A poll by Riley’s Organics, an organic dog food brand in the US, found that over half of dog owners would rather kiss their dogs than their partners. Amongst those surveyed, 52 percent gave their dogs more kisses than their spouses, and 61 percent said they kissed their dogs full on the mouth.

Not shown to scale, but its close

Now, even if it is true that dog’s mouths are cleaner than a human’s, you really should not willfully ignore your dog’s ass breath.

That’s because some studies have found that while dogs’ mouths have a different mix of microbes than yours, they do still contain over 600 varieties – nearly as many as the over 615 varieties counted so far in human mouths.

Oral Hygiene

Those microbes aren’t good for your dog and could lead to trouble down the road. Not only is a dog’s oral health a good indication of its general health, some vets actually believe bad oral health is linked to the development of certain serious diseases in a dog’s golden years.

Such long-reaching consequences aside, doggie teeth, like yours, can get all tartared and plagued up over just 36 hours if they aren’t cleaned, resulting in ever-worsening doggy breath.

Over time, this can cause caries (dental decay) and lead to premature loss of teeth. Oral health negligence is why many local dogs are boh-gay by the time they reach the ripe old age of just 10.

That also means your best friend will not get to enjoy all the delicious noms you want to share in his silver years. That’s a shame!

So even if you can put up with his stinky kisses, it pays to adopt the following best practices to keep his teeth so clean, you could eat off them.  

My dog is 10 years old this year, and she’s never had any major dental issues. Here’s what I did, in escalating levels of spendiness.

1. Use Water Additives  

It goes without saying that your dog should have access to clean, fresh water at all times. But you can also go the extra mile and add a little extra to his water that is designed to clean teeth, freshen breath and delay the onset of periodontal disease.

These water additives are available at all good pet stores, are easy to use, safe for your dog, and surprisingly effective - one influential study found that plague formation was reduced by 37% after 14 days when dogs drank from a solution containing natural antimicrobial herbal enzymes and organic matcha green tea.

2. Give Dental Treats & Chewies

Your dog can’t pick up her own poo, wipe her own butt, or brush her own teeth, but you can take advantage of a dog’s natural love for chewing to get her to clean her own teeth along the way.

Close but no cigar

Dental treats for dogs combine anti-plague formulae and abrasive textures to keep a dog’s teeth immaculate.

My dental treat of choice is dried veal tendons rolled up into a curl (called ‘chewies’). I stuff various other treats in them so that she will give her teeth a good cleansing whilst trying to get at them.

Yup, that's all the major food groups accounted for

These worked so well that my vet was surprised to find that Kylie's teeth were still immaculate at age 3 – a time when most dogs start showing signs of periodontal disease.

3.  Brush With Toothpaste 

Oh well, you can’t put this off forever. Try as you might, eventually you are going to have to get down to brass tacks and stick your fingers inside your dog’s mouth.

Pet stores sell an almost infinite variety of toothpastes, oral gels and brushing aides to get your fingers right where they count. But for some owners, the problem isn’t the lack of will, but a lack of space.

Smol pupper, smol barker

My dog for example has a really tiny mouth and teeth, so all dog toothbrushes are too big. I’ve improvised by tearing off strips of wet tissue, wrapping them around my littlest finger and rubbing her teeth with toothpaste on.

If you face the same issue, make sure your tissue of choice does not abrade into lint in your dog’s mouth while you’re doing this. I’ve also found that using an enzymatic toothpaste keeps her breath fresher, longer.

4.  Go For Manual Calculus Removal 

After our first five years together, I was coming round to the idea that I would need to submit my dog to general anaesthesia (GA) to get her teeth well and truly cleaned.

However during her annual checkup when she was five years old, my vet informed me that he could actually attempt manual scaling if she was cooperative. This procedure involves cracking hardened plague and tartar buildups off your dog’s teeth using instruments called tartar forceps.

Thus, we avoided the need for expensive scaling under GA for another three years, which have had the extra benefit of being nearly as effective.

Your dog would have to be very well-behaved to qualify for this procedure though, so as to pose no danger to the vet and his assistants while the forceps is applied to each tooth.

Not sure who was more thrilled, me or my vet

In actual fact, Kylie was only okay with manual scaling for about three years. Then suddenly, things changed.

5.   Perform Full Dental Scaling

Kylie turns 10 this year (we think, she’s adopted) and has come to realise that there is no such thing as a pleasant vet visit. Dr Au says when he attempted manual scaling last year, she was much more nervous than before. This year, she’s simply not having it at all.

So I have no choice now but to save up for dental scaling and cleaning under GA, which will set me back around $300 to $600.

Not a happy chappy...

Before having the procedure, Kylie will need a blood test alongside a physical examination so that my vet can know her baseline parameters. This is especially important if you have a senior dog, like mine.

Baseline numbers are needed because senior dogs can have varying reactions to the anaesthetics used, and your vet needs to know what’s “normal” for your dog versus a life-threatening reaction.

If this sounds scary, well, that’s because it kind of is. I am however over that, because earlier this year Kylie had to be knocked out to have bladder stones surgically removed.

If she can survive that, then what is a dental scaling, which doesn’t even require surgery or an overnight hospital stay. Perspective is king, isn’t it?

* This article was updated on 8 July 2020. It first appeared in Pets Magazine, Mar 2018.