Secrets to Sparkling Clean Teeth For Your Dog

A dog with a toothbrush held up to his clean teeth.

Prevention is better than cure – this adage is an oldie but a goodie and we’re big fans of incorporating a daily dental hygiene routine for your dogs and cats.

Not only will it prevent plaque and tartar from developing, having healthy teeth and gums minimises the number of times your pet will need to go under anaesthesia for dental scaling at the vet and the large sums you have to fork out for each visit.

Doggy breath aside, neglecting your pet’s teeth also means that there is a higher chance of them developing dental disease which increases the risk of heart diseases and organ damage. With the mouth forming the start of the digestive system, bacteria in the plaque spreads to these vital organs through your pet’s digestive system and bloodstream.

As scary as this might be, daily toothbrushing is one step you can take to prevent tartar accumulation and the build-up of plaque.

In this post, you can learn more about dental disease in dogs, and we’ll be dishing out tips on how you can avoid dental problems for your pet to obtain that sparkling white but most importantly, healthy, smile! And as a bonus, we’ve also included a simple homemade recipe for a pet-safe toothpaste.


Dental Disease In Dogs and Cats

Dental disease, or also known as periodontal disease, is unfortunately a common problem in many dogs, especially older dogs as dental health is something a lot of pet owners overlook. But recently, there is an increase in dental health knowledge among pet parents due to the alarming health problems that are associated with dental disease in pets.

Dental disease can be quite a pain. It happens when bacteria, plaque, and tartar build up on your pet’s teeth, and get trapped under the gumline. And these pesky bacteria aren’t just tooth troublemakers, they can be absorbed into the bloodstream and cause problems in various vital organs throughout the body.

This can start as early as 3 years of age in both cats and dogs if no proper preventative measures are taken. Research shows that around 80% of pets above 3 years old are found to have a reported prevalence in periodontal disease [1]. The common signs of dental disease in pets are:

  • Bad breath
  • Yellow tartar buildup on teeth
  • Red and swollen gums
  • Excessive drooling

A dog's mouth open, with yellow teeth filled with plaque.

The onset of dental issues commences when oral bacteria combine with food particles, giving rise to plaque that sticks to the teeth. Over a few weeks, this plaque solidifies into tartar which can irritate the gum tissues. This, in turn, may lead to complications like heart, kidney, or liver problems [2]. Unfortunately, there’s some evidence suggesting that dental problems could also cut short your pet’s lifespan by 2 years.

Some dogs are more likely to develop dental problems earlier, or down the line. An example is a dog with malocclusion, where its teeth does not fit together properly causing an under/over-bite, regardless if it’s their baby teeth or adult teeth [3].

The likelihood of dental disease is also higher in small and toy dog breeds, as well as in brachycephalic breeds, which are dogs with shortened snouts.

Whether your pet is more susceptible to dental disease or not, every pet is still vulnerable against dental disease unless proper measures are taken when they’re young. With proper preventive steps in place, optimal oral health for your best friend is achievable.


Kibble and The Myth Of Cleaner Teeth

Many pet owners mistakenly believe that the hardness and crunchiness of kibbles automatically help scrape plaque off their pets’ teeth. Numerous studies have been conducted to debunk this myth, despite its persistence within the realms of both veterinary circles and pet food companies.

From as early as 1966, a large-scale study involving 1,350 client-owned dogs in North America found no significant improvement in dental disease levels between dogs fed kibble and those fed non-dry food [4]. In fact, the ultra-processing of kibble at high temperatures (hot extrusion method) is linked to an elevated risk of inflammation and periodontal disease.

Even for kibble that is high in protein, it still contains almost 60% starch which comes from ingredients such as corn, soy, sweet potatoes, green peas and chickpeas.

Rather than promoting dental health, the high amounts of starches and sugars in kibble create an adhesive surface for plaque and tartar, contradicting the notion that kibble naturally cleans teeth.

Furthermore, kibbles also mess with the pH balance of your pet’s mouth. The optimal balance for your dog’s mouth involves acidity, characterised by a low pH [5], which aids in the elimination of bacteria and pathogens. Unfortunately, the starch present in kibble elevates the pH, diminishing acidity. This shift provides an ideal breeding ground for harmful bacteria, as starch clings to your dog’s teeth and interferes with the ability to eliminate bacteria due to the heightened pH levels.

With all the contradicting information out there, we’ve rounded up 5 common food myths you shouldn’t believe But here is how to avoid all of that bad breath nastiness…


How To Prevent Dental Disease In Dogs Naturally

1. Brush Your Pet’s Teeth Daily

Routine at-home dental care is a crucial element in safeguarding your dog’s oral well-being. Brushing your dog’s teeth on a daily basis is effective in preventing the accumulation of harmful bacteria on their teeth and gums. Since the bacteria responsible for periodontal disease can develop within 24 to 36 hours, daily brushing is recommended.

Ensure you use a soft-bristled pet toothbrush, or a finger brush, for puppies or dogs that are brushing their teeth for the first time since it will be less intrusive and unknown to them. You’ll also need toothpaste specially formulated for dogs.

Using human toothpaste is not advisable, as it is not meant to be swallowed and can be toxic to your dog. Remember to look out for potentially dangerous ingredients such as xylitol when shopping for a suitable toothpaste for your pet.

