HEALTH & CARE

Brushing Dogs Teeth: A Perfect Dental Care

Brushing dogs teeth
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

Even though dogs do not have as many problems with cavities as we humans do, they can still develop many problems like tartar, gingivitis and plaque. That is why it is very important to take care of your dog’s teeth since these dental problems can lead to infections and other serious health problems. Try to make things easier for yourself by making your puppy comfortable with a toothbrush and you will have less difficulty with it later in life.

Additionally, taking your beloved dog to the vet can cost a fortune, and even though a good check-up is very important, you will learn that brushing dogs teeth at home, in a cozy environment, is not that difficult. It is important that you do not use a paste made for human consumption, because some of its ingredients can be harmful to your pet. You should also get a toothbrush from a pet shop, or if this does not work for your dog, a piece of clean gauze or your fingers can be used instead.

Infographic dog teeth facts

If you want to prevent your dog’s gums getting inflamed and other complications that can threaten your dog’s life then checking out this guide will be worth your time. You should also remember that even if you take your pet to the doggie dentist, the dog will have to be put under anesthesia, having in mind that there is no dog in this world that would “open wide” and be still while someone is working on their teeth. And when the pain is included too, you can imagine a disaster. This article will give you a few tips and offer you a guide to the perfect dental care of your dog.

Cleaning dogs teeth at home – when to do it

You should brush your dog’s teeth daily, however, if you are unable to do so due to your schedule, you should then at least make sure to do it several times at week. You should also take a good look at the dog’s teeth, gums and mouth in general. If you see anything suspicious, going to the vet is a must. That includes bad breath, depression and excessive drooling. If your dog changes its chewing or eating habits, that is alarming and if the gums are red and swollen then you know what to do.

You should also pay attention whether there are any missing, misaligned, broken or discolored teeth, bumps or tartar along the gum line. If you notice any of these dental signs then take your dog to the vet because there is nothing that you can do about it at home, the same goes for humans. That is why careful dental care can prevent all of this.

Go to the vet if:

  • Your dog has bad breath;
  • It changes its eating and chewing habits;
  • The dog seems depressed;
  • It has red, swollen or bleeding gums;
  • There are suspicious bumps in the mouth;
  • Some of the teeth are discolored, missing, broken, crooked etc;
  • There is tartar or plaque around the gum line;
  • The dog keeps drooling all the time;
  • The dog keeps pawing at the mouth.

All of these signs mean that there is something wrong and that the vet should take a look instead. However, many of these, if not all, can be prevented by the careful dental care.
And you can do so by reading our more detailed article on periodontal disease in dogs and the symptoms to look out for.

Brushing at home

One of the things that can prevent these problems and also be a healthy option is that you should give your dog crunchy kibble and avoid soft food since the soft food is more likely to get stuck between the teeth and cause problems. Also, feeding your dog raw bones and meat can prove healthier since there are no dangerous ingredients like there are in the kibble. As you know, eating bad food is a disaster for your teeth and gums, the same goes for your dog.

Before you start

Firstly and most importantly, you need to start as soon as possible because as the dog gets older it gets more and more difficult to get it used to the brushing. You also need to teach your pet that there is always a reward after the teeth brushing – which means that a tasty treat will follow and your dog will keep looking forward to it. Never punish your dog or force him – this can result in both psychological and physical pain – and that is something that any pet lover would like to avoid. You must always be patient and take it slow.

Secondly, cleaning dogs teeth at home can be easy if you prepare your dog by getting him used to your fingers first and then to the toothbrush. You can practice this for a couple of days and then switch to the toothbrush or gauze. You can also dip your fingers into something delicious and then gradually switch to the paste. This may be even the best way to clean a dog’s teeth since a sudden brushing can make them nervous or angry.

Some dogs dislike the pastes that can be bought at the pet shops, and that is why you should find the most suitable flavor. Just do not forget to never use the regular tooth paste for humans. It is better if you choose the toothbrush with angled handles and with multiple heads because then you can stimulate and clean both the inner, outer and top surfaces of the teeth.
Want to avoid the struggles of brushing your dog’s teeth? We have a great article listing some of the best dog toothpastes to consider trying out on your pooch. You may find one he really likes!

Do not use baking soda for brushing because it has a high alkaline content that can upset your dog’s stomach plus dogs almost always swallow toothpastes, which is another reason to purchase only the ones at specialized pet shops.

