The Importance of Dental Care For Golden Retrievers

The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Golden Retrievers" by Dr. Joanna de Klerk, DVM. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.

Author Credit: Dr. Joanna de Klerk, DVM

Just as it is important to keep our own teeth clean, it is equally important to keep the teeth of your dog clean. The diets of our domestic dogs are nothing like the wild diet of their ancestors, and therefore they do not have raw bones to gnaw on, on a daily basis. This is one of the driving factors for the BARF diet as discussed in Chapter 8; however, we have already learned of the dangers of this diet and therefore alternative methods of dental hygiene need to be considered.

Without daily dental care, most dogs will end up needing some sort of intervention later in life to improve the health of their teeth. Poor dental health will lead to mouth pain and bad breath, also known as halitosis, which is not pleasant for your dog. Golden Retrievers in particular are known for their bad breath, but this can be avoided with due diligence.

Dental Anatomy

The tooth structure is so much more than what you see above the gums. The visible tooth is known as the crown and under the gums, the bottom of the tooth is known as the root. The root can be as big as, sometimes bigger, than the crown.

Golden RetrieversThe tooth is made out of bone with several different layers. On the outside is a protective layer called the enamel. This can be worn down through chewing stones and sticks, so it is wise to discourage your Golden from these habits. In the very center of the tooth is the pulp. This is an area filled with nerve endings, so if the teeth wear down to this area, it can be very sore.

To hold the tooth in the socket, there are periodontal ligaments, which are extremely strong ligaments. If the tooth becomes diseased, these ligaments can become weak, which in turn makes the tooth become wobbly and fall out. Eating with a wobbly tooth can be very painful.

Dogs have 42 adult teeth, but initially start off with 28 deciduous (baby) teeth. These baby teeth fall out between 6 months and 18 months of age. You probably won’t see them fall out, but you might notice your Golden being a little more mouthy than usual during this time, so plenty of chew toys will help him through the mild discomforts of teething.

The teeth at the front are called the incisors. These are for picking meat off bones. The next are the canines, which are long and sharp. They would originally have been the teeth used to hunt and bite down on their prey. The teeth on the insides of the cheek are called pre-molars and molars. These are crushing teeth. Combined with the power of the masticatory jaw muscles, they can potentially crunch through bones.

Tartar Build-Up and Gingivitis

Golden Retrievers
Photo Courtesy – Melissa Morrison

Tartar is a build-up of food and bacteria around the base of the tooth. This happens in all dogs who do not have their teeth brushed on a daily basis. Tartar leads to halitosis and therefore also a poor taste in your dog’s mouth.

Due to tartar build-up, your dog is also likely to have gingivitis. This is an inflammation of the gums, local to where the tartar builds up. The reason why the gums become inflamed is because the tartar is full of bacteria. Therefore, the body sends white blood cells to the area to fight the bacteria, but the influx of white blood cells causes the area to swell.

When this happens, the only way this can be reversed is to remove the tartar. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatories will temporarily relieve the problem; however, the body will continue to respond in this manner to the tartar, and therefore, the gingivitis and halitosis will come straight back.

Dental Care


Keeping a close eye on your dog’s dental health is a vital part of care for your dog. Early detection will ensure the prevention of major dental disease as your dog ages.

The best way to examine your dog’s teeth is on a day he’s feeling happy and relaxed. If he feels nervous or in a bad mood, you might make things worse by examining things, and while it’s not in the nature for a Golden Retriever to snap, it’s worth being careful since you are working with the mouth.

Golden RetrieversStart by lifting up the front lips and looking at the incisors. They should be white or cream in color with minimal tartar. They should not be wobbly and the gums should not be receding. The next ones to look at are the canines. These build up a lot of tartar easily. Then finally pull the cheeks right back to view the pre-molars and molars. It’s a common mistake not to pull the cheeks back far enough to view the very back teeth so be aware of this. Luckily, Goldens have fairly big jowls and a bit of slack in this area makes it easier.

If you see a tooth which is gray and much darker than the rest, it is a sign that it is dying from the inside pulp area, and even if it is not wobbly or covered in tartar, your veterinarian should assess the tooth.

Every time you take your dog to the vet, they should have their teeth investigated in this manner; however, making a mental note each time you brush, and once a month making a conscious effort to thoroughly check the mouth, will make sure you pick up on any abnormalities early.

Tooth Brushing

Tooth brushing may seem a strange thing to do to your dog, but your dog will be grateful in the long run for it. Tooth brushing daily from a young age will prevent tooth decay, gingivitis, and tartar build-up.

