How to clean your dog's teeth

How to clean your dog's teeth
Learn about dogs

When your pup reaches around 7 months old, their baby teeth will have probably all fallen out, ready to be replaced with a new set of gleaming, glistening gnashers. Your dog’s adult teeth are there for life, so it’s important to keep those pearly whites looking, well, pearly and white!

Dental care and oral hygiene can often be forgotten about when it comes to canines but looking after our dog’s teeth is just as important as looking after our own. After all, their adult teeth are for life, just like ours. We all know the rule that we should brush our teeth twice a day to keep the bacteria at bay, but why do we rarely do the same for our dogs?

Read on to find out more about why you should be keeping up to date with your dog’s dental care and how to properly brush your four-legged friend’s fangs to keep them squeaky clean.

Why is my dog’s dental hygiene important?

Every dog owner probably knows the foul smell of that dreaded doggy breath, and in all honesty, that’s probably reason enough to reach for the toothbrush. However, poor dental hygiene is not only a pain for you, but it can also be an absolute nightmare for your dog.

Dogs use their mouths for pretty much everything, much more than just tasting food. Playing, exploring the world, picking things up and more, our pooches don’t have hands to do all these things as we do, so their mouth is the next best option! Therefore, keeping their oral hygiene up to scratch is essential, otherwise, problems will start to occur that’ll begin to interfere with your dog’s day-to-day life.

Cleaning your dog's teeth

Without proper dental care, plaque will begin to build up on your dog’s teeth which can cause a number of problems. Plaque is a sticky film that coats the tooth, comprised of the sugars and bacteria that sticks on the teeth after your dog has eaten their food. Without a proper teeth cleaning routine, the plaque accumulates and eventually hardens, turning the plaque into tartar. This provides a space for the bacteria to keep developing and multiplying.

As a result, your dog will begin suffering from an issue called gingivitis, which is the term for gum inflammation. Basically, gingivitis is just the milder form of gum disease. This causes a lot of pain, sensitivity and discomfort. If it’s caught early enough, the effects of gingivitis can be reversed, but if it’s not seen to quickly, the problems will keep occurring. Ultimately, your dog will end up with periodontal disease, more commonly referred to as gum disease.

Signs of dental or gum disease include:

  • Bleeding, inflamed gums
  • Infected mouth that will emit a rotten odour
  • Exposed root of the tooth causing a lot of pain
  • Discoloured teeth
  • Loose teeth
  • Teeth dying and dropping out
  • Receding gums
  • Tooth abscesses
  • Avoiding chewing toys they once used to

Fear not – we’ve got you covered with plenty of tips to help you battle all that bacteria from residing in the nooks and crannies of your dog’s teeth, so they can instead be kept as clean as a whistle.

Step-by-step guide to brushing your dog’s teeth

Brushing your dog’s teeth is the ultimate way to maintain your dog’s oral health but teaching your dog to accept getting their teeth brushed takes a lot more tolerance and patience than teaching them to sit and give you their paw.

At the end of the day, not many dogs will be happy with you brushing their teeth and touching their face and mouth, so it’ll probably take a lot of practice. However, if you can start practicing right from the beginning when you’ve got a really young pup, you’ll be able to get that toothbrushing routine mastered with no problems.

Gather your equipment

So, it’s a pretty obvious starting point, but you’re going to need to get yourself a doggy toothbrush and some dog-friendly toothpaste. At this stage, it might be a bit of trial and error to find the teeth cleaning equipment that works for your dog. We aren’t saying that they’ll ever love getting their teeth brushed, we just want them to be able to tolerate it.

You can buy toothbrushes with several brush heads, over-the-finger brushes, toothbrush toys and even electric toothbrushes. Even humans don’t get that much choice! All these dog-friendly toothbrushes are specially designed to target the unique structure of your dog’s teeth, getting right into those crevices to wash out anything nasty lurking in there.

Picking your toothpaste is the next step, you can experiment with a few different flavours here. Ideally, the toothpaste should be tasty for your dog, so they feel like they’re getting a treat, helping to reinforce tooth-brushing as a positive experience. Let your dog try a couple of different options and see what they like best. Doggy toothpaste comes in loads of delicious-sounding flavours, peanut butter, chicken, beef, liver…yum. We’ll leave the taste-testing to the dogs…

The main thing to remember here is to never, ever give your dog human toothpaste. Our toothpaste contains dangerous ingredients such as xylitol and fluoride which can be extremely harmful for hounds.

Taste test

Now that you’ve gathered up your tools, it’s time to start seeing what your dog thinks to them. Let your dog have a taste test of the doggy toothpaste by adding a tiny little dollop to the top of their food. Most dogs won’t even bat an eyelid at this new addition, more interested in gobbling up their dinner. However, the fussy dogs might turn their nose up at it at first.