Additionally, if your dog starts acting strange after all this or after the actual brushing, and starts hiding, drooling, trembling, whining, panting,  growling, snarling, snapping or biting, contact the vet immediately.

How to do it

If you have finally prepared yourself and your dog, then it is time for the main event: learning how to clean your dog’s teeth at home.

  1. Open wide your dog’s jaw. Make sure that he is comfortable before you proceed. Gather all of the delicious threats (chicken, beef, cheese etc.) and keep them as a reward. Choose the place that is quiet and cozy and that there is nothing that will keep attracting your dog’s attention. You should not be nervous, pushy or impatient. Speak softly to the pet and try out a couple of exercises.
  2. Put one hand underneath your dog’s chin and the other one over the top of its muzzle but do not open the mouth. Just release the muzzle and give him one of the treats. Repeat this exercise as many times as it is needed. It all depends on your dog’s personality, behavior and age. Some dogs probably do not even need this kind of practice; you will know this for best. However, if your dog is one of those shy, nervous or dubious pets, then repeating this for 7-10 times a day should be encouraged.
  3. Repeat Step 2 but do not release the muzzle. Keep your hand on top of it and gently lift the lips so the teeth will be visible and exposed. Then let go of it and do not forget to praise your dog for being good. Repeat this exercise for as many times as you think you should. Give him a reward and pet him.
  4. Repeat Step 3 and get your dog used to having you hold his jaw and lips for a prolonged period of time so you can take a better look at the teeth. Slowly increase the time you hold your dog’s muzzle. Start with two seconds, then five seconds, then ten seconds and so on. You can do it during one day or over a couple of days. You are the one who knows the dog and you should decide when is the right moment to go to the next level.
  5. Now you position your hands just as before – put one hand under the bottom jaw and the other one on the top of his muzzle. However, when you lift the lips, do not do only that, but lift the mouth slowly as well.
    Touch your finger instead and pay attention to the way your pet reacts. Is he confused, nervous or annoyed? Or maybe he finds it normal so you can proceed. Repeat the sessions and each time try to hold it wide enough in order to see the back teeth. Do not open wide enough to cause discomfort or pain though. That is why you must do it slowly and carefully.
  6. Repeat all of these steps as much as you think fit. The exercises can take a couple of days or even weeks. If a dog is not too dubious and trusts you, you may even do it during one day.
    However, it is advisable not to progress too fast, because these exercises are for relaxing the dog and preparing him for the actual brushing. Do not skip these steps, even if you think you know your dog, if you have never brushed your dog’s teeth before you can never know what the reaction can be. Better be safe than sorry.

The actual brushing:

Prepare your dog’s toothbrush/gauze /sponge, toothpaste and the treats. Your dog may even be kept on a leash in order to limit his movements during the actual brushing.

Nylabone Advanced Oral Care Natural Dog Dental Kit

It is important that the dog feels comfortable, no matter if he sits or lies down.

  1. Put the toothpaste on the clean brush, gauze or sponge. Place your hand on the top of the muzzle and gently lift the lips. Then start brushing and rubbing a few teeth with the other hand. It is okay if the dog keeps the jaws closed, you just need to focus on cleaning the outer surfaces of his teeth and gums. If he has been still all the time, reward him with a tasty treat and then end the brushing session.
  2. Repeat Step 1 and slowly increase the time you spend brushing so you can eventually be able to brush the outer surfaces of all the dog’s teeth during only one brushing session.
  3. If your dog gets comfortable about you rubbing his teeth when his jaws are closed, you should try out opening his jaws so you can reach inside the mouth and brush the inner surfaces of the teeth. Gently put your hand on the muzzle, like before, and open the mouth. After you finish the brushing, (which should last at least a couple of minutes but not more than 5 minutes), praise him and feed him a treat. That way he will learn that something delicious comes after a tremendous brushing session and it will be easier to make him still.
    Also, even if giving treats seems pointless during or after the brushing, it is better if he gets a small snack than to go without teeth brushing at all.
  4. Finally, you can alternate between brushing the outer and inner surfaces of your dog’s teeth. Keep the sessions as short as possible and do not forget to reward your doggie. He may even start liking the teeth brushing and ask for more.

If the dog for some reason starts struggling during the exercises or actual brushing, gently but firmly put your hand on the muzzle and hold the dog still.

