How to Brush Your Dog's Teeth

Your dog has the cutest face! You can tell just what she's thinking when she looks at you. Sometimes it even seems like she's smiling, right? And sometimes when she does, you can tell that her teeth need a good brushing, but that's definitely not as easy as brushing your own teeth.

Dog and toothbrush
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If you approach brushing your dog's teeth in a positive way, you can ensure that your dog will not only let you brush his teeth but will even enjoy it. All dogs can benefit from having their teeth cleaned, and it helps with their overall health in many ways.

Health benefits

Healthy teeth translate to a healthy mouth and healthy body, and keep your dog's "doggy breath" at bay. The American Veterinary Dental College says that tartar and plaque build up on dog's teeth just like on humans' teeth. Really bad teeth can lead to organ problems from bacteria which can travel from the mouth through the bloodstream.

Step 1. Gather your supplies

Never use human toothpaste. There are toothpastes made specifically for dogs that you should get, or you can make your own DIY dog toothpaste. Human toothpaste can irritate your dog's stomach. Most human toothpastes include fluoride, which is extremely poisonous to dogs.

You might think any toothbrush will do, but the American Kennel Club recommends a toothbrush specifically designed for canines. Dog-specific toothbrushes have a longer, curved handle that makes it easy to reach the back teeth. Gather a towel to keep your work area clean. And since you'll want to reward your dog for his positive behavior toward the toothbrush, get your dog's favorite treats and or a favorite toy and keep them at hand.

dog with toothbrush in human hand
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Step 2: Introduce the toothbrush

Whether your dog is a puppy or an adult dog, introduce the toothbrush gently at first and in a positive way. Before you ever start brushing, show your dog the toothbrush and let her sniff it. Plan ahead to the room in your house where you will be doing the brushing — like the bathroom, where you don't have to worry about toothpaste getting on the carpet and where you have good lighting — and consider doing the introductions in that room so the association is made.

When she seems accepting of it, open her mouth and gently touch the toothbrush to her teeth. Don't do any actual brushing yet . . . just let her know that the toothbrush is touching her mouth. Praise your dog and give them a treat. Do this gentle introduction a few times until they get used to the idea of the toothbrush going in their mouth.

Step 3: Introduce the toothpaste

Put some toothpaste on your finger and let her sniff it. She may like it so much she licks it off, which is great! Put some toothpaste on the toothbrush and do the gentle introduction again.

Step 4: Introduce the idea of brushing

In step 2 you gently introduced the idea of the toothbrush going into their mouth. Now, after a couple of days of that, gently hold your dog's head and actually brush a tooth or two. Stop after a short time so they don't get upset. Praise them and give them a treat or reward.

dog holding a yellow toothbrush in mouth
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The whole idea here is to let them know that toothbrushing doesn't hurt, and it's actually a fun way to get some attention from you and then they get a reward.

Step 5: Ready for brushing!

Gather all of your materials and move your dog to the room where you decided to do the brushing. Prepare your toothbrush and gently hold your dog's head. Cesar's Way suggests toothbrushing after your dog is worn out from exercise so they will be more likely to sit still. He also suggests not trying to brush your dog's entire mouth the first few times.

Maybe you only brush the front teeth, and be sure to stop if your dog becomes agitated. Remember, the whole idea is to get them comfortable with the procedure. Each time you brush, you can increase the time until eventually you will be able to brush your dog's entire mouth. While you're brushing, use your calmest voice so your dog stays calm, and then make sure to give a treat right afterward.

Step 6: Brushing procedure

Embrace Pet Insurance says to start by lifting your dog's upper lip up and brushing her front teeth. Take a short break and provide some praise. Brush again on the sides and all the way to the back, on both the top and bottom. When you get to the bottom teeth, hold down your dog's bottom lip and repeat the process you did on the top teeth.

Offer praise at each step and stop if you feel like your dog's good mood about brushing is changing. The AKC points out that brushing the inside of the teeth will be a little harder, so do this after your dog has accepted the whole procedure. The AKC even suggests giving your dog a treat at each step while you are brushing. Yes, you're trying to clean the teeth, and you and I would not eat while we are in the middle of brushing, but for your dog, it's all about making this a positive experience.

Dog brushing teeth
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It may take a while for your dog to accept it but the initial goal is to get them to be willing to let you brush their teeth. Then you can do it more often and combat the plaque and tartar build up once you know they will let you do it.