Dog Tooth Care: A Guide to Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth

Help! I’ve never brushed my dogs teeth

Dog breath- we all know that smell! But did you know that stinky breath can be a sign that all is not well in your dog’s mouth? 

Poor dental hygiene is one of the main causes of bad breath in dogs and it can lead to more serious health problems if left untreated.

If you’d like to know how to keep your dog’s teeth in tip-top condition, or what to do if you notice a problem with your dog’s teeth, read on for all you need to know about doggy tooth brushing.

Table of Contents

Why looking after your dog’s teeth is important

Studies suggest that 80% of dogs over the age of 3 have dental disease, so it’s really common. However, that does not mean we should assume it is normal. 

Dental disease can affect your dog’s health and quality of life, so it is something that all dog owners should take action to avoid if possible.

Dental disease starts when food particles on the teeth attract bacteria, causing a sticky film known as ‘plaque’ to form. 

Plaque on your dog’s teeth starts to harden after around 24 hours, to become tartar (your vet may call this calculus). If it is not removed, the tartar becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, which causes the gums to become painful and inflamed. 

Tartar can also cause the gums to recede, causing the sensitive areas of your dog’s teeth to be exposed. Ultimately, this may lead to your dog’s teeth falling out. 

But that’s not the end of the story- the bacteria that accumulate on your dog’s teeth and gums can make their way into the bloodstream and travel around the body. If they find their way into major organs such as the heart, serious health problems can develop. 

So, you can see that dental disease is something to be taken seriously if you want your dog to live a long and healthy life.

Signs of dental disease in dogs

How to prevent dental disease in dogs

To prevent dental disease, you need to prevent plaque and tartar from building up on your dog’s teeth. The most effective way to do this is by regular tooth brushing. 

Giving your dog dental chews and playing with rubber or rope toys can also help to remove plaque and tartar. There are also specially designed food and water additives on the market which may help keep your dog’s teeth clean.

When to start brushing your dog or puppy’s teeth

In almost every case, the answer is now! The earlier you start caring for your dog’s teeth, the better. Puppies come to us with pearly white teeth which we know will fall out, meaning that it often doesn’t occur to puppy owners that they should brush their pup’s teeth. 

However, if your puppy gets used to having their teeth cleaned as part of their daily routine, it will never be a big deal. By keeping their adult teeth nice and clean from the time they emerge, you are greatly reducing the chance of tooth decay setting in.

If you have never brushed your dog’s teeth, any action you take now will help to keep their teeth clean. 

It is important to have their teeth checked by a vet to make sure they don’t need veterinary treatment before you start brushing (if your dog’s mouth is uncomfortable, he may not tolerate having his teeth brushed). 

If your dog has never had his teeth brushed, it is important to start slowly and get him used to it gradually.

Dog teeth cleaning equipment

If you have never brushed your dog’s teeth before, you may be wondering ‘What can I brush my dog’s teeth with?’. You will need a toothbrush- either a specially designed doggy toothbrush or a soft-bristled children’s toothbrush will work. 

Adult human toothbrushes are usually too large and too hard to brush your dog’s teeth with. Some dogs prefer their owners to use a finger toothbrush instead. 

You will also need some specially formulated dog toothpaste. This usually contains enzymes to help remove the bacteria and plaque from your dog’s teeth.

How to brush your dog’s teeth

If you have never brushed your dog’s teeth before, start slowly and keep it positive. Get your dog used to you lifting their lips before you try to brush their teeth, and reward them with a treat to help build a positive association.

Let them lick a little of the toothpaste off the toothbrush (doggy toothpaste is usually flavored with liver or chicken to be appealing to dogs). Then progress to lifting your dog’s lip and touching their tooth with the toothbrush.

If they are fine with this, you can progress to putting a small amount of toothpaste on the brush and gently brushing just one or two teeth. 

Keep the sessions short to begin with, each time brushing for a little longer and always rewarding your dog with a treat afterward. 

Eventually, you should be able to brush all (or most of) your dog’s teeth without a problem. Be aware that all dogs are different and some are more tolerant than others. 

Never force your dog to have their teeth brushed if they are trying to get away or growling.



Should I brush my dog’s teeth, even if they seem clean?

Yes! Even if your dog’s teeth show no signs of discoloration or decay, you can prevent this from developing further down the line by regular brushing now.

How often should I brush my dog’s teeth?

Plaque starts to turn to tartar after around 24 hours, so ideally you will brush your dog’s teeth daily. However, even if you are only able to brush their teeth once every 2 or 3 days, this is certainly better than not doing it at all.

I’ve never brushed my dogs teeth, is it too late to start?

It is never too late to start brushing your dog’s teeth, but get their teeth checked by a vet first to make sure they don’t need dental treatment.

Can you use toothpaste on dogs?

Never use human toothpaste for your dog- it often contains substances that can make your dog ill (like sodium and xylitol) and is not designed to be swallowed. Only use toothpaste designed specifically for dogs.

My old dog has bad teeth, what should I do?

If your old dog has bad teeth, they may be uncomfortable so you should book an appointment to see a vet. Once your dog has had his teeth cleaned and any diseased teeth removed, they will feel so much better!

My dog’s tooth fell out with the root, should I worry?

This is certainly something you need to speak to your vet about. Tooth loss in dogs can be caused by physical trauma, dental disease, or even an abscess. 

There is a chance that some of the root is still in the gum, which may cause an infection. Keep hold of the tooth to show your vet.

My dog hates having his teeth brushed, what should I do?

You may just need to slowly accustom your dog to having his teeth brushed. If you take your time and go at their pace, they learn that it is no big deal. 

If you have tried this and your dog still hates having their teeth brushed, opt for dental chews and toys that are designed to clean the teeth. 

You could even smear some doggy toothpaste on them so that your dog still benefits from the enzymatic action. 

Playing with rope toys can also help to floss between your dog’s teeth. There are also lots of food and water additives that help to prevent plaque build-up.

I’ve never brushed my dog’s teeth – final thoughts

Good dental hygiene is so important to maintain your dog’s health and welfare. Brushing your dog’s teeth is the most effective way to prevent the build-up of plaque and tartar and the earlier you start this, the better.

Check inside your dog’s mouth regularly- if you see signs of dental disease, don’t ignore it as it is likely to get worse without treatment. Always speak to your vet if you have any concerns.


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