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Is a dog's mouth cleaner than a human's mouth?

Have you ever wondered if a dog's mouth is cleaner than a human's? Our veterinary dermatologist in Orange Park has some interesting pieces of trivia to share in this article, including the answer to this question. We'll also explain how to clean a dog's teeth and mouth. 

Is my dog's mouth cleaner than mine?

You may have heard the age-old myth that contends that a dog's mouth is cleaner than a human's. Unfortunately, that's all it is - a myth. While the types of bacteria found in both species are s similar in some ways, dogs have a greater variety of dental bacteria that aren't present in the mouths of their human companions. Dogs' mouths contain about 600 different species of germs, while humans have approximately 615 and counting. 

So, when we break down the differences in bacteria in the mouths of both dogs and people, a dog's mouth is much different. Let's discuss the minor similarities in bacteria first. One example is the Porophyromonas family of bacteria, which can cause periodontal disease in both dogs and humans. Billions of germs gradually build up on the surface of the teeth, leading to issues like gum recession, bad breath, tooth root abscesses, and even bone damage surrounding the tooth roots. 

If your dog is displaying signs of early periodontal disease, you can treat this with both at-home oral hygiene care as well as professional dental care offered by your primary care veterinarian. 

Why do dogs lick their wounds?

Dogs will often lick their wounds to clean them. A dog's saliva may have healing properties, which may be another reason that they lick their wounds. 

Certain proteins in a dog's saliva (also known as histatins) can help your dog's body defend itself from infection, and some research has shown that there are other beneficial chemicals in a dog's saliva that can help protect cuts from infection. 

However, not all wounds will benefit from being licked. When your dog licks a wound, it can lead to moisture and inflammation. In some cases, the bacteria present in the saliva can slow healing or even worsen infection. 

This is why we recommend veterinary visits for even superficial wounds. Depending on the wound and whether it is a veterinary medical emergency, you may first consult your primary care veterinarian or a veterinary dermatologist. A veterinarian may recommend a collar or bandage to keep your dog from licking their wounds and causing more trauma to an area that's already inflamed. 

What are some infections that can be transmitted through my dog's saliva?

While the risk of contracting an infection via a dog's saliva is low, it is never zero. Dogs can spread bacteria and viral diseases through their saliva. These illnesses can be transmitted if a dog bites you or their saliva enters your eyes, nose, or mouth. 

Bacterial Infections 

If you are bitten by a dog, there is a chance of bacteria in their saliva being transmitted into your body. These bacteria can potentially cause serious infections. Capnocytophaga canimorsus is one type of bacteria that can be transmitted through a bite wound. Pasteurella canis is another bacteria found in a dog's mouth, and it is often present in people who have been bitten by a dog. The severity of a dog's bite depends on where the wound is located and whether the person who's been bitten has a compromised immune system. 

After any dog bite, be sure to clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water for 15 minutes before seeking medical treatment. If your dog eats food that's contaminated with E. coli or Salmonella, you may contract these harmful bacteria if your dog's saliva comes into contact with your mouth. Your dog may be more likely to carry these types of bacteria if your pup is on a raw food diet. 


Rabies is one of the most dangerous infections that a dog can transmit through their saliva. This infection can also be spread through a bite from an infected animal. Once it has entered the body, the virus impacts the nervous system and leads to various severe symptoms. Initially, dogs may exhibit signs of nervousness and anxiety. As the disease progresses, dogs can become aggressive, experience disorientation and lose coordination. 

If you notice any pet, animal, or person displaying signs of rabies, you should contact your local public health authority or animal control right away. Make sure to maintain a safe distance. Unfortunately, when a dog, person, or wild animal shows signs of rabies, it is almost always fatal. 

Is it safe for my dog to lick me?

Saliva cannot easily penetrate the skin, making a lick from your dog fairly harmless. However, if you are allergic to dogs' saliva, you may develop hives or a rash on your skin or experience extreme itchiness. 

How to Clean Your Dog's Teeth 

Proper dental care for dogs is crucial for maintaining a clean and healthy mouth. Learning how to clean your dog's teeth is an important part of this care. A simple and effective method is to schedule regular dental appointments for your dog. We suggest doing this at least once a year, or more frequently if your dog is experiencing dental problems like periodontitis.

When you bring your dog to your primary vet for a dental checkup, they will conduct a thorough oral examination. Some of the signs of dental conditions that your vet will look for include:

  • Extra teeth or retained baby teeth
  • Bleeding around the mouth
  • Swelling or pain in or around the mouth
  • Plaque or tartar buildup on teeth
  • Discolored teeth
  • Loose or broken teeth
  • Bad breath

If your dog experiences an untreated oral health condition, it can lead to pain, discomfort or even serious complications. If you observe signs of periodontal disease in your pet, such as reduced appetite (indicating tooth pain), unusual chewing, excessive drooling, difficulty holding food in the mouth, unpleasant breath, or other symptoms, it is crucial to contact your veterinarian promptly. They will assist you in scheduling a dental appointment for your pet.

Comprehensive veterinary dental care typically involves thoroughly cleaning and polishing your dog's teeth, addressing the areas above and below the gum line. We also conduct tooth probing and x-rays, followed by a fluoride treatment and the application of a dental sealant to prevent future decay and damage. In cases of advanced periodontal disease, your primary vet will work with you to develop a treatment plan aimed at restoring your pet's mouth to a pain-free and healthy condition.

Should I brush my dog's teeth?

As a pet owner, you play an important role in assisting your dog in fighting dental disease. Here are a few simple ways you can help keep your dog's mouth healthy and clean his teeth:
  • Brush your pet's teeth daily with a finger brush from your vet or a child's toothbrush to remove any plaque or debris. It's as straightforward as brushing your own teeth. If your dog is resistant to having its teeth cleaned, try some doggie toothpaste in flavors that your dog will love. This dog-friendly toothpaste can transform a chore into a treat.
  • Use a plaque prevention product (your vet can recommend some), which you can apply to your pet's teeth and gums. These products act as a barrier to prevent plaque buildup.
  • Offer your pup treats such as dental chews or food designed to help prevent plaque buildup and tartar.

Dental care is an important part of your dog's overall health. Be sure to book your pet's annual dental appointment today with your primary care veterinarian. Your dog will thank you.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Have you noticed your dog excessively licking their skin? Contact us. We can perform a dermatological exam, diagnose potential skin conditions, and provide treatment. 

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