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Rottweiler getting its teeth brushed outdoors.
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If there is one area of canine grooming that is often overlooked, it is the dog’s teeth. Most dog owners remember to brush the coat until it shines and to clip the nails so they don’t click on the floor, but not everyone cares for canine tooth brushing. Brushing is important because it cleans away the plaque that leads to bad breath or more serious problems such as decayed teeth or gum disease. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 80% of dogs show signs of canine periodontal disease as early as age three.

Practicing good dental care at home will lead to more than sweeter-smelling kisses: your dog can live a happier, healthier, and longer life. Thankfully, cleaning your canine companion’s teeth is surprisingly simple even on a tight schedule. Taking care of your dog’s teeth can come in forms other than just brushing. Even the busiest dog owners can easily incorporate these practices with just a few minutes each week so your four-footed friend’s pearly whites will sparkle for years to come.

Tips to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth

Choose a Good Time and Place for Teeth Brushing

Especially if your dog gets nervous getting their teeth brushed, you don’t want there to be other things to stress them out. Try to limit other distractions when you’re brushing your dog’s teeth. It should be you and the dog without a living room full of active children or other pets. Pick a place that’s comfortable for your dog as well. You’ll need to have good lighting so you can see what you’re doing.

Buy a Dog Tooth Brush and Dog Toothpaste

Dog toothbrushes are available at pet stores or online pet supply outlets. Specifically-designed dog toothbrushes with angled handles, soft bristles, and even multiple heads make reaching all the tiny nooks and crevices inside your dog’s mouth easier and quicker.

You’ll specifically need dog toothpaste, as human toothpaste contains toxic ingredients like xylitol and fluoride that could cause significant harm. Dog toothpaste comes in many appealing flavors like peanut butter, beef, and chicken. Try different combinations of toothpaste and toothbrushes to see what your dog likes best.

Get Your Dog Used to Toothbrushing

Mixed breed getting its teeth checked at the vet.
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  1. Touch the teeth and gums without the brush. Can you do this initial step? Ideally, your pup has been in AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy and Canine Good Citizen classes and is used to have his mouth handled.  Lift the top lip up and hold it while you touch the teeth; then pull the bottom lip down and touch the bottom teeth.
  2. Touch the toothbrush to the teeth. Touch the front, side, and back teeth on the top and bottom. Praise and reward your dog for tolerating this step.
  3. Introduce the toothpaste to the dog. Start by showing your dog the toothpaste and letting them lick it from your finger.
  4. Add the toothpaste to the toothbrush.
  5. Start brushing the top teeth. Hold the upper lip up. Brush the front teeth. Praise your dog.
  6. Move from the front teeth further back to the side and back teeth on the top.
  7. Start brushing the bottom teeth. Hold down the bottom lip and brush the bottom teeth. Start with the front teeth, then move to the side and back.
  8. On the bottom teeth, now brush the sides and back. If your dog is tolerating toothbrushing, you can brush both the outside and inside of the teeth when you are brushing. The inside of the teeth will be a little harder to brush, so if necessary, work on adding this step after your dog is calm with the outsides of the upper and lower teeth being brushed.
  9. Praise and reward. Getting their teeth brushed is unnatural for dogs. To make this a positive experience, frequently praise your dog. You can also give the dog a treat at each step. This seems counterintuitive because you are cleaning the teeth and then giving some food. However, the initial goal is teaching the skill and later you can work on removing food from the equation.

Alternative Dental Care

Dog Dental Chews

Dog dental chews clean your dog’s teeth while also stimulating your dog’s natural cravings for a tasty treat. Plus, your dog will be too busy chomping on their treats to create trouble elsewhere. These chews are designed to minimize the build-up of plaque and tartar while polishing a dog’s teeth to a sparkling shine. Dog dental chews come in different sizes and shapes, and feature ridges and nubs that dig into crevices between a dog’s teeth to encourage blood flow through the gums. The hollow shapes and spaces allow dogs to better grip and chew more evenly. Always supervise your dog when they have a dental chew within reach.

Spritz Dog Dental Spray

If your dog’s stinky breath is causing you to miss out on cuddles or kisses, or if you only have a short amount of time to spare, dog dental sprays are the ideal solution. It’s a quick and easy way to take care of your dog’s teeth, as dog dental sprays can be used alone or in between brushings. These sprays kill plaque-causing bacteria to make your dog’s breath smell fresh. In addition to odor-eliminating effect, dental sprays can also remove and prevent tartar and plaque build-up. Most sprays are simple to use: they simply require owners to spritz the teeth and gums. Since some dogs just won’t stay still for an oral cleaning, dental sprays can also be applied to dog toys and licked off for instant fresh breath with minimal effort. Dog dental spray works best when dogs don’t eat for a half hour before and after spraying.