Cleaning dog's teeth

When he calms down, release the muzzle and make the sessions shorter until he feels comfortable again.

Important doggie tips

  • Dogs over 5 years old are usually the ones that get affected by the periodontal disease and other dental problems; however, it is really for the best if you get your dog used to the regular teeth brushing when he is a puppy. This will make your life easier and your dog’s teeth healthier;
  • Always take your dog to the vet for an annual check-up at least. As your dog becomes older, the vet may suggest the professional brushing which is usually done under the anesthesia. Some pet owners even choose to use the scaler or scraper at home; which is a special tool used by dentist. However, this requires special training and you can hurt your dog if you are not careful;
  • Avoid feeding your dog soft food – canned kibble for example, because soft food increases the risks of plaque and bacteria in the mouth. Some pet owners even choose the raw food diet, because this food does not possess preservatives and additives as the kibble food does. It is also important to let your dog chew bones (not the old or cooked ones!) as much as possible – this makes their gums strong.
  • If the article is not enough for you, do not hesitate reaching for help and contacting a qualified trainer or vet.
  • If you are unsure about which products to use for the dog oral care, then you can check out this list of dental products that have been accepted by the Veterinary Oral Health Counsel and they can be found on www.vohc.org. These products have been all accepted and they have shown a decrease of the accumulation of plaque and/or tartar by at least 20%.
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water after touching, rubbing or brushing your pet’s mouth. It is also important to wash and rinse the toothbrush thoroughly after using it, just like you do yours. If you have more than one dog, you must have a different toothbrush for each one of them.
  • You must stop the brushing sessions if, at any time, your dog starts acting strange or shows any signs of aggression and fear. If the dog starts hiding, drooling, trembling, whining, panting,  growling, snarling, snapping or biting, contact the vet immediately because something is wrong. It could be a dental problem or it could be a negative reaction to the toothpaste. Whichever it is, do not continue doing it.

To sum up, it is very important to brush your dog’s teeth, just as it is important for humans to do it. Dogs’ teeth may not be prone to as many dental diseases as humans’ are; however, it is possible and some of the dental problems can even put your beloved pet’s life in danger.

You can always seek a professional vet or trainer to brush your dog’s teeth, but why to pay a lot of money when you can learn to do it at home for free?
However, if your dog is still not taking to the process, you can still help by considering other options. Please read our article on the best dog dental chews to help maintain your pooch’s healthy teeth and gums.

Dog at the dentist

If your dog is very small, you can even hold it in your lap, but do not forget to choose a quiet place and time and to never force or push your dog. Always praise, pet and reward him with treats. It is only you who can make this experience as painless as possible for your dog and nobody else. If you succeed and follow all of the steps from this article, your dog and you will smile happily for a long time.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.

  • May Walker

    Oh dear, I’m ashamed to say that the oral hygiene of our dogs aren’t exactly given much significance. But thanks to this article I believe it’s time for some change and actually checking up our pup’s oral hygiene is one of them.

    • Wyatt Robinson

      It is never too late, May! Thank you for taking the time to read and understand the importance of oral hygiene in dogs because it is really important in promoting their health.

  • Amber Hart

    I know that there’s a difference between actually brushing the teeth and giving the teeth attention one by one… but since our dogs really, really hate the idea of something foreign that isn’t food near their mouth then we had to have an alternative. So we use natural bone and antler to have our dogs chew on them, they’re great t=for the pooches’ teeth since the bone cleans the teeth. We also have rope toys and they function quite similar to floss since they go in between the teeth and clean our dogs’ teeth as well. Our vet praised our dog’s teeth the other day. Totally worth it!

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Just be careful with the rope toys as they can bruise the dog’s gums. There are some rope toys that are gentle to the mouth, while others can be too hard and abrasive.

  • Cate Turner

    According to our vet, good food and horns (or real bone with marrow) can go a long way in contributing to a dog’s dental health. We’ve never brushed our dog’s teeth because they’ve never needed it (according to our vet)! Well once in a while we do give them a nylabone with doggie toothpaste smeared on it but that’s just making sure things in his mouth are nice and clean. Proper food and bones, they do a lot!

    • Wyatt Robinson

      I wholeheartedly agree with proper food and bones utilization in promoting good oral health. It is the best management you can do. I am more than happy that nowadays, more and more pet parents are becoming concerned about the oral health of their dogs.

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