Sure, you let your fur baby chew on a gum-cleaning toy here and there, but you need to do a lot more.

By Krystal Hagan
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You’ve probably heard that clean teeth are important to your pet’s health. Taking care of their dental health can help you avoid serious—and potentially expensive—teeth and gum problems in the future. We reached out to two experts to find out why keeping your pet’s mouth in tiptop shape is important and to learn what you can do at home to make things go smoother during your next vet visit.

Veterinarian Dr. Sharon Campbell, DVM, MS, DACVIM, of Zoetis, a global animal health company, shared her thoughts on why healthy teeth and gums are crucial to your pet’s well-being. She broke down the reasons into three components:

The Human-Animal Bond

“When dogs and cats have dental disease, they have halitosis or bad breath,” Dr. Campbell said. “Getting kisses from a dog or snuggling with a cat that has bad breath can be off-putting. … It does put a crimp in that human-animal bond.”


Plaque attracts bacteria and becomes calcified, causing tartar. This can cause inflammation in the gums (gingivitis), which can be extremely painful for pets. Pets who have this pain may shy away when you try to touch their mouths or start dropping food or quit eating altogether. Not all pets will show signs of pain, however.

Health Complications

“The bacteria can shed from the mouth, get picked up by the blood vessels, and carry to the different organs, in particular the heart and the kidneys,” Dr. Campbell said. “And it can cause damage to those organs.”

What can you do at home to stay on top of your pets’ dental health?

The easiest thing you can do, according to Dr. Campbell, is speak with your veterinarian about putting your pet on a prescription diet designed to prevent plaque and tartar buildup. Dental treats and toys are another simple option. (Make sure you ask your vet which ones they recommend.) She also recommends starting with peanut butter before switching to pet-specific toothpaste.

How often should you have your pets’ teeth professionally cleaned?

Dr. Campbell says to listen to your veterinarian’s recommendations and don’t delay. “Every year you put it off it gets worse … to the point you might actually have to pull a tooth.”

And if you’re anxious about putting your pet under for a cleaning, she says not to worry. “The drugs and medications we currently use for anesthesia are very safe,” said Dr. Campbell.  “They’re exactly the same they use in human medicine.” Your pet will also likely be getting medications for pain, anxiety, and nausea and will have a trained professional by their side the entire time.

How to get your pet to be OK with teeth brushing

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Shari Elkins, director of training and behavior programs at The Canine Center in Austin, shared some advice:

Get them used to it gradually.

As a Tellington TTouch practitioner, she recommends getting your pets used to having their mouths handled, which can have benefits beyond teeth cleaning.

“Get the dog enjoying it first around their neck, then move forward to their jaw, then move forward to their lip,” Elkins said. “Then eventually you’re inside their mouth just with your finger. It’s a bonding thing we do.”

And don’t worry if you have an older dog. “You can do this with a dog at any age, especially dogs that aren’t accustomed to having their mouths handled,” Elkins said. “You just go slow. I usually stop before the dog tells me to.”

Both Dr. Campbell and Elkins recommended cleaning pets’ teeth first with your finger, then switching to a finger brush before moving on to a pet toothbrush.

Give them bones.

Elkins said her own vet suggested raw meaty bones (never cooked!), which are abrasive and can act as a natural toothbrush.

For more resources, the American Veterinary Medical Association has a wealth of information about pet dental care, as well as instructional videos on how to brush your pets’ teeth.