5 Steps To Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth

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Hand brushing dog's teethAfter a long day, what dog owner doesn’t love the joyful welcome they receive from their beloved pets when they walk in the door? But when you bend down to greet your happy hound, does their bad doggy breath make you cringe?

That halitosis could be more than just a sign that Fido ate something he shouldn’t have. Often bad breath, just as for humans, is a sign that your dog’s dental health is not what it should be. So what does a responsible dog owner do?

Do You Really Need To Brush Your Dog’s Teeth?

Many doggy owners often ask, “do I really need to “brush” my dog’s teeth?” Can’t I just give them a dental chew or rawhide to clean their teeth? Well, the good news is that the occasional dog chew, if given responsibly to your pup, is a good idea but that’s not all she wrote. Lucky for dogs, they aren’t as prone to cavities as humans. However, veterinarians estimate that almost 85% of dogs over the age of 5 have periodontal disease.

What Is Periodontal Disease?

Just like us, our pets can develop periodontal disease when food particles get stuck in their teeth. These particles, along with bacteria, lead to plaque (cue toothpaste commercial music). This plaque, in turn, leads to deposits of rock-hard tartar along the gum line. If it isn’t removed, the tartar will irritate and inflame your doggie’s gums that then can begin to separate from the teeth. These separations become a haven for more bacteria and worsening periodontal disease. All of this can lead to severe pain for your dog, tooth loss, abscesses in their mouth, and/or bacterial infections that can spread throughout the bloodstream to the kidneys, liver, heart or brain. Unfortunately, periodontal disease is irreversible, but all of this can be helped or even prevented with regular dog teeth cleaning.

How Do I Brush My Dog’s Teeth?

The best advice is to take it slow and always reward your canine after so that they know good things come from having their teeth brushed. If you are a “puppy” owner, then you have the advantage of getting your dog used to this new routine early. If you have an older pup, you can still work this into your overall care regimen for your pet.

1. Get Your Dog Used To Your Finger In Its Mouth

Before using a brush or paste, you need to teach your dog that it can be fun to have your fingers in his mouth. Dip your finger in something like peanut butter (or anything else they like) and let your dog lick your finger. As they do this, gently rub your finger along the sides of the teeth and gums. Gently lift their lips as you would when brushing. Repeat a couple of times a day for 2-3 days. Towards the end of the process, introduce the doggie toothpaste you have chosen (do NOT use human toothpaste) to get them used to the smell and taste.

2. Open Your Dog’s Mouth

When your dog is comfortable with your fingers in his mouth, you can move on to teaching him to accept you opening his mouth. Make sure you have lots of treats on hand as positive reinforcement. Gradually work up to opening his mouth for just a few seconds, increasing the time slowly. Always reward with treats and do this 8-10 times a session over several days.

3. What To Do If He’s Fighting You

If your dog struggles during these exercises, gently but firmly continue to hold his muzzle until he stops. As soon as he stops struggling and holds still for one second, release his muzzle. You may have progressed a little too fast, so go back and practice the previous steps for a few more days. When he seems comfortable at that step for two or three days, try moving to the next step again.

4. Brush Teeth

Once you have gotten him used to you exploring his mouth and moving your fingers along teeth and gums, you can move on to brushing. Make sure that you start slowly once again and increase the time over days.

5. Reward

Again, always follow with favorite treats so that your pup is happy to let you brush his teeth.

Which Products Should I Use?

Nylabone Advanced Oral Care KitThere are many options for brushes and toothpaste out there for pups. Always pick something that is designed for a dog.

From toothbrushes that look like they are for humans to finger brushes, find one that fits comfortably in your dog’s mouth and is soft enough not to irritate their gums.

Doggie toothpaste comes in many flavors, including liver, mint, chicken and peanut butter. But, remember, NEVER use human toothpaste for a dog. Although your pooch may love the taste of mint, most human toothpaste has higher levels of fluoride in them. Your dog can develop fluoride toxicity much quicker than a human. Also, most human toothpaste has salts, detergents and baking soda, all of which can harm your dog’s teeth.

If you are not sure were to start, we recommend the Nylabone Advanced Oral Care Kit (View on Amazon)

How Often?

Dogs eat every day, and just like humans, it would be ideal to brush your pup’s teeth after every meal. In the real world, many of us would never have the time for this. Once a day is the best recommendation of brushing their teeth, but if your schedule is still tight, aim to brush several times a week. Try to brush for at least 30 seconds per side of their mouth during each session.

One important thing to note is that smaller dogs and pups with flat or short broad snouts (i.e., pugs, bulldogs, etc.) often require more frequent brushing. Because of their smaller mouths, these dogs’ teeth are more crowded together. They are more prone to plaque build-up and thus more likely to develop periodontal disease. Learn more about how often to brush from Pets Best Insurance:

Tips For Brushing Dogs Teeth

  • Start sooner than later with brushing your dog’s teeth. The sooner you start, the healthier their teeth will be throughout their whole life.
  • Regular annual vet exams that include a dental check-up are a good idea.
  • Hard dog food is better than soft on a daily basis as well as the occasional chew treats (given under owner supervision).
  • Do not try to overpower your furry friend or punish him if he resists tooth brushing. Forcing him to submit will only make him more reluctant to let you brush his teeth—and it might even cause defensive aggression. Instead, slowly and gently accustom your dog to tooth brushing.
  • If you need help learning how to brush your dog’s teeth, you can always consult a Certified Professional Dog Trainer to help you.
  • If you feel your dog needs a more intensive cleaning, take them to a professional veterinarian that has the right training and can properly administer anesthesia. Your pooch will thank you in the long run.

Cleaning Dogs Teeth Is Important

Remember that your dog’s overall dental health contributes to their general health and happiness. And as all good owners know: a healthy, happy dog makes us all smile.

How does your dog react to teeth brushing?

About The Author:

Nicole is a freelance writer and a hobby historian who has always had dogs in her life. For the last 12 years, she’s been the proud mom to 2 rescue pups: Angie and Dana. Her days wouldn’t be complete without their love, companionship and daily walks together.

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Kimberly L Alaniz
April 15, 2020 5:26 pm

Taking proper care of your dogs teeth is very important for their health. There are also treats such as dentastix you could purchase to give to your dog.

Mindy Jollie
October 21, 2019 1:31 pm

That’s a really good point that forcing your dog to submit to teeth brushing will just make her more resistant the next time. My friend has a dog that has some significant teeth problems and abscesses. They’ll have to take her in to see a veterinarian.

July 10, 2019 7:10 pm

I think it’s better to use a bamboo toothbrush for the petique fur baby. It’s safer and eco-friendly.

Lexie's mom
July 5, 2018 3:22 pm

Has anyone ever had their dog’s teeth professionally cleaned (and put under?). I just adopted a dog and her teeth are in pretty bad shape and needs to get few teeth pulled too. I’m sad that it will be painful for her but know it needs to get done and she’ll be much better as a result!

Kimberly Alt
July 5, 2018 3:24 pm
Reply to  Lexie's mom

We’ve never gotten Sally’s teeth cleaned. We give her Dentastix and Rawhides which help. She also loves her rope toy and that helps as well. The vet always raves about her teeth, but I know that some breeds can be predisposed to dental issues and require cleanings. Fortunately, that’s not the case for Sal. Sorry Lexie has to get her teeth pulled! 🙁

December 17, 2015 8:53 am

Hi, glad to see you mentioning the need to brush dog’s teeth as it is often overlooked by owners.