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How to Clean your Dog’s Teeth Naturally

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Good dental health isn’t just important for you, but for your dog, too. From brushing, to dealing with yucky bacteria, to feeding, we’ve got some simple natural tips to help you keep your best friends teeth in good shape! 

Why Good Dental Health is Important

Taking care of your dog’s dental health isn’t just a cosmetic issue – your dog doesn’t care if she has a bleach-white smile and she’s certainly not self-conscious about her breath. Good dental health is key to good overall health. Without proper care, teeth can become weakened, gums can become inflamed, teeth can fall out and infection in the mouth can spread throughout the body, leading to an array of health problems. If you want your dog to live a long, healthy life, you’re going to have to take care of his or her teeth.

How to Identify a Problem

I’ve dealt with some pretty serious doggy dental problems firsthand. I have two dogs, Maddie, my miniature schnauzer, and Daphne, my yorkipoo. Daphne has been pretty low maintenance, but Maddie – that’s a different story! She’s got some ferocious-looking teeth in that tiny mouth of hers. I was always amazed how so many teeth could fit in that little space. And therein lies one of her problems. Small dogs often have crowded teeth and food debris gets trapped. Her second problem: She’s not a very good patient. If she were a child, she probably wouldn’t get to pick a prize from the treasure chest at the dentist.

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But just look at that face! She says she’s sorry for being so much trouble and I should cuddle her.

Even if your dog puts up a fight when it comes to dental care, it’s important to regularly check their mouth for signs of a problem. Look for:

  • Bad breath – This is how I knew something was up with Maddie. She quickly earned the nickname “Stinky” as bacteria multiplied. But once I got her to the vet and resolved the problem, the bad breath went away! (To get some relief in the meantime, check out this post on natural ways to freshen your dog’s breath.)
  • Plaque and tartar build-up – No one expects their dog to have sparkling white teeth like a celebrity, but they shouldn’t be coated with yellow to brown plaque and tartar. Food particles combine with bacteria to form plaque along the gumline and if it’s not removed, it hardens into tartar and adheres to teeth, becoming very difficult to remove. This can then affect the health of the gums.
  • Loss of appetite – If your dog isn’t eating like normal, it could be because of pain from a dental issue. If your dog is experiencing pain, you may also notice some changes in their mood, like increased irritability. My little monster lost a lot of her grumpiness when we got her teeth cleaned up.
  • Red or inflamed gums – Irritated looking gums are likely painful and may bleed. They can begin to recede and even lead to the loss of teeth.
  • Loose or missing teeth – Sure, accidents can happen and your dog could lose or chip a tooth from chewing something they shouldn’t or getting into some kind of scrap, but if teeth are wobbly (and they’ve already lost their puppy teeth, of course), this is a good sign that the gums are in poor health and there’s tooth decay happening.

How to Handle a Serious Case

If your dog has several of the above signs of dental distress, your first step should probably be to see a vet. If they have major tartar built up like my Maddie did, it’s best to have a professional cleaning done by a vet. With appropriate tools and anesthesia, they’ll have far more success removing the tartar than you would.

A border collie with severe tartar buildup and periodontal disease

A border collie with severe tartar buildup and periodontal disease. Photo courtesy of Priority Pet Hospital/Flickr

If periodontal disease has set in (this happens when tartar builds up under the gums, creating pockets where bacteria can grow and causing teeth to begin to loosen), some teeth may have to be removed. This was the situation with my dog’s incisors – the little front teeth in between the big fang-like canines. Crowded together and hidden behind her hairy lip, her teeth became loose as food particles stuck between tight spaces and bacteria grew. It may seem scary to have teeth removed, but your dog will likely feel much better afterward, and, unless the situation is extremely severe and many important premolars and molars are removed, they should still be able to eat just fine. Maddie hasn’t missed those tiny front teeth at all. She was so much happier after those germ-catchers were gone.

Your vet may also prescribe a round of antibiotics to get the bacteria under control. Due to the severity of my dog’s condition, I agreed to this action. However, if your dog’s situation is not quite so dire, you may be able to handle the bacteria with naturally antibacterial herbs and some immune system boosting, which I’ll discuss in further detail in a moment.

How to Maintain Good Dental Health

Once the situation was under control, I re-examined my dogs’ dental hygiene routine. I wanted to make sure I didn’t have a repeat of the same problem, and I wanted to do it in a way that was natural, healthy and affordable. After research and trial and error, I developed a regimen that works well for me and my pups. Hopefully you find it useful, too!

1. Brushing with Coconut Oil

I always brushed my dogs’ teeth, but after Maddie’s fiasco, I knew something had to change. I scrutinized the ingredients in the toothpaste I’d gotten in the pet store and had used on them for years. About the only ingredient I recognized was “poultry flavor,” and let’s face it, who really knows the ingredients in that ingredient? What was helping to break down plaque? What was killing bacteria? I was dumbfounded. It seemed all I had been doing was putting a meaty-flavored goo on my dogs’ teeth to try to trick them into thinking having their teeth brushed was a real treat.

