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Dental care in dogs - signs of dental disease, management and home care

Dental Care in Dogs

80% of dogs over the age of 3 years already show signs of gum disease.

Dogs have 42 permanent teeth, and they need to be well looked after.

Maintaining your dog's oral health from the start can help prevent dental disease, it is a lifelong commitment.

Healthy teeth and gums lead to a happier and healthier life.

Dental disease is one of the most common conditions diagnosed in companion animals. 80% of dogs over the age of 3 years already show signs of gum disease.

The build up of plaque and calculus leads to gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), which then progresses to more serious problems if left untreated.

Untreated dental disease results in infection and discomfort in the mouth and may lead to serious health problems.

Common senior health issues can relate to an unhealthy mouth.

Signs of Dental Disease

Common signs of a dental problem:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Unwillingness to eat hard food
  • Drooling
  • Bad breath
  • Plaque or tartar build up on teeth
  • Swollen, red or bleeding gums
  • Missing or broken teeth
  • Weight loss
  • Pawing at mouth


To maintain your dog's dental health, you need to keep its teeth clean.

Your dog requires regular dental checks (every 6-12 months) just like we do, as early signs of dental disease may not be detected by you.

Home care management plans can help maintain healthy teeth and gums.

Veterinary dental procedures may be required to treat dental disease, the treatment required depends on the grade of dental disease.

What may happen during a veterinary dental procedure:

  • General anaesthesia
  • Oral examination
  • Radiographs (depending on outcomes of assessment)
  • Teeth scaling to remove tartar and plaque
  • Teeth polish
  • Gum irrigation to remove debris 
  • Teeth extractions may be required
  • Assessment of abnormal gum pockets
  • Tooth and gum procedures depending on findings
  • Administration of pain relief and antibiotics where required

Home Care

Taking care of your pet's teeth at home is extremely important in reducing plaque formation and the development of dental disease.

Plaque control can be achieved through mechanical removal such as brushing teeth and feeding prescription dental food and chews or by chemical means with veterinary dental products.

Tooth brushing

Tooth brushing is considered the "gold standard" when performed at least once daily. It is the most effective and cheapest form of plaque prevention.

Get your puppy used to mouth handling and tooth brushing as soon as you bring it home, it will then become part of a daily accepted routine throughout your dog's life. 

Toothbrushes come in varying sizes and designs: a very soft head on a standard straight brush is ideal. Dog toothbrushes and finger brushes are readily available.

When using toothpaste, it is important to use a specific dog toothpaste as it is flavoured for pets, does not need to be rinsed, has low levels of fluoride and does not foam. Note: human toothpaste can cause stomach irritation if ingested.

Always use a circular sweeping motion, pushing the brush away from the gumline.

Dental chews

The natural chewing motion can help reduce plaque. Some dental treats and commercial dry foods also contain chemical plaque control agents. Rawhide products and chew treats can help if used daily. Try to choose products that contain anti-tartar ingredients.

Chew toys

It's important to choose chew toys that are made of durable rubber. They can only be of benefit if played with every day. Avoid toys that can be broken to pieces such as plastic toys. Hard toys such as rope toys or even rocks and sticks can cause damage to your pet's teeth.

Dry food

Studies suggest that feeding a dog dry food may assist in the mechanical removal of soft plaque from the pet's teeth.

Prescription dry food diets

There  are a range of these diets available at our clinic and our team can advise you on which diet  specifically will best suit your pets dental needs.

They are a complete and balanced diet, and are a very good way to help maintain your pet's dental health.

Depending on the diet, some have a specific kibble design that helps mechanically remove plaque and some include a chemical compound to help prevent tartar.

Dental gels and rinses

These can help prevent tartar and plaque and reduce inflammation. Often recommended between professional dental cleans and a good alternative for pets that do not like their teeth being brushed. They can be used daily after each meal.

The rinses can be gently squirted into both sides of the cheek. A dental gel is gently smeared onto the teeth directly. The tongue and lips help spread the product around the mouth.


Tips that may help prevent dental disease:

  • Daily brushing of teeth
  • Veterinary prescription diets
  • Avoid overfeeding of soft mushy food
  • Dental chews such as soft rawhides
  • 6-12 monthly veterinary dental check-ups to pick up early disease
  • Veterinary dental cleaning as required
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