Plaque Removal in Dogs

Open wide for your teeth cleaning.
i weimaraner dog close-up image by AND Inc. from

If your pooch’s mouth smells as if someone died in there, something is wrong. Gum disease from plaque and tartar is a likely culprit. Your veterinarian can let you know what's causing the bad breath and what should be done.

About Plaque

Plaque forms as a thin film on a tooth’s surface from food particles that mix with bacteria. Plaque can also form under the gum line. If nothing is done to remove plaque, it hardens and becomes tartar or calculus. Plaque can harden in as little as 36 hours. A dog’s upper and lower back teeth are most susceptible to plaque. All dogs can get plaque, but poodles and small dogs are prone to having plaque problems.

Why Remove It?

Plaque near the gum line can cause the gums to erode, which could lead to tooth loss in your dog. Veterinarians can rate how badly gums are diseased. Cleaning and tooth scaling can resolve the earlier stages of disease. Later stages entail removing the diseased tooth and, sometimes, gum surgery. Bacteria from tartar can also get into the bloodstream, which can be life-threatening.

Home Cleaning

The best way to remove plaque from your dog’s teeth is to brush his teeth with a canine toothbrush and animal toothpaste. Instead of being mint or citrus flavored, animal toothpaste is usually chicken or seafood flavored. Although you can use a human toothbrush in a dog’s mouth if it fits well in the mouth, you shouldn’t use human toothpaste because of the sudsing agents they contain. Dogs don’t rinse and spit; they typically swallow toothpaste, and the sudsing agents are not meant to be swallowed. You can maintain a dog’s healthy mouth by brushing his teeth three times a week.

Cleaning Tips

You need only brush the outside of the teeth. A dog’s saliva sufficiently cleans the inner teeth. You can use a finger brush instead of a toothbrush for puppies or small dogs. If you can’t get your dog to tolerate a toothbrush or finger brush, try a disinfecting pad made to wipe away plaque. Some types of dental chews can reduce plaque. This varies by dog. Dental chews are not as good as brushing teeth, but they might be better than doing nothing. They have a hard surface that can clean teeth.

Professional Cleaning

Even if you clean your dog’s teeth, you still need to bring him to the veterinarian about once a year for a professional cleaning. A vet has special tools to remove plaque and tartar, and a vet can remove plaque and tartar from below the gum line. Taking your dog to the vet for a teeth cleaning is similar to what happens when you go to the dentist for one. Your dog, however, is sedated for the process. If your dog isn’t sedated, the vet cannot address any plaque issues below the gum line.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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