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A Guide to Dog Dental Care

Dental care is an essential part of pet parenting — just like with humans, a dog’s oral care is an important part of their overall health. Plus, a healthy mouth means more kisses without the dreaded “dog breath.”

Here are some fun facts about your dog’s teeth, and some simple ways to keep their mouth clean and healthy.

How many teeth do dogs have?

Here’s how your dog’s teeth change from puppyhood to adulthood:

  • Newborns: No teeth.
  • 3-6 weeks: Their first deciduous teeth (puppy teeth that they’ll lose later) erupt through the gums.
  • 12-16 weeks: All 28 puppy teeth have made an appearance. Some may have already fallen out, and adult teeth are starting to come in to take their place. This is the start of the “teething” phase, when your puppy will feel the urge to chew and bite.
  • 6 months: By this age, most puppies have all of their adult teeth, although for some pups it may take 7-8 months.
  • Adults: Most dogs have 42 teeth.

Your dog’s teeth serve several important functions, including eating their food, communication (such as showing the teeth during a snarl or smile), picking up and carrying toys, and grooming themselves (i.e. picking things out of their paws).

Oral care for dogs

Oral care for dogs goes beyond stinky breath. Just like humans, dogs can develop dental problems.

Dental disease can range from mild to severe. Periodontal disease — advanced dental disease that affects structures around the teeth, like the gums and jaw bone — is very common in pets, affecting nearly 80% of dogs by three years of age. This disease is caused by the plaque and tartar build up on your pets teeth.

Periodontal disease can lead to pain, tooth loss, and even adverse effects on the heart and kidneys. For that reason, it’s very important to take care of your pal’s mouth.

Prevention is the best medicine for a dog's oral care

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Brushing your dog’s teeth

To keep dental disease at bay as much as possible, the “gold standard” recommended by veterinary dentists is to brush your dog’s teeth daily. Brushing their teeth can help prevent the build-up of plaque, tartar, and calculus. This requires a special toothpaste for pets (one that’s safe for them to swallow — don’t use human toothpaste), a soft brush, and a little bit of patience. Start by placing the brush on your dog’s gums for just a few seconds. Then, gradually work up to full brushing, focusing on the outer surfaces of the teeth, and praise your dog as you do it (it's likely won't enjoy the experience)

Note: Avoid tooth brushing during times when the mouth is sensitive — for example, if significant dental disease is already present, or during teething for puppies.

Dental toys and chews

In addition to brushing, there are very simple measures you can take at home to help keep your furry friend’s mouth healthy. This includes dental treats and chews. Dental chews can help reduce plaque and tartar in a variety of ways. Look for brands with an approval seal from the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) on the bag.

Prescription dental diets are a good option for some pets. Your veterinarian can let you know if this is right for your dog.

Some dogs may also benefit from dental toys — these are especially helpful for teething puppies.

Professional dental cleanings

Even with brushing, most dogs can still benefit from a professional dental cleaning and oral evaluation. Think of us humans — even though we brush and floss, tartar still builds up on our teeth, and our dentists need to remove it from time to time. The same is true for our canine friends.

A routine dental cleaning is considered part of your pet’s preventive care. It’s helpful for removing tartar above the gumline — where the toothbrush can’t fully reach — BEFORE it progresses to periodontal disease and causes irreversible damage.

Dental procedures for dogs require anesthesia, for their comfort and safety. During the procedure, trained veterinary team members will chart your buddy’s dental condition, tooth by tooth (which helps to monitor their oral health over time). Plus, your dog will receive a whole mouth evaluation, to look for signs of problems with their gums, tongue, and tonsils.


A special note on puppies and teething

Puppyhood is a really fun time, but it can also be a challenging time, because teething puppies feel a very strong urge to chew to help their new teeth break through the gums. Here are some tips for the teething phase:

Teething toys

Just like for human babies, you can find teething toys for puppies. These include hard plastic toys such as Kongs. These sturdy toys come with options for hiding treats or peanut butter inside, to keep your energetic puppy entertained. Other options include toys that can go in the freezer, and help to soothe sore mouths.

Try different toys to see what your new pal prefers, but always be sure to monitor them. Even though these toys are designed to be chewed and it’s unlikely your puppy will bite off and swallow a piece, it’s still good to keep an eye on your pup with any new toy, especially during their teething phase.


Train your furry friend not to bite. Whenever they try to bite your hands, immediately stop playtime and stand with your hands behind your back. Resume playtime when they stop biting. Also, gently put them back into a playpen or kennel for a “time out” if they become too rambunctious.

Puppy-proofing the house

Be sure to put shoes, purses, and any other items you don’t want chewed up, out of reach. Consider babyproofing your home to avoid chewing of electrical cords, medicine bottles, and other potentially dangerous items. Also, when you can’t monitor your buddy, keep them safely confined to a kennel, or a small room with a baby gate so they stay out of trouble.

Vet visits

Ask your vet about your puppy’s dental care during their visits. They’ll check that your furkid’s teeth are coming in normally, and let you know when to start brushing.

By starting off on the right foot with your dog’s dental care, you’ll be investing in a very important part of their overall health — and, keeping their breath fresh for cuddle time.

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