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How to brush a dog’s teeth – A vet’s guide

How to brush a dog's teeth
(Image credit: Getty)

No one likes bad breath or a dirty mouth!  But that’s the reality for many of our pets, because the majority of dogs start to develop dental disease by the time they are three years old.  And it’s not just bad breath that you have to worry about. The spread of bacteria from the mouth can lead to issues in other areas of the body, too.  That’s why it’s so important to brush your dog’s teeth daily to prevent plaque buildup. While it may seem like a daunting task, it’s easy to learn how to brush a dog’s teeth. Many dogs can learn to love this part of their daily routine, and with the right tools and training you can learn to love it too!

Choosing the best products to brush your dog's teeth

When you start brushing your dog’s teeth, make sure you choose products that are specifically made for pets. Human toothpaste is not intended to be swallowed, so it should never be used for a dog – your dog doesn’t know to spit it out!  Instead, look for pet-specific toothpastes at your local pet store or online, or ask your veterinarian for a product recommendation. Pet toothpastes come in many flavors, so you’ll be sure to find something your dog will enjoy!

Choosing a toothbrush for your dog is mostly a matter of personal preference.  When you’re first starting out, you may find it easiest to simply put the toothpaste on your finger and use that like a toothbrush to gently scrub your dog’s teeth. You can also use a regular toothbrush or a finger brush if you prefer. If you’ve never brushed your dog’s teeth before, try experimenting with the different options to find which one is most comfortable for both you and your dog.

Start brushing your dog's teeth as early as possible

Puppies are naturally curious about the world around them and they are very open to new experiences. Puppyhood is a critical time for your dog to learn new things that he will carry with him later in life. If you can introduce your dog to the process of tooth brushing at a young age, it will be much easier to carry on this routine throughout your dog’s life.

With puppies, it is especially important to keep your brushing sessions short and positive. Any negative experiences during this time can make your puppy more resistant to brushing in the future! Give your puppy time to explore the toothbrush and toothpaste and offer lots of positive rewards. Limit your sessions to no more than a few minutes, so your puppy will always look forward to more.

How to brush a dog's teeth

To brush your dog’s teeth, start by allowing your dog to smell and taste the toothpaste. Once your dog is interested, put a little of the toothpaste on your finger or a toothbrush and gently lift your dog’s lip. Carefully brush back and forth across a few teeth, then stop and allow your dog a moment to taste the toothpaste. Be sure to offer lots of praise and even a treat or two, so your dog knows that everything is okay.

At first, you may only be able to brush a few teeth at a time, and that’s okay! Over time, you can gradually work up to longer brushing sessions, until you’re able to clean your dog’s whole mouth in one sitting. Try to focus most of your brushing along the gum line, where bacteria and food material often accumulate and causing irritation and infection. Be careful how much pressure you apply – too much and you may irritate your dog’s gums and cause bleeding or pain; too little and you may not be effectively removing plaque. Using a pressure similar to how you brush your own teeth will be effective, but you may need to give your dog time to get used to this sensation.

Establish a home dental care routine for your dog

Brushing your dog’s teeth is the best way to prevent dental disease. Ideally, your dog’s teeth should be brushed at least once a day. But if your dog is not ready for that yet, even brushing a few times a week is better than no brushing at all!

In addition to brushing, consider using other dental products for complete oral health coverage. Dental treats, diets, and water additives can all help prevent new plaque formation and keep your dog’s breath smelling fresh. These products are not a substitute for daily brushing, but may help slow the progression of dental disease.  To find the best products, look for those labeled with the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal, which indicates that the product has been tested and proven to reduce plaque formation.

Don’t forget that your dog needs regular veterinary care to keep his mouth clean and healthy. Check-ups with your vet at least once a year are essential to monitor your dog’s oral health and catch potential problems early. Your veterinarian can also show you how to brush a dog’s teeth if you’re having trouble at home.

Daily brushing: The best way to keep your dog healthy

Brushing your dog’s teeth doesn’t have to be scary! By starting gradually and keeping the experience positive for your dog, you’ll soon be able to maintain a daily brushing routine with ease. Remember that regular brushing is only one part of maintaining your dog’s oral health. By combining daily brushing with other dental care products and regular veterinary visits, you’ll be sure that your pup has the healthiest mouth possible.

Elizabeth Racine, DVM

Since obtaining her doctorate in veterinary medicine, Dr. Racine has worked exclusively in small animal general practice. Her work has been featured in blog posts, articles, newsletters, journals, and even video scripts.