), 529-540.