All You Ever Needed to Know: How to Brush Dogs’ Teeth


How to Brush Dogs’ Teeth

We all want the best for our pets. Most vets recommend brushing dogs’ teeth once a day, but how do you know if you’re even doing it right? Figuring out how, when, and with what to clean your dog’s teeth is half the battle. (The other half is getting him to stand still for thirty seconds!)

What Do Veterinarians Say About Brushing Dogs’ Teeth?

“Tooth brushing, ideally, should be performed daily,” says vet Anson Tsugawa, DACVD.

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) says that home dental care is one of the most important elements of a dog’s overall health. In addition to keeping your dog’s breath fresher, when you brush dog’s teeth, you’re keeping him healthy.

Not properly brushing your dog’s teeth can cause:

  • Bacteria build up in the mouth that can lead to inflammation or infection
  • Periodontal disease with painful irritation, often leading to tooth loss
  • Serious dental diseases that lead to heart, lung, and kidney disorders

But many pet owners wonder how to clean dogs’ teeth properly. Is it all about home care? Or do they need to take their dog to the vet for a thorough professional cleaning?

Turns out, it’s both.

“Generally, dogs should go for a professional exam with X-rays and a cleaning about once a year starting at the age of three,” says veterinarian Dr. Cindy Bressler.

What to Know About Professional Teeth Cleaning for Dogs

Many professional vets suggest that in addition to brushing dogs’ teeth at home, pet owners should take their animals in to have their teeth professionally cleaned at least once every few years, depending on breed and overall health.

How do vets brush dogs’ teeth?

All professional teeth cleanings start with an oral exam by your regular veterinarian or an oral specialist, if advised. This is a great time to ask questions. If your dog has never been put to sleep, a blood sample will likely be drawn to ensure your dog is healthy enough to undergo anesthesia. While under anesthesia, a vet or vet tech will likely perform a complete oral exam, take x-rays of the teeth and gum line, perform a full under-gum cleaning using specialized tools, and polish the teeth and crown.

Is it safe to let a vet clean my dog’s teeth?

In most cases, yes! The biggest concern for most pet owners is over the process of anesthesia; if you’re worried about whether anesthesia is appropriate for your dog, talk to your vet about options for non-anesthetic teeth cleaning. Dogs do not typically have any pain from a regular teeth cleaning (although they might have some pain if they need to have a tooth pulled) and are usually able to go home and eat normally immediately following the procedure. The whole procedure takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.

What does dog teeth cleaning cost?

The cost will depend on a variety of factors such as the health of your dog, his size, your location, and the specific veterinarian’s office. You can expect to pay anywhere from $200 to over $8,000 for the procedure, depending on these factors. In some cases, the cost of x-rays is extra, running $200-$300 more. Although some dog owners choose not to shell out for x-rays during every professional cleaning, they should be considered a critical part of any holistic dental care routine. If your dog needs specialized care (such as teeth extractions), the cost could run $1,500 or more.

How to Brush Dogs’ Teeth at Home

In addition to a professional teeth cleaning every 1-3 years (as recommended by your vet), you should aim to brush dogs’ teeth at home every day if possible. Of course, if every day isn’t feasible, try to do it is often as possible. Vets agree: Some teeth brushing is better than none!

Teeth-Cleaning Supplies to Keep at Home for Your Dog

Before you begin a regular dental cleaning regimen for your dog, you need to gather your materials. Remember that dogs require their own tools and cleaning agents; human products could actually make them sick. Each dog in your household should have his own set of teeth-cleaning supplies.

Required Supplies:

Toothbrush – Choose a toothbrush with soft bristles and preferably with a shorter handle to make it easier to maneuver. Some brushes have bristles on both sides. Some dog toothbrushes are actually “finger brushes” made of rubber that slip over your finger. Toothbrushes come in all shapes and sizes; whichever feels the most comfortable for you is usually the best choice.

Toothpaste – Do NOT use regular human toothpaste on your dog as it likely contains fluoride which can be toxic to your pet. Choose a doggy toothpaste with chlorhexidine, hexametaphosphate, or zinc gluconate for best results. If you’re worried your dog will be averse to the taste, pick a toothpaste with a dog-centric flavor profile such as beef or chicken.

Optional Supplies:

Sponges/Pads – Some dogs just never warm up to the notion of a toothbrush in their mouth. Teeth sponges and pads might be a useful solution. Both are softer than toothbrushes and can be more easily maneuvered inside a dog’s mouth.

Oral Rinse/Gel – Much like human mouthwash, rinses and gels can disperse plaque-fighting agents (typically chlorhexidine) inside your dog’s mouth. If your dog doesn’t mind the taste, squirt a small amount of rinse or gel inside their gum line a few times a week.

Dental Chews – Specially-shaped dental chews – both toys and treats – can help knock and grind plaque off your dog’s teeth. Allowing your dog to regularly chew on items designed with teeth-cleaning in mind can be a welcome supplement to home teeth cleaning.

