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Brushing Dogs' Teeth: 6 Steps to Keeping Your Pup’s Teeth Clean

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Your dog's dental health is extremely important, and it's about much more than preventing bad breath. Your pup's oral health is a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to his or her overall health. If their dental care is overlooked, serious health problems can take hold and affect your dog's well-being. 

Your dog needs that same level of dental care you do. Most veterinarians recommend you brush Fido's pearly whites at least once a day. This will keep plaque and tartar at bay so your dog's mouth stays as clean as possible. 

Of course, brushing dogs' teeth isn't as simple as grabbing toothpaste and a spare toothbrush from your bathroom counter and going to town. In fact, that approach could present serious health risks to your dog — more on this later. So what is the proper way to brush your canine companion's chompers? 

Read on to find out more about the importance of good dental care for dogs and how to brush your dog's teeth the right way. 

The Importance of Proper Dental Care

It's safe to say your dog's breath probably won't ever smell like a field of lilies on a spring day. With that being said, regular tooth brushing can help the breath stay as fresh as possible when your dog gives you a slobbery kiss.

However, good dental care is about a lot more than fresh breath. As mentioned above, serious dog health issues can result from neglected oral care. If unaddressed for too long, an oral health issue can develop into a serious concern.

Proper dental cleaning for dogs can prevent a number of oral health concerns. Let’s review how dental care for dogs protects their teeth.

Plaque Build-up 

Plaque is a thin film of bacteria and food debris that clings to the surface of your dog's teeth. Luckily, this film can easily be removed by brushing. 

Tartar Build-up

When plaque is left to sit on the tooth surfaces, minerals in your pet's saliva will harden the plaque film into something called tartar. Tartar attaches itself to the teeth more firmly than plaque, making it harder to remove. 


Gingivitis occurs when tartar has started moving below your dog's gum line, introducing bacteria into the gum area and causing irritation and inflammation. Red, inflamed gum tissue is the telltale sign of gingivitis. 

Periodontal Disease 

Periodontitis, sometimes referred to simply as dental disease, is a full-fledged gum disease that involves serious infection and inflammation of the gums and surrounding tissues. The bacteria below the gum line start to secrete toxic substances, further damaging the tissues around the teeth. 

If left untreated, periodontal disease will start to affect the teeth themselves — teeth can rot from the inside out, resulting in complete tooth loss. Plus, bacteria could make its way into a dog's bloodstream and begin affecting other organs, including the kidneys, heart, and liver. 

It's clear brushing dogs’ teeth regularly is essential not only for your dog's daily personal hygiene but for his or her lifelong health. It's far easier to prevent the serious health problems described above than it is to treat them. 

Let's take a look at the tools you'll need to brush Fido's teeth and how to use them the right way.

Choosing the Right Tools for Brushing Dogs’ Teeth

person brushing dogs teeth

Before you begin brushing your dog's teeth, you'll need to have the right tools on hand. This makes the process a lot easier on you, and it will make your dog more comfortable as well. 

Head to your local pet supply store and pick up:

  • A toothbrush made for dogs. A human toothbrush won't do. Dog toothbrushes are made specifically for the canine mouth and will work best to remove plaque. You might want to try a finger toothbrush, which fits over your finger for extra-simple brushing. 
  • A toothpaste formulated for dogs. Never use human toothpaste in your dog's mouth. Ingredients in toothpaste made for people aren't good for dogs. They're sometimes sweetened with xylitol, an artificial sugar that is highly toxic to animals, and include fluoride, which can be harmful to your pup in large quantities. Since your dog doesn't know to rinse and spit like you do, they could swallow the human toothpaste and experience serious health trouble. A canine toothpaste, on the other hand, is safe and is formulated to taste good to a dog.
  • A bag of tasty treats. You'll want to give your pup a few treats after the brushing session so they learn staying calm and still for brushing sessions is rewarded.

Once you have the supplies you need, you're ready to begin. 

How to Brush Your Dog's Teeth

Follow these basic steps to make tooth brushing time go as smoothly as possible: 

  1. Choose the right spot. Choose a well-lit, quiet area of the house. If your dog is on the smaller side, you can put them in your lap facing away as you keep control over them. If your dog is larger, sit on a chair while your dog sits beside you, or have a family member or friend help keep your dog still and calm while you focus on brushing.
  2. Touch Fido's teeth and gums with your finger. It's a little gross, but massaging your dog's teeth and gums with your bare finger is a good way to get them used to the brushing sensation. This can make things a little easier when it's time for the real thing.
  3. Introduce the paste. Dab a bit of the dog toothpaste on the brush and hold it up to your dog's nose, allowing them to smell and lick it. Many pet toothpastes are made to taste like peanut butter or another treat that might entice your dog. 
  4. Begin brushing the top teeth. Hold your dog's upper lip back with one hand, and start brushing the top row of teeth with the brush in the other hand. You don't have to keep it up for long — brush for a few seconds before pulling back as your dog gets acclimated to the process. 
  5. Continue around the mouth. As your pooch gets comfortable with the toothbrush, continue brushing around the mouth, working your way back to the rear teeth and the bottom row of your pet's teeth. Use circular motions with gentle but firm pressure, and try to work the brush's bristles into the nooks and crannies of your dog's teeth and gum line. 
  6. Praise and reward your dog. After your dog's teeth cleaning is finished, be sure to reward them with lots of verbal praise and tasty treats

If possible, get started with dog tooth brushing when your pet is still a puppy. This way, a good dental hygiene routine becomes routine early in their life. But even if your dog is older, it's important to start daily brushing to improve their dental health. 

More Tips for Great Dog Dental Care

happy golden retriever

Daily tooth brushing is definitely the most essential part of your four-legged friend's dental care routine, but there are other things dog owners can do to make sure their companions' pearly whites stay in good shape. 

Chew toys help scrape away loose plaque and leftover food particles in your dog's mouth. Dental chews are made specifically to remove plaque and prevent excess plaque build-up, and they help to keep your dog's breath fresh. Look for dental sticks, dental chews, and chew toys with ridges. 

Dietary supplements can also help keep your dog's teeth and gums healthy. Consider adding a vitamin- and mineral-packed probiotic supplement to your pet's meals to boost your dog's dental standing and overall health. 

Last but not least, scheduling a professional dental cleaning at the veterinarian's office is a great way for pet owners to ensure their companions' dental health is taken care of. This kind of deep clean can do wonders for a dog's dirty mouth. But with proactive dental care, professional cleaning shouldn't be necessary. 

Brushing dogs' teeth doesn't have to be complicated. However, if you get the right tools and follow a few simple steps, you'll be well on your way to lowering your dog’s risk for health issues like gingivitis and periodontal disease. That's something both you and your dog can smile about.