018787505038-1So I switched. Not to anything else on the pet store shelf, but to coconut oil. Yup, that magical, tropical oil. It’s naturally antibacterial, can help support the immune system, and my dogs love the taste. I like Dr. Bronner’s Fair Trade Organic Coconut Oil. It’s unrefined to keep as many of the healthy properties intact as possible.

Natural health advocates swear by coconut oil, but many professionals in the medical and science fields say there’s no proven benefits. As for me, I say it’s worth using. Maddie has far less stinky breath and I’ve been able to scrape large chunks of tartar off Daphne’s teeth as well as my sister’s dog, Ruby. That’s all the proof I need. Plus, it’s certainly not going to do any harm unlike some of the strange substances in big-name pet products.

Check out more ways to use coconut oil for dogs by clicking here.

For extra help against tough tartar, try fragaria vesca. This herbal tincture is made from woodland strawberries and may help soften plaque, making it easier to remove. It may even keep it from reforming. I haven’t tried it personally yet, but I’m definitely going to.

Need a toothbrush? Try this 3-in-1 head from PetzLife.

2. Killing Bacteria with Grapefruit Seed Extract

68849Given Maddie’s track record of yucky, stinky teeth, I like to take an extra step to keep bacteria under control. After brushing, I use a tincture of grapefruit seed extract. I dilute a few drops of it in water (about a drop per ounce of water) and apply it to her gumline with a cotton swab or gauze, making sure to pay special attention to those blank spaces where teeth were pulled. Grapefruit seed extract is naturally antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. And with a little bit going such a long way, it’s very affordable. I use an extract from Solaray.

Other antibacterial herbal extracts you could try include goldenseal and colloidal silver. And if you’re concerned about inflamed gums, try echinacea, calendula or feverfew. We also carry a unique herbal product created just for pets called Healthy Gums.

For easy help in between dental care days, you can also use PetzLife Oral Care Gel. It’s got grapefruit seed extract along with other natural and antibacterial oils. It’s super easy to rub on their teeth and would be great as part of their bedtime routine.

3. Fortifying their Diet with Cinnamon and Healthy Treats

Kibble is a convenient way to make sure your dog’s basic nutritional needs are met, but it has a few shortcomings. Before Maddie had her front teeth pulled, crumbs from gross, decaying kibble were constantly getting caught between them. And let me tell you, flossing a dog’s teeth is nearly impossible! Residue is also left on the surface of the teeth, and when bacteria combines with this, plaque forms.

Cinnamon has many health benefits. It has antioxidants and is good for the brain and heart in addition to teeth. Courtesy of trophygeek/Flickr

Cinnamon has many health benefits. It has antioxidants and is good for the brain and heart in addition to teeth. Photo courtesy of trophygeek/Flickr

To help break down any bits of dog food left in my pets’ mouths, I add cinnamon to their bowls. Full of antioxidants and naturally antibacterial, it goes to work against the leftovers in between teeth. It’s been known to ward off tooth decay and fight bad breath (yay to less dog breath!). I just sprinkle about a teaspoon onto a full bowl of food and let them go at it. To my surprise, they don’t mind the taste at all – even Maddie who’s notoriously picky. She always sniffs and licks anything she’s offered to decide if it’s something she actually wants to eat.

I love this product! It really helps make it easier to scrape away tartar.

I love this product! It really helps make it easier to scrape away tartar.

 

 

Update: As an alternative to cinnamon, I recently discovered a great product from Pet Naturals of Vermont that we sell here, Oral Health for Dogs. It has a combination of zeolites, cranberry, yucca and probiotics to help control tartar. It’s in a powder formula and you just sprinkle it on your dog’s food. I’ve been using it for a few months now and I’ve been very happy with the results. It’s been doing good things for doggy breath and I was thrilled with how easy it made it to scrape some of the tartar off my dogs’ teeth. I highly recommend it!

You can also help out your dog’s dental health with some natural treats. Produce rich in vitamin C is important for a strong immune system to fight off oral bacteria. Try raw apples and carrots. They’re crunchy and fibrous to help gently scrape away plaque. You can also give your dog a little yogurt. The probiotics are also great against bacteria.

Bones are full of teeth-supporting nutrients and can also help scrape teeth clean. Just be careful. Don’t give your dogs cooked bones as they can splinter, and always keep a close eye on them as they gnaw away. Maddie gave me quite a fright when she started panicking because a bone got wedged between her teeth.

