How To Brush Your Dog’s Teeth

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Brushing your dog’s teeth regularly should be part of his grooming routine. Not only does it prevent bad breath, it also ensures that his little teeth and gums will be safe from decay & infections. Read on to learn the safest & most effective way to get those pearly whites clean and keep them that way!

Plaque on a dog’s teeth; Pixabay

Benefits of brushing your dog’s teeth regularly

In adult dogs, the primary dental problems to watch out for are gum irritation and infections. Just like in humans, plaque will build up on your dog’s teeth and turn into tartar if he doesn’t get regular brushing. In senior dogs, there is the additional risks of toothaches and loss of teeth.

While uncommon, gum infections can spread to other parts of your dog’s body, specifically to the heart (a condition known as infective endocarditis) or other structures nearby the teeth, like the ear or brain.

Brushing your dog’s teeth is a very simple and effective way to maintain good oral hygiene and prevent all these problems. Experts recommend daily brushing of teeth, but even 2-3x a week of a quick (30-60 seconds) brushing will make a world of difference for your dog’s dental and overall health.

Preparing to brush your dog’s teeth

Consult your veterinarian. For adult dogs who have never had their teeth cleaned, seeing a veterinarian first is a good idea. The vet can check for the presence and severity of tartar, any loose teeth, bleeding in the mouth and signs of gum infection. If present, your dog may need professional dental treatment first. Puppies, on the other hand, can be started on regular teeth brushing as early as 2 months old; getting them accustomed to having their teeth being touched and cleaned early on is good practice.

Get him a toothbrush, any toothbrush that is soft-bristled will work, and it should be replaced every 1-3 months or whenever there’s significant wear on it. Using old toothbrushes lying around your house is not a good idea. Those will be worn out, possibly hurting your dog’s teeth & gums, and will likely have a significant amount of bacteria on them. Another option is a finger toothbrush, which will be less effective at cleaning your dog’s teeth but is easier to manipulate.

Get him some toothpaste. Dogs will not have the instinct to spit out the toothpaste once it’s in their mouth, they will swallow a lot of it. Human toothpaste has xylitol and other chemicals that are not meant to be swallowed. Doggy toothpaste, on the other hand, is made with safer ingredients and comes in flavors that will be pleasant for your dog, such as poultry or peanut butter.

How to brush your dog’s teeth

Baby steps. Let your dog get used to the idea of his teeth getting brushed slowly. First, (with your fingers) just touch his teeth and around his mouth for a day or two, then try touching his gums gently the next day or two. Once he’s comfortable with this, allow him to taste the toothpaste (minimal amount) once a day for 2-3 days. This will teach him not to be afraid of it, and you’ll be able to tell from his reaction if he likes the taste of the toothpaste, or if you should get a different flavor. Next, show him the toothbrush, bring it closer to his mouth and let him smell or lick it. All these steps should be done for only a couple of minutes each day, and it’ll take about 7-10 days to go through all the steps. That’s okay, there’s no rush. You’re trying to start a lifelong routine for him, and the goal is to get him to tolerate the process enough that he’s calm whenever you brush his teeth.

Brush a few teeth only to start. Using the toothbrush with toothpaste, brush the outer surface of his front teeth (incisors) with gentle strokes. You can raise his lip with the fingers of your other hand for better access. Explain what you’re doing to him in a soft, reassuring voice. Do this for only 30-60 seconds, then finish up by praising him for being a good boy and giving him some treats. Over the next few days, brush a little bit more teeth each time until you’re able to get to the back teeth as well, and for a slightly longer amount of time up to a maximum of two minutes. Always end with giving him praise & treats. He should be relatively cooperative and calm throughout this entire process. If he gets too agitated, stop the process and resume the next day.

Brushing the inner surfaces. The inner surfaces of teeth of your dog may be somewhat of a challenge at first. The trick here is getting your dog to open his mouth with just a little pressure, without forcing it open. Be gentle, try brushing the inner surfaces of just the front teeth first, then a few more teeth each time, giving treats at the end of each session. There is less build up of tartar on the inner surfaces of dog’s teeth because their coarse, dry tongues are able to sweep away food debris there, but getting a brushing would be a big difference nonetheless.

Progress to full tooth brushing. Once you’ve gone through the above steps, and your dog has been able to remain relatively calm through it, you can progress. A full brushing of your dog’s teeth shouldn’t take more than two minutes. This is the amount of time to get a good brushing in while making sure your dog doesn’t get too uncomfortable. Make sure to get the back teeth (canines & molars) where there tends to be a heavier build-up of tartar.

Things to watch out for. If you catch any bleeding while brushing his teeth, stop and take a closer look. Minimal bleeding is okay and it should stop on its own within 2-3 minutes. Significant bleeding, or bleeding that doesn’t stop could mean that you’re brushing his teeth too forcefully or that he has gum disease. Stop the process and see a vet. Similarly, watch out for any wincing in your dog. If he winces when you brush a certain spot, he might have a gum problem in that spot. Most dogs won’t like their teeth being touched or brushed but will tolerate the process eventually. If your dog doesn’t tolerate the process even after following the above steps, seeing a veterinarian will shed some light on the matter.

Other tips

  • Only attempt the brushing when your dog is relaxed. For the process of brushing your dog’s teeth to be as painless as possible, for both you and him, stop whenever he gets too agitated and pick up where you left off the next day. Most dogs will get accustomed to the idea and will be more cooperative over time.
  • Make it a routine. Picking a certain time of day (and/or certain days of the week if you’re not able to brush his teeth daily) will ensure that you remember to accomplish this task, and will also make your dog more cooperative. Especially if he knows he’s gonna get treats afterwards!
  • Dry dog food is better for dental health. Compared to wet dog food, kibble (dry dog food) will stick to your dog’s teeth less and won’t build up as much plaque.
  • Chew toys help keep a dog’s teeth clean, and will keep him entertained of course!
  • Professional teeth cleaning at least once a year is a must for all dogs, even with regular brushing of teeth at home. This is the only way to get rid of tartar that has hardened in difficult-to-reach places.

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