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Dog Teeth Brushing

Veterinarian Reviewed on June 20, 2012 by Dr. Janice Huntingford

Dog Teeth Brushing

Nothing in the world is more difficult than training your dog to have its teeth brushed – but once accomplished, your canine pal as well as your vet will thank you. Dental disease is the most common ailment in dogs and yet, it is the most preventable and treatable. Since oral hygiene plays such a vital role in the overall health of your dog, it should be a top priority in the interest of keeping your dog happy, healthy, and full of life.

What Products to Use

It is important never to use human toothpaste on animals, as some ingredients can make them extremely ill. Instead, use pet toothpastes specifically formulated to meet your dog’s needs. Vets recommend products with the active ingredients chlorhexidine, hexametaphosphate, or zinc gluconate to ensure adequate and proper cleaning. For dogs with gum disease, it is usually recommended that they use a fluoride-based formula prescribed by your veterinarian. Furthermore, if you want to make life a little easier for you and your doggie, you can always opt for the flavored pastes.


You will need to equip yourself with the proper tools to keep your dog’s mouth clean. Specialized toothbrushes, sponges, and pads can be purchased according to your dog’s tooth type and their tolerance. Smaller dogs and puppies usually respond best to toothbrushes that fit over your finger before graduating to larger, more tartar aggressive brushes. If you are starting with an older dog or one that is finicky, sponges and pads are a reliable solution, although they do not provide the same efficiency as coarser brushes. For the more pampered canine, a water-pik dental system has been developed that uses Chlorhexidine added to water. The steady stream of water kills the bacteria and is useful for pets that are predisposed to or already have gum disease.

Shiny white teeth of a 1 1/2 years old raw fed American Pit Bull Terrier.

How to Clean Your Dog’s Teeth

Remember, dogs can sense your unease and fear. Do not be afraid to go slow and make the experience both fun and useful. Try to integrate teeth brushing into your pet’s daily routine. Once you each become accustomed to the process, it will go by quickly and seamless.

1. First, you must acquaint your dog with the toothpaste by allowing it to lick a little from your finger. Meanwhile, rub it across the gum line of the upper teeth. You can repeat this for a couple days until your dog is comfortable with the taste before inserting a toothbrush. Don’t forget to praise your pet for their bravery!

2. Let your pet get used to the toothbrush, sponge, or pad by licking the toothpaste off the bristles or surface. It is important for your dog to recognize the texture of the tool so it becomes comfortable with it and does not fight you off in step 3. You can always reward your doggie with a special treat or extra love.

3. Start with your finger and toothpaste across the gum line as usual, but next, use the toothbrush, sponge, or pad in place of your finger. Make sure the brush is tilted slightly upward (about a 45 degree angle) to get under the gums to remove debris and plaque. Lift the lip while gently brushing in back and forth strokes. It is not necessary to reach the inside of the teeth as the constant contact of the tongue keeps it clean. You can limit the number of teeth you brush during the first couple of trials until your pet is fully comfortable and compliant with the process.

4. Praise your dog as much as you can! Positive reinforcement is always a great treat.


Veterinarians recommend you brush your pet’s teeth daily. Like humans, dogs need clean teeth to maintain their health – not to mention the bonus of fresh breath – Dog Bad Breath can be a sign of an underlying disease. By making this part of you and your pet’s daily routine, you will prevent expensive and quite painful gum disease that often arises from neglected oral hygiene.

Dental Extras

To accompany your dog’s daily cleanings, there are an array of products that can assist in preventing gum disease and tooth decay. Certain food types such as hard kibble aid in removing plaque from the teeth. However, if you ever concede to feeding your dog leftovers or sugary treats, think again – these foods rapidly increase tartar buildup and can, of course, cause other health issues. Toys are also another alternative to plaque removal and gum care. Rope toys, dental toys, and rawhide items can keep gum disease at bay while providing everlasting enjoyment for your pet. There are also treats you can give your dog that are developed to specifically fight plaque and tartar buildup.

Read also: Dog Black Widow Spider Bite
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Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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