81CZ6lZK0GL._SY355_For something more convenient, try these natural Complete Treats Dental Chews. They’re wheat-free and full of teeth-cleaning and breath-freshening ingredients like grapefruit seed extract, thyme, neem, peppermint and decaffeinated green tea extract. The Breath Bars from Pets Naturals of Vermont are a good option for tackling doggy breath, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hopefully my bumpy road of learning about doggy dental health has given you some information you can use for your own pets. If you’ve got your own tried and true tips, I’d love to hear them! Post them in the comments section below.

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Want to learn how to freshen your dog’s breath naturally? Check out this post:

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26 Responses to How to Clean your Dog’s Teeth Naturally

  1. Jessica June 18, 2015 at 3:58 pm #

    Thanks for all the info! How many times do you brush your dog teeth a week?

    • Megan Hanna June 24, 2015 at 10:39 am #

      You’re very welcome, Jessica! Glad you found it useful. In a perfect world (where I don’t currently live) we would all brush our dog’s teeth every day, but between hectic schedules and uncooperative pets, this doesn’t always happen. If you or your pet is new to the experience, I would try to go for once a week and work up from there. Once you both get into the routine, it’ll become as easy as brushing your own teeth and seem like less of a hassle to do more often. Maybe even make it a goal to brush their teeth after your own each night. The more you brush, the less often you’ll have to do more intensive things to fight plaque and tartar buildup.

  2. Jonathan Pound October 7, 2015 at 4:57 pm #

    We had a 105 pound black lab growing up. Labs typically don’t have a lot of dental problems (provided you give them proper nutrition), but we had the hardest time brushing his teeth. We found that the easier solution was to give him chew toys that helped to clean his teeth than to try and get him to hold still and put a toothbrush in his mouth. Ask your vet if think your dog is getting dental problems.

  3. Suzy January 24, 2016 at 11:45 am #

    You stated that you “scraped the tarter off”. What tool do you use to do this?

    • Megan Hanna January 27, 2016 at 11:41 am #

      Some veterinarians may frown upon it, but I ordered a set of dental scrapers and picks online, the same sorts of tools your dentist would use on you. Just use care and caution. You don’t want to damage enamel, so I only use these to remove large or thick tartar deposits after using a product to start the loosening process (like the dental powder I linked to). And certainly be careful around delicate gum tissue. I don’t make this a regular part of my dogs’ routine like brushing. Just like you only have the scraping done at your dentist once or twice a year, you should only do it occasionally for your dog.

  4. Joyce L.Peterson February 12, 2016 at 12:55 am #

    We have Yorkiepoo that looks exactly like yours! Same color and cute little face! She is 10 and like yours…she has had so much trouble with tarter and we have had to have her teeth scraped once a year at least. She’s had alot of teeth removed about 5 years ago and I’m worried agan as her breath smells bad and has tartar build up again. IM bad about brushing:(
    I’m going to get these products you mentioned and try brushing again too. She’s got diabetes and is old. I hate to put her through the Vet doing the tartar scraping again.
    She’s very precious to us…she’s such a good doggy….love her so much.
    Thank You so much for all your help here!!!

    • Megan Hanna February 12, 2016 at 4:11 pm #

      I can completely understand your struggles with brushing, Joyce. My dogs are not very good patients and it’s so easy to forget to do or just put off. To help things out in between brushing and vet visits, I really do recommend the Oral Health for Dogs.
      If your dog is ever resistant to brushing, trying giving her teeth a rinse after she eats. I use a little salt water or highly diluted grapefruit seed extract and spray it on their teeth using a pipette, bulb or syringe like the kind they make for cleaning your ears.

  5. Sarah McGeough February 25, 2016 at 8:07 pm #

    I think as a veterinarian it is very important to remember that it is not just as simple as scraping the teeth with a scaler at home. It is very important to polish the teeth with a polisher after scaling or the teeth will accumulate tartar very quickly and you can do more harm that benefit. The best way to explain this is thinking about our own teeth and we never go to the dentist and just have our teeth scaled. The dentist always follows up a cleaning by polishing our teeth. The best thing we can all do at home for our pet’s dental health is brushing ( but I honestly struggle keeping up with this task too).

    • Ylva April 12, 2016 at 11:13 pm #

      It is actually cheaper for us humans having our teeth cleaned, than for a dog! !!!
      I think the steep expense is what keep a lot of dog owners from taking their dogs to the vet for a dental cleaning.

      • Angela December 17, 2016 at 8:11 am #

        It is actually not more expensive. It may seem like it is, because most people have dental insurance. There is also the added cost of the anesthesia since it is impossible to do a full dental treatment without it. I agree that the cost can be daunting, but it is important to understand that it is not MORE expensive. In addition most dogs have severe dental disease by the time they are brought in, while the vast majority of people go to the dentist before things are anywhere near that severe.

