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How To Brush Your Dog’s Teeth: Dental Health Guide

Learn why it's important to keep your dog's teeth healthy and how to prevent unwanted gum disease in your beloved pet. Veterinarian Dr. Hannah Godfrey walks you through the steps to get your dog used to the teeth cleaning process and answers your doggy dental questions.

Dr. Hannah Godfrey

Last Updated: January 28, 2022 | 6 min read

Female brushing dog

Keeping our teeth clean by brushing and visiting the dentist regularly are vital parts of keeping our mouths healthy. But how do you make sure that your canine companion’s teeth and gums are just as healthy?

Brushing your dog’s teeth is proven to reduce bacteria build-up, which means they’re less likely to develop plaque and tartar, minimizing painful gingivitis, infections, and tooth loss. Brushing your dog’s teeth at least every other day ensures that they get the full benefit.

The truth is it’s unlikely that you’ll ever get your dog’s mouth as clean as your own unless they’re incredibly tolerant and you have a lot of time. However, that doesn’t mean that a good homecare routine won’t help keep your furry best friend’s mouth clean and comfortable.

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What Is Dental Disease?

Dogs teeth and gums with plaque
Over time bacteria forms plaque and tartar, which is nearly impossible to remove without a veterinary procedure.

Dental pr periodontal disease comes into play when bacteria build up on your dog’s teeth surface and under the gumline. The gum and other soft tissue supporting the tooth become inflamed and infected, and the gum starts to recede over time. As the gum recedes, more and more of the tooth root is left exposed.

Periodontal disease is painful for your pooch and can lead to tooth loss and even life-threatening infection. Not only this, but bad teeth can also cause your pooch to have bad breath. So, if you’ve been trying to dodge kisses from your furry friend, or you’ve stopped enjoying cuddles with them, they could have bad teeth.

Why Is Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth Important?

When you brush your dog’s teeth, it disrupts the biofilm of bacteria that coat each tooth. This biofilm eventually leads to the formation of plaque and tartar. So, brushing frequently prevents the onset of dental disease, meaning your pooch is not in pain and can hang on to their gnashers for as long as possible.

When Should You Start Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth?

It’s never too early to start brushing your dog’s teeth. As long as they have teeth, you can give it a go. This means that from just six or eight weeks old, you can start the process of getting them used to the toothbrush and paste.

You might be thinking, “But don’t puppy teeth fall out at six months old after teething? What’s the point?” Well, yes, it’s true that if you start young, you’ll be cleaning their temporary teeth, but even though puppy teeth fall out, it’s still beneficial. After all, the sooner you get your brand-new pup familiar with their dental routine, the more likely they are to accept it without being fearful or intolerant for the long haul.

How Often Should You Brush?

As humans, we’re recommended to brush our teeth at least twice a day, but ideally after every meal. However, this would be a big commitment when it comes to looking after your furry family member. Although the more you do it, the more benefit they have, realistically, daily, or every other day is sufficient to have an impact on your dog’s oral health. It’s best to try brushing at least every other day, though, because less often allows bacteria to build up in between brushing, and your efforts might be wasted.

What If You Can’t Brush Regularly?

If you follow the method and tips below, you’ll hopefully have some success getting your dog to accept having their teeth brushed. However, if your dog still won’t tolerate it, perhaps due to behavioral issues or pain, there are some alternatives you can try.

Feeding dry dog kibble rather than wet food is proven to help reduce dental disease. Additionally, some dog chews and dental diets are specially formulated to cause friction against the surface of the teeth, removing plaque.

Other products like antibacterial doggy mouthwash and gels that fight infection on the teeth are also helpful if you can’t brush. However, it’s worth spending some time learning doggy toothbrushing first because it’s the most effective method of keeping your dog’s mouth in tip-top condition.

How Do You Brush Your Dog’s Teeth?

Owner brushing teeth of cute dog at home
Before starting, make sure you have everything you need.

