How Does Dog Dental Cleaning Work? PLUS Brushing Tips

One of the most common problems for dogs is tartar build-up on teeth. Tartar (or calculus) is caused by plaque and mineral deposits that form on the surface of your dog’s teeth.

This article will explore doggie dentistry and answer the question, “how does dog dental cleaning work?”

Is Dog Dental Cleaning Necessary?

Regular dental care is just as important for dogs as it is for you. Dogs’ teeth experience high tartar and plaque buildup that cause cavities and decay just as it does on human teeth.

Left untreated, tartar can lead to gum disease and eventually bone loss around the root area which could ultimately result in tooth loss.

Dogs who suffer from these dental conditions have tooth sensitivity and pain, mouth and jaw pain, and often refuse to eat because it’s so painful.

The best way to prevent this painful condition is to make sure your dog’s teeth are squeaky clean!

You can keep your dog’s teeth healthy by regular brushing with vet-approved pet toothpaste, using dental chews or toys designed to help remove plaque, and visiting your vet for professional cleanings.

How Does Dog Dental Cleaning Work at Home?

dog getting teeth brushed
Brush your dog’s teeth at home to keep teeth healthy between dental vet visits.

To properly clean your dog’s teeth, you will need:

  • A toothbrush – a dog toothbrush with a handle or a finger brush
  • Vet-approved pet toothpaste
  • Dental chews or toys
  • Water
  • Towels or a bath mat


  1. Fill a small bowl with water and set it near your dog. This will be for rinsing their mouth out when you are finished brushing.
  2. Apply a small amount of dog toothpaste to the toothbrush. Use just a little and reapply more toothpaste to the brush as needed.
  3. Gently lift your dog’s lip and begin brushing the surfaces of the teeth using a circular motion. Be sure to brush the inside surfaces of the teeth as well as the chewing surfaces.
  4. Gently brush your dog’s teeth for two to three minutes, making sure to brush the front and back of each tooth.
  5. Allow it to drink some water for a rinse and give it a treat as a reward for being a good patient!
  6. Repeat this process at least once a week or more if recommended by your vet.

We like to use Greenies Dental Chews as a reward for our dogs because they like the flavor and it helps to clean their teeth a little better.

We also make sure that our dogs have constant access to fresh, pure water.

Giving your dog purified water can help cut down on mineral deposits on the teeth and keep plaque a little softer so you can brush it away.

How Can I Calm My Dog to Brush His Teeth?

A finger brush for dog teeth
You can use a finger brush to help clean tartar off of your dog’s teeth. 
  • If your dog is at all apprehensive about having its teeth brushed, start by gently massaging its gums and teeth with your finger. This will help them get used to the sensation.
  • Move on to a finger-tip toothbrush once your dog is comfortable having your finger on his teeth and gums.
  • Start by brushing just the front teeth until your dog is used to it.
  • Make dental cleansing a fun time for your dog. Give treats, praise, and cuddles for a job well done.
  • It can be hard to get a dog used to cleaning molars, so be patient and kind as he learns to be calm during brushing.

Things to Avoid When Cleaning Your Dog’s Teeth at Home

  • Do not use human toothpaste – it can be harmful if swallowed
  • Do not use baking soda or salt – they can damage your dog’s teeth and gums
  • Do not use a power brush – it can be too harsh on your dog’s gums
  • Do not use a WaterPik – it can cause them to choke on water and is scary
  • Do not use a toothpick – it can injure their gums

How Does Dog Dental Cleaning Work with Anesthesia?

When you take your dog to get teeth cleaned at the vet, the procedure is very different than at home.

The cost is significant because the vet will anesthetize the dog to ensure it remains calm while it gets a very thorough cleaning.

The process of anesthesia induction, as with any medical procedure, carries some risks.

However, when used appropriately by a qualified veterinarian, anesthesia makes it safe for them to effectively to clean your dog’s teeth.

Before the procedure begins, your veterinarian will carefully assess your dog to determine whether they are healthy enough to undergo anesthesia.

They will also review your dog’s medical history to rule out any potential problems. If your dog is deemed healthy enough for anesthesia, it will be given a sedative to help them relax.

Once the dog is calm and relaxed, they will be given an anesthetic which will render them unconscious. This will allow the veterinarian to safely and effectively clean your dog’s teeth.

When the procedure is complete, your dog will be monitored closely by the veterinarian and staff until they are fully awake and back to normal.

Possible Complications from Dog Dental Cleaning

Some dogs love to have teeth brushed
Brushing your dog’s teeth at home is vital, but is no replacement for thorough teeth cleaning by the vet.

We never want to scare you into avoiding taking your dog to the vet for a dental cleaning and checkup. It is vital for his health and longevity to keep the teeth and mouth in top shape.

However, while dental cleaning is a routine and safe procedure, some potential complications can occur, though they are very rare and treatable.

  • Infection – the dog may develop an infection in its mouth after the procedure is completed. Signs of infection include fever, swelling, and redness around the teeth and gums.
  • Bleeding – Minor bleeding may occur during or after the dental cleaning procedure. This is usually nothing to worry about and will stop on its own.
  • Nausea or vomiting – Some dogs may experience nausea or vomiting after the anesthesia wears off. This is usually nothing to worry about and will pass on its own.
  • Toothache – After the dental cleaning procedure, some dogs may experience a toothache. This is usually nothing to worry about and will go away on its own.
  • Swelling – Swelling of the gums is a common side effect of dental cleaning.
  • Lethargy – After the anesthesia wears off, some dogs may feel lethargic, but this will pass as the anesthesia is metabolized out of the dog’s system.
  • Confusion – After the anesthesia wears off, some dogs may experience confusion. The vet will usually keep your dog in the office until this wears off.

If your dog has any complications after a dental routine, don’t hesitate to give your vet a call. They’ll be happy to reassure you or see your dog again if something is unusual or alarming.


Dental cleaning is a routine procedure that can help keep your dog’s teeth healthy and free of plaque and tartar.

It’s impossible to overstate how important dental health is for your dog’s overall health and longevity.

Brushing at home and routine dental vet visits will pay off in the long run in more healthy years with your best friend.

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Jesse Hopping, CCDT

Jesse is a natural-born dog-lover certified dog trainer (CCDT), dog foster, and former volunteer at Richmond SPCA and surrounding dog shelters for over 10 years. Her pack includes a Bernedoodle and 3 Boston Terriers. She’s sipping caramel coffee and watching her pack play in the sun when she’s not writing blogs. Jesse has her Certified Dog Trainer designation from CATCH Canine Trainers Academy since 2018 and and majored in English from the University of Virginia.

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