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The Truth About Dog Dental Health


February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and Fidose of Reality aims to give you the reality – the truth – and what you need to know. We will spare you the “do it or else” mantras and the “if you don’t brush your dog’s teeth, health problems are highly likely…or worse.” Both of those are true, but let us break it down for you slide by slide, fact by fact, and the hands-on what to do if you’ve never brushed your dog’s teeth before. Oh, and you wouldn’t be alone. Dog dental health is a hot topic.


According to a 2013 analysis conducted by VPI Pet Insurance, the average cost to prevent dental disease in pets is $171.82, but it costs $531.71 to treat dental disease.  “We brush our teeth each day, and daily oral hygiene is recommended for dogs and cats from the time the permanent teeth erupt,” explains Dr. Jan Bellows, president of the American Veterinary Dental College. “

If you only take one thing away from this article and you only remember one thing in general from this it is:


If you think that eating pretzels scrapes tartar off your teeth, then by all means believe that eating hard dog food does the same for a dog.


Hard Core Facts

I am a once to twice a day brusher of my dog’s teeth and have done so for over 18 years. Not once did my last Cocker Spaniel need a professional under-anesthesia dental cleaning in her entire 15 years of life. The folks at the vet used to be amazed at how tartar-free her teeth remained, and I attribute it to teeth brushing, being diligent, and taking literally 5 minutes or less per day to save her life. I feel as if I was gifted with extra years and healthy organs because of my efforts.

According to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by age 3. If pet parents don’t attend to the dog’s teeth, oral disease can hit the kidneys, liver and heart, and seriously affect a dog’s quality of life. None of us want that.

It is super easy, even for dogs who never had their teeth brushed.


How to Do It

Start slow. Simply dip a bit of chicken soup broth (sodium free) on your finger and let the dog lick. At least then the whole finger near the mouth thing has been addressed. Do this for a day or two. Advance to finger toothbrush. Put water on it only and follow this paw-some video for how to do it: just for a few seconds, building up each day. Reward your dog as you go along and like he just won Westminster when he is done. Praise rocks, as pet parents know.  It takes a bit of practice. After the sodium free chicken broth, I worked up to teeth cleaning pads. Then I let Dexter lick the toothpaste for a week. Then the front teeth only. Then added toothpaste to a finger brush. Graduated to a baby toothbrush. It takes time but as you can see, he is a pro now.

My rule of thumb and paw: Brush my dog’s teeth as I would my own; so two times a day works famously. If you can only do it once, you just hit tartar where it counts.

Be sure the toothpaste is made for dogs. I use CET vanilla mint dog toothpaste, available at  Dogs cannot spit and the enzymes that make human toothpaste foam are bad for them. Smile and woof it up with Fido!

Here is a handy chart you can grab and share, blog about, etc.


A dog lover of the highest order is how Gayle King introduced Carol Bryant, when she appeared with her Cocker Spaniel on Oprah Radio’s Gayle King show to dish dogs. Carol created and owns the trademark, My Heart Beats Dog® and lives that mantra. A 30-year veteran of the dog world, she is President of the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) and the 2020 DWAA winner for Best Dog Blog.


  1. emma says

    I have been brushing dogs teeth since I got my first dog. The first night at my house, my pups start learning the brushing habit and they actually line up for their turn every night before bed. Katie is almost twelve and has great teeth, never a cleaning. Emma was at the vet for a paw injury yesterday and the vet was amazed at her teeth for her age, hardly any tarter. It is so easy to do and they love it. I started with my first dog when she was almost two and she loved it as well. Simple, saves their health and our money!

    • Carol Bryant says

      Soooo good to hear about Katie! I know first hand, er paw, the difference it has made with my last dog and now with Dex. 😉

  2. Joanna says

    Love this post! I see so many pets with moderate to severe dental disease in practice. It’s really sad to see them suffering from something that is largely preventable. You’re right about human toothpaste too – a lot of human toothpastes are full of xylitol, which is toxic to pets.

    • Carol Bryant says

      Joanna, that means a lot to have you stop by. We also wrote about Xylitol poisoning, too, and that is a super point you share. Many human toothpastes DO have xlylitol and since dogs can’t
      “spit” to rinse, danger indeed.

  3. Ann Staub says

    Fantastic advice Carol! I am guilty of hardly brushing my dog’s teeth. Trying to change that though. I’ve seen dental disease firsthand, and it is some really nasty stuff!

  4. Kimberly Gauthier says

    Dental health is what helped me get over my fear of raw bones. I will still only give our dogs certain raw bones, but it’s managed to keep their teeth healthy and white. I only choose certain ones, because the risk here is breaking a tooth so I never ever give our dogs weight bearing bones (legs), because of their hardness/strength.

    Thanks for sharing this information. I used to believe that kibble was enough – it’s not.

  5. Burt Silver says

    I had no idea that dogs needed to have their teeth brushed as often as humans. I thought that it was something their bodies regulated for them. I have a dog that I love and want to take great care of. I will have to have his teeth checked out and see if there are any problems

  6. Joe Newton says

    Dental health is I think a cardinal part of the puppy’s overall state of health. And if I am not wrong, I think dental issues can give rise to other health issues. Bad breath, broken teeth, kept baby teeth, abnormal drooling, reduced appetite, pain around the mouth, bleeding from the mouth and cavity, are some of the prominent signs by which a pet owner can easily guess that his furry friend has oral health issues. Thus, it makes a lot of sense to check your canine companion’s teeth at least once a year by an accomplished veterinarian to make sure your four-legged family member is not having any dental problems.

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