Try These At-Home Methods to Help Keep Your Dog’s Teeth Clean

Feeding a raw diet, treating with all-natural chews, and regular brushing — or using brushless methods — help slow tarter and reduce the number of pro cleanings your dog needs.

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February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and if you’re considering your pup’s pearly whites, you can probably thank a veterinarian. Vets remind us that dogs past the age of two or three nearly always require some type of intervention to remove tartar buildup. This is because a typical domesticated dog’s diet doesn’t contain enough tough, fibrous material to break down tooth residue. The intervention of choice? Usually, it’s a professional dental cleaning.

Vets often recommend that every dog receive a professional cleaning once a year. And to be absolutely clear, I’m not advocating against that advice. I should note, however, that some of my older rescues have had trouble with general anesthesia. This has prompted me to explore natural, supportive at-home methods that can help canine teeth stay cleaner for longer intervals. A complementary approach, if you will.

From a dental standpoint, “tartar” is basically plaque that has hardened. It sits along the gum line and can inflame soft tissue, causing a condition known as gingivitis. Irritated gums can pull away from teeth, creating tiny pockets where bacteria becomes trapped. In its more advanced stages, gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease that causes infections, bone loss, and extreme mouth pain.

So needless to say, it’s important that your vet inspect your dog’s mouth carefully on a regular basis. But you also can slow tartar buildup with these methods:

Feed a raw diet

Scientists now recognize that dogs are less than 1 percent genetically different from wolves, their direct ancestors. Most wolves and coyotes in the wild have very strong, clean teeth. This is because they regularly eat a raw diet that includes meat, gristle, fibrous tissue, and actual bones. The chewing and eating process itself is so abrasive that it constantly breaks down plaque formations.

In much the same way, feeding a raw diet can help control tartar buildup on the teeth of our domesticated dogs. Raw food morsels contain natural enzymes, plus tiny pieces of gristle and bone meal that have an effect similar to fine-grit sandpaper. This mildly abrasive process helps to “scrub” teeth and gums as your pet chews.

Dog with raw steak by Shutterstock.
Dog with raw steak by Shutterstock.

Contrary to popular belief, crunchy kibble does not provide similar benefits. Kibble is basically a carbohydrate paste that’s been hardened or baked into tiny nuggets that are easy to feed. So when your pet’s saliva breaks these nuggets down, they revert back to a sticky, starchy form that gets trapped between teeth and adheres to the gum line until it’s manually dislodged. Raw morsels can still get trapped, but the abrasive process helps buff them away.

Treat all-natural chews

Not a huge fan of raw diets? You can achieve similar results by regularly giving your pup all-natural chew treats. At my house, we’ve learned to stay far (far) away from commercial rawhide. Healthier favorites include Antler Chewz, Terrabones, beef-based bully sticks, and especially Himalayan Dog Chews. These natural, chemical-free, beneficial snacks offer a two-in-one advantage: buffing away dental residue while providing constructive stress relief.

Brush your dog’s teeth often

With gentle patience and persistence, most dogs can be taught to tolerate (even enjoy) daily tooth brushing. The secret is to progress very gradually, allowing your pet to adapt at his own pace. Start with a gauze-wrapped finger versus a toothbrush, and lightly massage the very front teeth. Praise often, keeping sessions short and upbeat. Add a bit of organically flavored, fluoride-free toothpaste to make each exercise seem like a yummy treat. Experiment with different flavors to see which one your pet likes best. Progress back toward molars over time. Then, once your pup seems fully comfortable, switch to a child-sized brush or finger brush.

Try brushless options

There are several pet-formulated products designed to help dissolve plaque on their own — though you can certainly use them in conjunction with brushing if you’d like.

PetzLife is one brand we’ve tried with good success. These tasty gel and spray-on formulas are made with natural ingredients that include pure distilled water, grapefruit seed extract, thyme and peppermint oils. They also contain neem, which has proven antifungal and antiseptic qualities.

Another effective option is Ark Naturals BREATH-LESS Brushless Toothpaste. This product is actually a natural wheat-free, corn-free, rice-based chew wrapped around an inside core that contains edible pet toothpaste.

Whichever of these you decide to try, just remember that all these natural, at-home methods can truly help your pet’s teeth stay much cleaner between vet visits. Keep the process positive, and many dogs will come to feel like they’re being rewarded … which they are, in more ways than one!

Top photo: Smiling dog by Shutterstock.

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Marybeth Bittel

Marybeth lives in the Midwest with her wonderful husband, and her rescue dogs Grant and Maizy — all of them Heinz 57 mixed-breed types. A freelance writer and marketing consultant, she’s been rehabilitating severely abused rescues for over two decades. She’s currently working toward specialized certifications in animal nutrition counseling. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her family Instagram feed.

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