How to Brush a Dog’s Teeth the RIGHT Way: Canine Dental

Knowing how to brush a dog’s teeth can help prevent dental disease, bad breath, and plaque build-up. 

Not all dogs will cooperate with toothbrushing, so it can be hard to get all the teeth at once. Still, knowing how to do it right will help you train your dog to this healthy habit.

How To Brush a Dog’s Teeth Effectively

Brush your dog’s teeth by starting at the front. Use your fingers to gently expose the teeth and gums, then use the dog toothbrush and dog toothpaste to brush the teeth and gums in a circular motion.

Work from the front around to the sides, replenishing the dog toothpaste as needed. Finally, open your dog’s mouth and brush the inside surfaces of all the teeth.

What Do I Do If My Dog Won’t Let Me Touch His Mouth?

Brush a dog's teeth daily
Your dog needs good oral hygiene to ensure good overall health.

Most dogs don’t submit to brushing right away, and may not let you touch the mouth at all. The first part of training is to get your dog comfortable with using your fingers to inspect his teeth.

Simply spend a few days touching your dog’s mouth gently, while praising, cuddling, and giving dental chews as rewards for submission to these gentle touches.

We always use some sort of dental chew as a reward for our dogs, because even if we can’t give them a full brushing, we know the dental chew helps clean their teeth as well.

Be patient with your dog and increase your activity near the dog’s mouth daily. First, get him used to exposing all areas of the teeth and gums, then let your dog lick some of the dog toothpaste off of your finger.

Next, begin approaching your dog’s mouth with the dog toothbrush, without being intimidating at all. Be sure to be patient and gentle so each interaction is trust-building and positive.

Finally, begin to brush the front of your dog’s canine teeth with the brush and a little toothpaste and work up from there until you’re able to brush all of your dog’s teeth.

How Often Should I Brush My Dog’s Teeth?

It is important to brush your dog’s teeth regularly to keep them healthy. The American Veterinary Dental Society recommends that you brush your dog’s teeth daily, if possible.

However, brushing even a few times a week can help to reduce tartar buildup and keep your dog’s mouth healthy. If you are not able to brush daily, be sure to at least brush once a week.

The effort that it takes to train your dog to accept brushing, and the time you spend brushing his teeth will pay off with easier and less expensive vet dental visits.

What Are the Benefits of Brushing a Dog’s Teeth?

Dogs need their teeth brushed for several reasons:

  • It helps keep their teeth clean and healthy, preventing cavities and tooth loss
  • It can help prevent bad breath which can be a sign of gum disease
  • It can help keep your dog’s gums healthy which protects your dog from periodontitis, tooth loss, bone loss, and even heart disease.

As well as brushing your dog’s teeth as often as you can (daily if possible), don’t neglect vet dental checkups.

Tartar that builds up on your dog’s teeth must be scraped away by the vet to keep teeth and gums healthy.

How Can I Keep My Dog’s Mouth Open While Brushing?

It can be hard to keep the dog's mouth open for brushing.
It takes patient training to get your dog to keep his mouth open to brush his teeth.

There are a few ways to keep your dog’s mouth open while brushing. You can use a lip lifter, which is a tool that fits over your dog’s muzzle and helps to hold the lips up and away from the teeth.

You can also try using a piece of gauze or a washcloth to gently lift the lips.

While those methods work in a pinch, we recommend gently training your dog to let you lift his lips and expose the gums and teeth with your fingers. This is the most gentle and humane way to treat your dog.

What Kind of Toothbrush Should I Use for My Dog?

You will need to use a toothbrush that is designed specifically for dogs. These brushes are usually smaller than human toothbrushes and have softer bristles.

You may also want to consider using a finger brush, which is a small rubber cup that fits over your finger and has soft bristles on the inside.

Finger brushes are a good option for dogs who do not like having a toothbrush in their mouth.

What Kind of Toothpaste Should I Use for My Dog?

You should use toothpaste that is made specifically for dogs. Human toothpaste is often too abrasive for a dog’s teeth and can irritate their gums. Also, some ingredients in human toothpaste are toxic for dogs.

There are many different flavors of dog toothpaste available, so you should be able to find one that your dog will like. You may want to try a few different kinds to see which one your dog prefers.

If you find a flavor of dog toothpaste that he likes, it’ll make it much easier to brush his teeth.

What Are Some Brushing Alternatives for Dogs?

Brushing a dog's teeth with a finger brush.
A finger brush may be more comfortable for your dog than a regular toothbrush.

Brushing your dog’s teeth with a toothbrush and dog toothpaste is the most traditional way to do it. It’s also the most thorough clean you can get, so it’s vital to train your dog to accept brushing for oral health.

However, dental toys and dental chews can give you a big assist in keeping your dog’s mouth healthy and teeth clean.

Dental chews are specially designed to help scrape away plaque as they chew, to cut down on tartar buildup.

We like to give our dogs a variety of dental chews and toys so that they get the best between-brushing dental care possible!

We also like to give our dogs access to fresh, filtered water. Purified water helps to eliminate some of the mineral buildup that can make a dog’s teeth look yellow, or even orange with tartar.

Final Thoughts

Most dogs don’t take to toothbrushing right away. Don’t be surprised if your dog refuses to cooperate or even becomes aggressive at first. Simply be patient and loving with your dog while training him to brush.

Whatever method you use to keep your dog’s clean is better than doing nothing because oral health is vital to your dog’s overall health and longevity.

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Jesse Hopping, CCDT

Jesse is a natural-born dog-lover certified dog trainer (CCDT), dog foster, and former volunteer at Richmond SPCA and surrounding dog shelters for over 10 years. Her pack includes a Bernedoodle and 3 Boston Terriers. She’s sipping caramel coffee and watching her pack play in the sun when she’s not writing blogs. Jesse has her Certified Dog Trainer designation from CATCH Canine Trainers Academy since 2018 and and majored in English from the University of Virginia.

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