Introduction: How to Brush Your Dog's Teeth

While dogs rarely get cavities, plaque and tartar on your dog's teeth can lead to serious problems. Gum disease can be painful and cause tooth loss, bone loss, bad breath and infection. The bacteria that grow in an infected gum can also spread to other parts of a dog's body and cause endocarditis (heart valve infection), kidney and liver damage.

Before starting an at-home oral care regime for your dog, I suggest you have a vet look at her teeth and determine what level of build-up is present. If there is tartar build-up, they might remove it with a scaler, usually while your pet is anesthetized. It is important that you never try this at home as the vet removes plaque from both above and below the gumline while at home you can only reach what they eye can see.

After you are given the ok by your vet, you are ready to start getting your dog accustomed to brushing.

It's worth noting that some dogs are predisposed to extreme tartar production due to hereditary traits passed on through generations. If your dog seems to have recurring tartar issues, discuss with your vet how best to proceed.

Step 1: Supplies You'll Need

Dog toothpaste, see note below*
Gauze pads (optional)
Soft finger toothbrush or soft small-head toothbrush
Treats, commercial dog treats, string cheese, hot dogs or anything else your dog likes and that you can dole out in small portions

  • It is very important to only use a toothpaste made especially for pets. There are many different flavors and varieties available at pet supply stores. However, I highly recommend the CET brand pet toothpaste as it works enzymatically rather than with an abrasive cleanser like some other brands.

Step 2: Acclimate Your Dog to a Finger in His Mouth

Using just your finger, touch/rub the outside of your dog's lips, praising him and stopping to give him a treat. Proceed to rubbing your dog's gums and teeth with only your finger.

If you'd like, you can wrap a gauze pad around your finger to lightly clean the teeth and gums during this step or use a pet toothwipe. Be sure to praise and treat your dog after each step.

Do this once a day for a week or so or until your dog is comfortable with your fingers in his mouth, then proceed on.

Step 3: Acclimate Your Dog to Toothbrush in His Mouth

Using a dry brush, lightly touch your dogs lips and teeth. Treat and praise your dog while he is calm. If this step goes well, move on to the next step: adding toothpaste. If at any time your dog gets agitated, take a step back and get him used to the previous step.

Step 4: Add Toothpaste and Increase Duration

Using a small amount of toothpaste on your brush, lightly brush your dog's teeth, paying special attention to the back molars where tartar builds up readily. The inside of the teeth does not accumulate as much tartar so it is most important to brush the outside surfaces.

Work up to brushing for 30 seconds on each side of the mouth.

Step 5: Other Options

If your dog simply hates this activity even after the acclimation period (give it at least a month before giving up), there are other options though they are not as good as daily brushing at keeping plaque at bay.

Food and treats designed to keep plaque from accumulating.
You may have heard as long as your dog eats crunchy food then they're fine. This is not true as most foods are not crunchy enough or in the mouth long enough to have any effect. There are a few foods and treats, however, that carry the Veterinary Oral Health's Council seal of acceptance which have been shown to reduce the accumulation of tartar and plaque. Check for this seal before believing your dogs teeth are being protected.

Dental toys
Chew toys that are billed as dental care devices may or may not work. But if you truly can't brush your dog's teeth, anything is better than nothing.

Water additives
There are also solutions that you add to your pet's drinking water. These reduce the bacterial growth within the mouth which reduces tartar buildup. I know some people who have had great results using this kind of product. One brand is Aquadent.

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