Prepare

Luckily, there are lots of options when it comes to choosing the right tools for brushing your dog’s teeth. So, it’s worth considering your dog and what suits them best. For instance, some dogs might allow you to put your fingers in their mouth but are wary when you’re holding a toothbrush. In this case, you could try a finger brush, which fits on your finger like a thimble. There are also a lot of dog-safe toothpaste options, including this option that comes with a fingerbrush and toothbrush, so you should be able to find a favorite whether your dog loves beef, chicken, or fish.

Choose A Location

If you anticipate that your mischievous mutt might be a bit of a wriggler, choose your location wisely. A quiet corner with no opportunities for quick escape is best. You might also want to choose somewhere with wipeable surfaces if you don’t want to clean up turkey toothpaste squashed into the carpet or curtains.

Ask For Help

Eventually, brushing your dog’s teeth might be a one-person job, but that’s not usually the case on day one. So, it’s worth asking a calm family member, friend, or neighbor to give you a hand. If someone can gently and safely restrain your canine companion, it’ll make it much easier for you to focus on the job at hand… or mouth as the case might be.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Brushing your dog’s teeth isn’t just a new experience for you; it’s also a new and potentially scary experience for them. It’s important not to punish them if they’re not immediately compliant but reward good behavior with a tasty treat and lots of rubs.

Start Slow

Make sure you have plenty of time available before you start because it’s best not to rush. On the first attempt, try just getting your dog to lick some of the paste from your finger or the brush if they’re feeling brave. Once they’re calm and relaxed, you can build up to brushing a single tooth. Over time, you should be able to do more until you can brush all of their teeth in one sitting.

Brush The Teeth

When you brush each tooth, use up and down motions, and try to make sure you cover the entire surface of the tooth, rather than just the side that’s facing you. It’s also worth focusing on the gumline itself. However, you should take care because this area might be tender if your dog has gingivitis.

Don’t Push Your Luck

You should never ignore signals from your dog. If they are turning their head away, trying to get away, or even growling or trying to bite, they’re communicating that they’ve had enough. Continuing to brush their teeth despite them being uncomfortable does more harm than good in the long run. You might even make them less tolerant on your next attempt. So, as soon as you see signs that your dog wants you to stop, you should give them a break. You can always come back tomorrow and try again.

Make It Routine

Once you’ve started, it’s a good idea to make toothbrushing a regular part of your dog’s routine. Each time you do it, they should become more relaxed and comfortable. Eventually, they might even enjoy the bonding time and showing off their pearly whites.

Frequently Asked Questions

Person brushes side teeth behind cheek with special toothbrush and toothpaste for pets
Make sure you use a toothbrush and toothpaste specially made for dogs.

What can I use to brush my dog’s teeth?

Dog toothbrushes come in many forms, from finger brushes to long plastic toothbrushes. Which particular brush suits your pooch’s pearly whites depends on their temperament and the shape of their mouth. And remember, there’s nothing wrong with using an appropriately-sized human toothbrush, but you mustn’t use human toothpaste, as the fluoride is toxic to dogs. Choose a pet-safe toothpaste, available in several different meaty flavors to help your dog enjoy dental hygiene time.

What is the easiest way to brush a dog’s teeth?

A slow and gentle approach with treats for positive reinforcement helps to ensure you have the most success. Follow the steps in this article for some extra ideas. We have also heard that some pet parents have more success first thing in the morning or just before bed, when dogs are already in relaxation mode.

What should you do if your dog won’t let you brush its teeth?

If your dog doesn’t let you brush their teeth, you can try other ways to keep their mouth healthy. Feeding dry dog food is one of the most significant ways to improve your dog’s dental health. Dental diets and chews, doggy mouthwashes, and antibacterial gels can also be helpful.

Final Thoughts

It’s not just important for people to brush their teeth. It’s also important for them to brush their dog’s teeth. It might seem like a chore, but brushing your dog’s teeth has a hugely beneficial effect on their oral health and prevents painful gingivitis, serious infections, and teeth loss.

The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety or care advice. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, insurance expert, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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