Gnaw on Chew Toys

Pembroke Welsh Corgi puppy chewing on a ball in the grass.
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If you’re raising a fun-loving dog, they’ll love playing with a chew toy and you’ll love how it destroys their boredom instead of your shoes. When it comes to keeping your dog busy and entertained, chew toys are one of the best solutions. Providing dogs with a chew toy satisfies their natural instincts to chew, keeps them occupied, and helps improve their oral health. Dogs of every age explore the world through their teeth. For puppies, gnawing naturally soothes teething pain and keeps adult dogs mentally-stimulated.

Chewing is the natural way for dogs to clean their teeth as the constant gnawing scrapes plaque off of teeth. They are made of a variety of materials ranging from plastic, rubber, nylon, and rawhide. We suggest rotating different types of boredom-busting chew toys to keep dogs interested. These toys come in a variety of shapes and sizes so you’re sure to find something that settles your dog’s playfulness.

Attend Regular Professional Veterinarian Cleanings

An essential way to protect your dog’s oral health is through regular professional cleanings with your veterinarian. Veterinarians are skilled at identifying, preventing, and treating any dental problems they find that may otherwise go unnoticed. Most dogs need oral exams and cleanings at least once per year so veterinarians can check for early warning signs of serious problems. Some breeds, like BulldogsYorkshire Terriers, and Dachshunds, are more susceptible to periodontal disease. They may require more frequent cleanings, like every six months.

Veterinarians can remove plaque below the gum line, where toothbrushes can’t reach. Dental cleanings involve taking x-rays to evaluate the health of the jawline and tooth roots. Veterinarians will scale and polish teeth to remove plaque and tartar while your dog is under general anesthesia. Veterinarians can also safely fill or extract teeth as needed. Though this is the most expensive and time-consuming option, we recommend making veterinarian oral exams a priority. Your dog’s teeth will thank you for it!

What to Do if Your Dog’s Teeth Are Stained

We’ve all been told to brush our dog’s teeth. We know we should. We mean to do it. Unfortunately it’s a task that often falls through the cracks.  For some, time is the problem, for others it’s an uncooperative dog who makes it impossible to get a toothbrush near her molars. Whatever the reason, your dog’s oral health—or lack of it—may have reached a point where it requires a professional veterinary dentist.

Mixed breed getting its teeth checked at the vet.
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Veterinary dentist Thoulton W. Surgeon says that tooth brushing should be on every dog owner’s daily agenda. Spend as much time as you can, and for as long as your dog will allow. “It’s very important, maybe more so than what I do,” he says. “What I do, in terms of removing calculus and plaque, is about a third as important as brushing teeth on a daily basis.”

When teeth are already covered with brown- and yellow-stained tartar and gums are bleeding or showing signs of inflammation, your dog needs a professional cleaning. But it’s important to start brushing again immediately after the dentist has scaled away the tartar and polished the teeth. That’s because plaque starts to accumulate within two or three days, so catching it early may delay or eliminate the need for another cleaning down the line.

Getting Your Dog Used to Dental Care

Many things can contribute to a dog’s fear of having their teeth brushed, starting with the plastic thing you’re trying to stick in their mouth, the weird-smelling paste you put on the plastic thing, and the way you’re trying to force their mouth open to get the plastic thing with the weird-smelling paste in! This problem can be solved by using a desensitization program and lots of patience. These can all be done on the same day, but in a different session to give your dog some time.

Select a Location

Pick a tooth-brushing place (like the bathroom) and start by making that room a place where fun things happen. As many times a day as you can, take your dog into the bathroom, armed with their favorite toys and treats. If they’re particularly food-driven, you can even start feeding them meals in the bathroom. By doing this for 10–15 minutes multiple times a day, you should see them relaxing and even enjoying the time in the bathroom with you.

Get Your Dog Used to the Brush

Golden Retriever getting its teeth brushed at the groomer.
©Kzenon - stock.adobe.com

The next step is to desensitize your dog to the toothbrush with the toothpaste on it. Instead of keeping it in a cabinet, start moving it around the house. You can put it on the kitchen counter, on the floor next to their toys, even near their food bowl (with supervision). Eventually the smell and sight of the toothbrush and paste will become commonplace to them, alleviating their stress.

Touching the Teeth

Next, let’s work on your dog being OK with having his mouth handled. Note: If your dog has shown aggression when you’ve tried to handle his mouth, or is extremely fearful, seek the advice of a vet or behaviorist.

For this, sit on the floor with your dog on a leash. Make sure they are hungry, and have a stash of their favorite treats. Start by petting them and slowly migrate the petting to under their chin. Feed them the treat, and repeat two or three more times. If your dog is relaxed and still interested, repeat, but after you’ve petted them under their chin, run your hand up and over the top of their muzzle and feed. Repeat two or three times and end the session. Once your dog is calm and happy with you opening their mouth, the final step is pairing the toothbrush and the handling. Go slowly; don’t be afraid to go back a step if your dog looks concerned or frightened.

There’s so much more to the process than “open mouth, brush teeth.” With patience and great treats, you’ll eventually have your dog happily open wide—the saying “ahhh” part may take a little more time.

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