Step-by-Step Guide to Brushing Dogs’ Teeth Correctly

  • Step 1: Pick the Right Time and Place
    • It’s best to start an oral routine as early as possible, preferably at just a few months old. When your dog grows up having his teeth brushed, he’ll recognize it as a normal part of his routine. A few days before you plan to begin teeth brushing, gather your supplies. Most vets recommend you first approach your dog for teeth brushing when he’s tired – maybe after a long walk or run. Choose a location that’s comfortable and well-lit, and aim to brush at the same time in the same spot day after day. Dogs love routine!
  • Step 2: Get Your Dog Comfortable
    • Before you launch into a regular dental care routine, you need to make sure your pet is at ease with the idea of a foreign object in his mouth. For adult dogs especially, the idea of being restrained while poked and prodded can feel very uncomfortable. On day one, squirt a small amount of toothpaste onto your finger and gently rub your dog’s gums. If he resists, stop! It may take several days to get your dog to cooperate (and if he still won’t, it might be smart to try a different flavor of toothpaste.) Be sure to reward him with a treat when you’re finished so he learns to associate the process with positivity.
  • Step 3: Introduce the Brush
    • Once you think your dog is ready, break out the real deal: the doggy toothbrush. Using your soft-bristled brush and a small amount of toothpaste, brush your dog’s entire mouth using a circular motion. It may be helpful to start in the back of the mouth and work your way forward – and don’t forget the back of his teeth, too. Concentrate on his molars which are where plaque tends to build up. Remember, it may not go smoothly the first few times. Be patient and persistent! The key to effectively brushing dogs’ teeth is repetition.
  • Step 4: Reward and Reassure
    • As your dog gradually becomes more comfortable with the process of teeth brushing, it’s important to reward and reassure him. Offer positive words and lots of pets during the actual process, and try to stop before your dog becomes too resistant. If you feel like you’re using a lot of force to get him to cooperate, take a break and try again tomorrow. Try to work up to about 1-2 minutes of teeth brushing a day, and always end with a small, treat. Once a week, switch out the reward for a tooth-friendly chew treat or toy that will supplement your teeth cleaning efforts.
  • Step 5: Regularly Check for Oral Issues
    • Since your dog likely only goes to the vet once or twice a year, it’s important for you to be his oral healthcare advocate. During brushings, look for obvious signs of impending dental problems that could spell trouble down the road:
      • Bad Breath – Your dog’s breath will never smell minty clean but if you notice a sour, acrid smell, take note. This could be a sign of periodontal disease and if it persists or get worse, call the vet.
      • Plaque – Everyone has plaque – even you! – but if your dog’s plaque buildup becomes extreme, it’s probably time for a professional cleaning. Look for white or beige-colored buildup towards the base of the teeth, and call the vet if it seems to be getting worse.
      • Inflamed/Bleeding Gums – A little bleeding now and then is normal, but excessively bloody gums or red, tender gums can be a sign of a bacterial infection that can lead to serious diseases. You might not notice blood during brushing, but keep an eye out on his toys and in his water bowl.
      • Abscesses – If you’re brushing regularly, you’ll probably notice if part of your dog’s mouth, jaw, or facial area looks swollen or abscessed. This could be a simple fluid pocket, an infection, or even a tumor, but should always be addressed by a vet.
      • Loose Teeth – Keep an eye out for particularly loose or “rotten” looking teeth. A first sign might be that your dog no longer chews his food, or only seems to chew on one side of his mouth. Rotten, infected gums can be painful and the teeth may be need to be pulled out by a vet.

Facts About Your Dog’s Teeth

Dogs’ teeth are fascinating. They’re stronger and more resilient than human teeth, and they’re built to last. Here are some of the most interesting facts about the canine mouth:

  • Adult dogs have 42 teeth: 20 on the top and 22 on the bottom. As puppies, dog’s only have 28 teeth, 14 each on the top and bottom. These start to fall out at about 4 months old and are replaced with permanent teeth.
  • By age 3, 80% of dogs will start to exhibit signs of periodontal disease. That’s as good a reason as any to regularly brush dogs’ teeth!
  • Dogs don’t really get cavities. Not only do they steer clear of candy, the surface of their teeth is different from ours in texture and hardness and their saliva has a higher pH value.
  • Are dogs’ mouths really cleaner? Well, sort of. Human mouths do have many million more germs than dogs, but they’re different types of microbial flora so it’s not a good idea to share food or kiss your dog on the mouth.
  • Sneezing or a runny nose can actually be a sign of a tooth infection!
  • Small breed dogs are more likely than large dogs to get gum disease because their teeth are often “too large” for their mouths to properly clean.
  • Good dental hygiene can actually add as much as 2-4 years to your dog’s life. Gum disease can be a precursor to serious issues like heart, liver, or kidney disease.

Questions to Ask the Vet About Your Dog’s Mouth

It’s important to have regular discussions with your vet about the overall health of your pet, including his mouth. By just a few years old, a vast majority of dogs are starting to show signs of oral disease – here are a few questions to ask your vet so you’re informed and prepared.

  • Is my dog showing any signs of periodontal disease?
  • Are there any parts of my dog’s mouth I should be paying special attention to?
  • Does my dog have any “extra” teeth (such as baby teeth that never fell out) that need to be removed?
  • Do you recommend a specific brand/kind of dog toothpaste?
  • Which dental toys and chews have you found work the best to prevent plaque?
  • How is my dog’s breath in relation to other dogs you treat?
  • Should I consider putting my dog on a specially-formulated ‘dental diet’ food brand?
  • How much does dog teeth cleaning cost at your office?
  • How often do I need to have his teeth professionally cleaned?
  • Do you perform teeth cleaning here at the office or at a special facility?
  • Are there anesthesia-free options for cleaning my dog’s teeth?
  • Should I consider pet dental insurance? Is it something a lot of your clients have?

Brushing Dogs’ Teeth Improves their Overall Health

Thinking about implementing a home oral care routine for your dog? Smart move! Helping your dog maintain a healthy, functioning mouth is one of the kindest things you can do as a pet owner.

Does your dog love having his teeth brushed? Tell us about your dog’s pearly whites in the comments section below, and happy brushing!




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