Golden RetrieversAlways brush your dog’s teeth with a dog toothpaste, as human toothpaste often contains a sweetener called xylitol. This is extremely dangerous to your dog as it can cause their blood glucose to drastically drop. This in turn will cause seizures and potentially even lead to death. Dog toothpaste contains many enzymes, which specifically dissolve off the tartar from the tooth. Once the tartar has become extensive, though, it will not solve the problem, but it will stop it from worsening.

The Golden Retriever is a big dog, so you can brush his mouth with a small human toothbrush, or purchase a dog toothbrush. The benefit of a dog toothbrush is that it is angled so that brushing the back teeth is easier. You can also use a rubber finger brush, which looks a little like a large thimble, if this is easier for you.

If you train your dog from a puppy to be tolerant of his teeth being brushed, you will have much less hassle throughout your dog’s life, versus if you start at a later stage. Some dogs resent the manipulation to some degree, so training from a puppy will teach him it is a fun process. Ensure you give him lots of praise afterward with toys or treats, whichever he prefers.

Water Additives

There are several water additives available to buy from pet stores and veterinary practices. These act like mouthwash for dogs. You can add the specified amount to fresh water daily, and it helps to freshen the breath and dissolve anything accumulating on the teeth.

These should be used in addition to brushing and not instead of, as the manual brushing of the brush will be far more effective than a fluid running over the teeth. Like toothpaste, however, it is full of enzymes and works in a similar manner.

It is very important, though, that you do not use human mouthwash. It is markedly different, and if you were to put human mouthwash in the water, it could cause serious poisoning and internal damage to your dog.


It is difficult to choose appropriate chews with so much choice on the market. Every manufacturer claims their treat is the most effective, but in the end, the best thing to do is simply find one your dog likes.

Dental chews work by causing mild abrasion as they are bitten through. It will either help remove tartar through sucking it off or cracking it off. There are many different sizes and shapes of treats available. Your Golden Retriever will need one which is fairly large. Too little and it might not remove the tartar appropriately.

Golden Retrievers
Photo Courtesy – Bruno Rosales

Dental chews should be given as part of your dog’s daily diet and not in addition to it. Therefore, if your dog needs 1,000 calories per day and the treat is 150 calories, then make sure you subtract that amount of food from the daily quantity recommended.

Some owners prefer knuckle bones to commercial treats, and while they are far more natural than processed chews, they come with some significant hazards. Knuckle bones may shatter and cause trauma to the intestines or stomach, and if large bits are broken off which are small enough to swallow, your dog may develop a life-threatening intestinal blockage.

If you would like a natural dental chew which is less hazardous, then antlers are an excellent alternative. The slow gnawing of the hard antler helps remove the tartar. Antlers do not shatter like knuckle bones and take an extremely long time to wear down, therefore are great long-lasting alternatives to other dental chews available.

Dental Food

Many of the top dog food brands have created dental diets. These are dry dog foods with large kibble bits in them. As the dog bites through the kibble, it helps remove the tartar from the teeth. The kibble pieces are usually a tiny bit softer than other dry dog foods, so that as the tooth is removed from the kibble, there is a small amount of suction.

Dental formulated diets are not completely necessary to maintain good dental health. They are mainly marketed at dogs who have dental disease. For Goldens whose owners wish to prevent dental disease, a normal quality dry dog food for large dogs will suffice.

Dental Procedures

If the mouth is in very bad health, your veterinarian may suggest having your dog in for a dental procedure. This is a day procedure where your dog will come home the same day.

Dentals require a general anesthetic, as working in that area in a conscious dog is almost impossible. General anesthetics are generally very safe in a healthy dog; however, if your dog has any kidney or liver disease, your veterinarian may want to check their blood before, and administer intravenous fluids to keep their blood pressure stable.

Golden Retrievers
Photo Courtesy – Karan Gogri

Once your dog is anesthetized, the vet will start by cracking off any large areas of tartar. He will then scale all the teeth to make them clean and white. Once they are clean, he will take a probe and run it around each tooth. If the probe dips into the socket, then it means that the periodontal ligament has been damaged and the tooth must be removed. Some teeth have multiple roots, and some just a single root. This usually determines how difficult they are to remove. A sharp tool called an elevator is run around the root of the tooth to break the periodontal ligament before the tooth is pulled out. The socket is sometimes stitched closed afterward, although some veterinarians prefer leaving it open. At the end of the procedure, the veterinarian will polish the entire mouth to remove any residual tartar.

Dental procedures sound invasive; however, if your dog has a mouth full of bacteria, he will be glad for the procedure. It will restore comfort and remove bad breath. Nevertheless, dental procedures can be avoided altogether with routine care of your Golden’s teeth so try to make it a habit from a very young age to preserve the health of the mouth.

To read more from "The Complete Guide to Golden Retrievers" by Dr. Joanna de Klerk, DVM, or purchase on Amazon, visit the link below:

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