How to Clean a Dog’s Teeth -
In A Few Simple Steps
Thinking about starting a teeth-cleaning routine for your dog? Good for you! Dental care is one of the most neglected areas of canine health.
Many pet parents don’t even think about cleaning their dog’s teeth if there are no obvious problems. However, according to some estimates, 90% of all dogs will experience some form of periodontal disease in their lifetime (1). This is a direct consequence of poor dental hygiene which can be easily prevented by regular cleanings.
Sure, dogs have survived for thousands of years without having their teeth cleaned by humans, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. After all, why not make their life better? This is a complete guide on how to clean a dog’s teeth.
Best Way to Clean a Dog’s Teeth: Brushing
While there are different ways you can help your dog maintain good dental health, there is just no real substitute for brushing their teeth regularly. So, if you want to know how to keep a dog’s teeth clean, that’s the only answer: brushing.
So how does one brush a dog’s teeth? Let’s start with the basics:
What You’ll Need
Before you start a tooth brushing routine for your dog, you’ll need the right equipment for your dog. As you might expect, the first part of it will be a toothbrush.
Now, if you start looking at dog toothbrushes, you’ll notice that some of them look very similar to those made for humans. However, don’t be tempted to use a human toothbrush. The canine version has different bristles that have been designed to suit dog teeth better.
If a conventional toothbrush feels awkward, don’t worry. There are other options too designed to make your life easier, such as toothbrushes you can slip on your finger.
The next item in your doggie dental kit will be toothpaste. Make sure to choose one that is made for dogs: it not only tastes better, but it’s also safer for your dog.
“You can’t use human dental products for your dog—these contain ingredients that are not pet-safe. To keep your dog’s mouth healthy and safe, use pet-approved products that don’t include any harmful ingredients.” - Jessica Vogelsand, DVM for PetMD (2)
That being said, you don’t need to spend a fortune on fancy toothpaste for dogs. You can also try the DIY approach if that’s more your style.
Part 1: Getting Your Dog Used to Brushing
If your canine companion has never experienced getting their teeth cleaned before, we strongly discourage you from diving staring into brushing their teeth. Just like with anything new, it’s important to introduce the habit slowly. You don’t want to scare your dog and create an aversion to brushing their teeth. Forcing a toothbrush into a dog’s mouth is not pleasant for anyone, and will not work.
So here is how to get your dog to accept, and perhaps even enjoy, getting their teeth brushed:
#1 Get Your Dog Used to Having Their Mouth Touched
To start the process, don’t even use a toothbrush. Simply get your dog used to keeping their mouth open and having your hands either.
This is best done when your dog is feeling relaxed and happy, in a safe environment surrounded by familiar things. There is no special technique to do this step, just slowly get your dog to open their mouth and gently touch their teeth and gums. If all goes well, reward your pooch with some treats. Repeat the process a couple of times before you move on to the next step.
#2 Introduce the Toothbrush
Some dogs don’t mind the toothbrush, while others need time to get used to it. If you know your dog is on the slower side to accept new things, perhaps just start by bringing out the toothbrush. Let the dog get used to the new object, and give treats every time you bring out the toothbrush. That way, they will associate the appearance of the toothbrush with something positive.
Once you see your dog is accepting the toothbrush, start slowly touching their mouth with it. Don’t rush the process - a few seconds with a toothbrush in their mouth is enough for a start. Always offer rewards. Repeat the process every day until your dog starts getting used to it.
Over time, you can start extending the ‘brushing’ and introducing circular movements with the toothbrush. If your dog looks uncomfortable, don’t rush it. You can even take it one step backwards. Making your dog enjoy the process will pay off afterwards.
#3 Introduce the Toothpaste
Once your dog is familiar with the toothbrush, it’s time to introduce the toothpaste. Toothpaste for dogs is often made with some interesting flavours that dogs love - such as meat or peanut butter. Even though that might sound weird to us, don’t be afraid to start with a toothpaste that smells like something your dog is familiar with - this will make it easier for them. A very minty toothpaste would be surprising to a dog and might make them nervous. If it smells like food, they are more likely to accept it.
The first step should always be just letting your pup smell and taste the toothpaste. And that’s probably enough for one day. The next day, you can start slowly introducing actual brushing with toothpaste.
Part 2: Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth
Brushing your dog’s teeth is quite a straightforward process, but it takes some time to get used to it. It will take some improvisation until you find the best way to do this. For larger dogs, it’s usually best if they are sitting and you are standing behind them, or they are in your lap if they can fit. This way, it’s easiest to reach the teeth. With small dogs, especially brachycephalic breeds, the process of getting to all the teeth might be a bit more complicated and more touchy - you’ll need to be very gentle.
In any case, you’ll want to brush the dog's teeth, just like your own, but perhaps a bit gentler. The bristles of your toothbrush shouldn’t be bending a lot. If that’s happening, you are pushing too much. The brushing doesn’t have to last terribly long, but you’ll want to get to each and every tooth.
Brushing your dog’s teeth every day will give the best results. However, if that’s not feasible, every 2 or 3 days is also better than nothing.
Alternatives to Brushing
Brushing is the most effective way of keeping a dog’s teeth clean, but that’s not the only way. For example, you can also introduce dental treats or chew toys made to help with cleaning the teeth. This will help keep the teeth clean and fresh between brushing sessions.
Related: Best Dental Sticks For Dogs Australia.
If using a toothbrush and toothpaste is not feasible for any reason (for example while travelling) there are also single-use dental wipes available that you can use instead. Finally, in really bad cases, getting your dog’s teeth professionally cleaned might be necessary.
If you’ve ever wondered how to clean your dog’s teeth, now you have the answer. The number one and the best way to do it is by brushing their teeth.
This is not something that comes naturally for most dogs, but, if you approach the process with patience and persistence, you’ll probably be able to train your pooch to enjoy keeping their teeth clean.
Brushing your dog’s teeth once a day is highly recommended. Once every two days is acceptable too. If you skip a day, it’s not a problem, but if you brush your dog’s teeth too infrequently the effects will be minimal.
No, never use cosmetic products made for humans on your dog. Humans and dogs react differently to different substances, and you don’t want to use your dog as a test subject. Rather, get a toothpaste that’s made for dogs or make your own. When it comes to toothbrushes, one made for humans could work in theory, but those made for dogs are simply much easier to use.
No, it’s never too late! It’s best to start brushing when your dog is a young puppy. At that age, they get used to new routines more easily, and you’ll make a good foundation for a life with healthy teeth. However, older dogs can also learn to get used to having their teeth brushed and benefit from it.
- Niemiec, B., Gawor, J., Nemec, A., Clarke, D., McLeod, K., Tutt, C., Gioso, M., Steagall, P.V., Chandler, M., Morgenegg, G. and Jouppi, R., 2020. World small animal veterinary association global dental guidelines. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 61(7), pp.E36-E161.
- Vogelsang, J. August 20, 2015. “How to Clean a Dog’s Teeth: Tools and Tips”. PetMD. Retrieved April 20, 2022. https://www.petmd.com/dog/grooming/what-best-way-clean-my-dogs-teeth