The best way to introduce a brushing routine to your dog is through the taste of the doggy appropriate toothpaste. Start by putting a small amount on your finger and let them sniff it out. If they do like the taste of the toothpaste, your job will be much easier! If they don’t, it is recommended to do without it, but sub it for treats throughout the brushing process.

Start by getting them used to something in their mouth. It can be a long and arduous process that might take a few days, but with ample yummy treats, your pet will be willing to be part of the process sooner or later.

Hold the toothbrush, or finger brush, against the tooth surface and slowly brush in circular motions. Make sure to brush both sides of their mouth and get those in the back. For new puppy owners, these tips are even more important as it is vital to start brushing their teeth from a young age to get them used to dental upkeep in the long run.


2. Include Fresh Food In Their Meals

Instead of kibbles, fresh food is a great alternative. Unlike kibbles that are highly processed through heat, which in turn kills the natural enzymes, vitamins and minerals found in their ingredients, minimally processed fresh food retains those nutrients better. The enzymes in fresh food, especially when raw, can help resist bacterial plaque.

A small-scale study done by veterinarian Tom Lonsdale, an author of ‘The Pet Food Con’, in 2015 that recruited 4 raw fed dogs, found that after 17 days of switching their food to kibbles, their teeth had yellow plaque on them and they had bad breath– even though, before that, their dental health was perfect with raw food [6]!

Another study done on cats in Australia, showed that cats who consume biologically appropriate foods such as fresh, raw meat and bones have lesser dental calculus and a lower prevalence of periodontal disease when compared to cats who consume commercially available canned or dried foods [7].

To polish those pearly whites further, here are some fresh foods that can actually help to improve your pet’s dental health:

Raw/Air-Dried Bones

Dog lying down with a raw meaty bone for clean teeth beside him.

Bones are not only a great source of calcium, but they act as a natural plaque scraper. Essentially, they serve as a natural toothbrush for your dog, effectively eliminating lingering food particles and other potential sources of plaque buildup.

If you find it a hassle to clean up after your dog’s chewing session, you can easily opt for air-dried bones instead– but never give them cooked bones as they can splinter easily, hurting your pet’s mouth and throat. For older dogs, softer bones like chicken necks will be better for their weaker teeth. But for younger dogs, here is a list of safe bones you can incorporate into their diet!

Fermented or Probiotics Friendly Foods

A cup of yogurt that is good for prebiotic and probiotics that support clean teeth for dog.

Probiotics deliver oral health benefits whether administered orally or applied directly to your dog’s gums. This direct application enables these beneficial bacteria to establish colonies, forming a healthier biofilm in the mouth. Biofilm, akin to plaque on teeth, safeguards healthy microorganisms, making them more resistant to elimination.

According to a study done in 2017 by the Institute of Dentistry, probiotics can help enhance periodontal treatment, with the improvement persisting as long as probiotic usage continues. They examined patients that added probiotics on top of their clinical periodontal treatment and significant enhancement was observed in patients compared to those undergoing clinical treatment alone [8].

Foods such as yoghurt, kefir and bananas can be a great source of probiotics to include in your pet’s diet as a healthy treat. Just make sure that when you’re looking for yoghurt or kefir in the supermarket, avoid those with added sugars, or potentially dangerous ingredients for your pet.


3. Regular Checkups And Dental Cleanings

Regardless of the diligent at-home dental care you provide for your dog, tartar will gradually accumulate on their teeth, much like it does on our own. Just as we require periodic dental cleanings despite daily brushing, dogs face a similar need.

Make sure to visit your vet regularly not just for your pet’s body checkup, but also for their teeth. When a substantial amount of tartar is present, your veterinarian may recommend dental cleaning, which involves a thorough cleaning under general anaesthesia to remove tartar both on the teeth and beneath the gum line. Though, the more upkeep you do, the less frequent you’ll need to put your pet under for dental cleaning.


Homemade Toothpaste Recipe For Dogs and Cats

This simple homemade toothpaste recipe is suitable for dogs and cats. Easily achieve fresh breath and clean teeth for your pets at home.

Ingredients You’ll Need:
  • 1/2 tbsp Ghee, unsalted (other substitutes include MCT oil, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1 tsp Finely grounded crushed eggshells (or food grade baking soda)
  • Optional: 
    • ½ tsp Probiotic powder
    • 2-3 Mint leaves, finely chopped
  1. Add ghee, finely grounded crushed eggshells into a small dish.
  2. Add in the optional ingredients.
  3. Mix all the ingredients together to form a slurry.
  4. Portion out what you need to clean your pet’s teeth and keep the rest aside

To make the paste last longer, you can store it in an airtight container and in the fridge. It will make the mixture thicker and easier to use on a toothbrush.


[1] Dog Owners’ Perspectives on Canine Dental Health – Frontiers in Veterinary Science, June 2020

[2] World Small Animal Veterinary Association Global Dental Guidelines – Global Veterinary Committee, July 2020

[3] Periodontal (Gum) Disease in Dogs – PetMD, February 2021

[4] Correlation of diet, other chewing activities and periodontal disease in North American client-owned dogs – PubMed, September 1996

[5] Salivary pH, calcium, phosphorus and selected enzymes in healthy dogs: a pilot study – PMC Vet Research, November 2017

[6] The Disturbing Cause Of Dental Disease In Dogs – Dogs Naturally, December 2021

[7] Relationship between diet, dental calculus and periodontal disease in domestic and feral cats in Australia – Australian Veterinary Journal, December 1998

[8] Use of Probiotics and Oral Health – PubMed, October 2017