    • Megan Hanna April 13, 2016 at 9:38 am #

      Absolutely, Sarah. Ideal dental care for your dog involves a thorough cleaning by a vet. I make a point to have my dogs’ teeth professionally cleaned about every two years. But anything you can do in between visits helps.

      I also have to agree with Ylva – professional cleanings can be quite expensive, which may make many owners forgo this maintenance. And given the need for anesthesia, cleaning by a vet does come with risks, especially for older pets or those with health conditions. For some, a home-care routine is the safest and most practical option.

  6. Jill March 31, 2016 at 4:48 pm #

    Hi Megan, thank you for the info.
    How do you apply the coconut oil, do you rub it on with a piece of gauze? I was thinking if I used a toothbrush it would gunk it up

    • Megan Hanna April 1, 2016 at 2:45 pm #

      Hi Jill. I haven’t had any issues with it gunking up. I just warm it until liquid, put it on the toothbrush and use it like toothpaste. The warmth from your dog’s mouth should be enough to keep it nice and fluid so it gets all over the mouth. Just wash the toothbrush after and you should be fine.

  7. Linda April 19, 2016 at 2:02 pm #

    I have a Yorkie Poo who actually blessedly likes having his teeth brushed. I have always used the store bought dog toothpaste. I would like to switch to a more natural “paste” I worry that coconut oil will cause diarrhea if swallowed and some will be swallowed . Any trouble with that? If so could I used maybe a baking soda paste?

    • Megan Hanna April 20, 2016 at 3:47 pm #

      The small amount of coconut oil needed for brushing shouldn’t cause a problem. Neither of my small dogs have experienced loose stool after having their teeth brushed. In fact, some pet owners add coconut oil to their dogs’ food (gradually).
      However, if your dog has a sensitive stomach and you’re concerned about possible side effects, you can certainly try something else. We carry PetzLife Oral Care Gel http://www.naturalhealthyconcepts.com/petzlife-gel.html While not exactly a toothpaste, you could use it that way.

  8. Jessie Harrison April 27, 2016 at 4:00 pm #

    Dental health is important for not only pets but for animals too. My dog’s teeth haven’t been cleaned for years. I’m worried that it’s causing her teeth to hurt and that’s why she won’t eat. I’ll use your tips to try and identify it! How do you know if the gums are redder than usual? Maybe I should just get to a vet.

    • Megan Hanna April 28, 2016 at 2:50 pm #

      Hi Jessie. If your dog isn’t eating, I would definitely take her to the vet. It could be due to dental pain, but it could also be due to another health condition. Without seeing a vet, it would be difficult to know the cause.
      As for how the gums should look, they should be pink, not red. Unhealthy gums are also likely to be swollen, so if they’re puffy instead of firm, there’s probably an issue. So even if you’re unsure of the color, you should still be able to judge general gum health by whether or not there’s any swelling. No matter how the gums look, if your dog isn’t eating, I would definitely suggest a trip to the vet.
      I hope you can get to the bottom of things for her!

  9. J Lady June 29, 2016 at 7:50 am #

    Just curious how you measure the coconut oil? And do you still use a toothbrush or let it swish around in their mouths while they’re enjoying it and then do a bit of scraping/brushing later?
    I would much rather my dog enjoy the process a little bit, while getting the nutrients from the oil, rather than have to fight with him all the time.
    Thank you!

  10. Jill July 18, 2016 at 10:29 am #

    Hi,
    Can I clean by dogs teeth with baking soda and water? She gets diarrhea with most products and bones etc. any change in what she swallows gives her diarrhea.
    Thanks!

  11. charlie September 15, 2016 at 6:39 pm #

    This is Awesome thank you! I noticed my french mastiff has been building up some black stuff on his frontal teeth and on one of his molars. I thought about coconut oil for some reason for teeth care on dogs lol. I already use some on his food. As soon as i saw your article I brushed his teeth with the extra virgin coconut oil that I have. I poured like 2 tbl spoons on a small bowl and scooped it from there with my old toothbrush lol. I am going to use the cinnamon now. However my question is do you use powder cinnamon or break up the sticks?

  12. Margaret Kelly September 17, 2016 at 2:38 am #

    I Have 2 mini Schnauzers who have just had dental cleaning under aanaesthesia. I have heard that schnauzers are prone to pancreatitis. Could the coconut oil be harmful to my doggie?
    Thanks for you help

  13. Tonya Parsons October 21, 2016 at 2:25 am #

    I have a Yorkie Poo who actually blessedly likes having his teeth brushed. I have always used the store bought dog toothpaste.

  14. Deb November 17, 2016 at 5:54 pm #

    Can any of these products be used on a dog with diabetes.

  15. Ridley Fitzgerald December 1, 2016 at 6:24 pm #

    Thanks for the tips for cleaning dog’s teeth. I definitely know that my dog doesn’t care if she has bad breath, that’s for sure. However, if dental health leads to all other help, I need to do a better job.

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