After repeating this for a couple of days, put some of the toothpaste on your finger and encourage your dog to lick it off. It shouldn’t take long before they become acclimatised to it, even more so if you find a tasty toothpaste.

Practice run

The next step is to get your dog used to you touching their face and mouth. Many dogs actually really dislike having their face touched, their mouth even more so. Start by gently stroking and petting your dog’s face, if they really don’t like it you might need to give them a little treat every time they allow you to do it until it becomes a positive experience.

How to clean a dog's teeth

Once you think they’re accepting of the face-touching, try and lift their lip so you can rub your finger along their teeth. Basically, you want to pretend you’re actually brushing their teeth, just without the brush or toothpaste. If your dog starts to look distressed and uncomfortable, give them a break.

Hopefully, after a few days of practice they’ll be starting to get used to it and you’ll be able to start with the actual brushing.

The real deal

At this stage, we can start with the actual brushing. Slightly lift your dog’s lip so that you’ve got some room to get the toothbrush in. It’s best to start with their big pointy fangs (canines), these are the easiest to reach and not as sensitive as the tiny front teeth (incisors). Your dog will have 4 fangs in total, 2 on the bottom and 2 on the top. If you want to know more about the layout if your dog's teeth,we have a full post all about how many teeth dogs have.

Focus on the area where the tooth meets the gum, your dog might experience a little bit of bleeding on brushing initially, but don’t worry too much. Inflamed gums are likely to bleed a little bit, but after a number of weeks of daily brushing and oral care, they will calm down.

Practice, practice, practice

Since you’ve only just started actually brushing your dog’s teeth, you might only manage to get their fangs brushed at this point until they get more comfortable with the whole process. However, once you’ve cracked brushing the fangs, you’ll need to move onto their back teeth. Use a circular motion to do this. All of the teeth that are on the cheek-side of the mouth need extra special attention, as this area of the mouth is where most signs of gum disease first start to emerge.

Now you want to brush their incisors, which is probably the trickiest bit. These front teeth can be quite sensitive, so don’t be surprised if your dog pulls away from you. Try to keep their mouth closed by holding their snout and then lift up their lip to reveal those tiny little teeth at the front.

Keeping it up

Hopefully, you’ll now be able to brush every single one of your dog’s gnashers to keep them in tip-top shape. If your dog is still struggling, don’t give up, the more you brush them the more they’ll learn to tolerate it.

Ideally, you want to be brushing your dog’s teeth every other day, which can seem like a lot. Try and think about it like this though, our dog’s teeth are pretty similar to ours, and we brush ours twice a day! Therefore, it’s only fair that we try and give our dog’s teeth the same care that we give ours. After all, our teeth are for life.

Brushing your dog's teeth

The entire routine will be made miles easier if you implement this routine right from when they’re a young pup. If you only brush their teeth every so often, it definitely won’t be enough to eradicate several weeks’ worth of plaque build-up, it needs to be done on the regular.

When to contact the vet

There becomes a point when the plaque and tartar has accumulated for too long, your dog’s teeth will look yellowed with a build-up of brown gathering close to the gums, and at this point, you’ll need some help from the vet. You won’t be able to get your dog’s oral health back into shape just by brushing alone at this point, so they’ll need professional cleaning.

Maintaining your dog’s dental care

Annual vet check-ups

You need to be proactive when it comes to your dog’s health, both their oral health and their overall health. Booking your pup in for annual vet-check ups to check every aspect of their wellbeing is the best thing to do so you can spot and solve anything that might be amiss with your dog’s oral health and hygiene.

Things the vet will be looking out for

If you think something is off with your dog’s teeth, such as their doggy breath being much worse than normal, or you’ve noticed a bit of blood on their chew toy. Whatever it is, your vet will be looking out for various things that could be at the root of the issue, including:

  • Retained deciduous teeth (your dog’s baby teeth from when they were a pup). Sometimes they fail to drop out even when the adult teeth came through, which can trap food and bacteria and cause issues for the adult teeth.
  • Broken teeth can hold bacteria inside them, potentially leading to abscesses, infections and a lot of pain.
  • Discoloured teeth from plaque and tartar build up, or it could be a sign that they’ve experienced trauma to the tooth, causing the discolouration.
  • Bleeding gums
  • Overlapping and rotated teeth (flat-faced and toy breeds like Frenchies and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels often have badly aligned jaws causing this overlap, making them susceptible to oral issues. Bacteria often gets stuck in their crowded teeth).
How to brush your dog's teeth

For said breeds that are prone to mouth problems due to the poor alignment of their teeth and jaws, it’s good to be aware and keep your eye out for any problems. The quicker you can spot something is wrong, the quicker you’ll be able to get the problem resolved.

Good diet

The myth that dry, crunchy dog food helps to clean your dog’s teeth has been believed for a while now. However, this is simply not true. Realistically, it doesn’t make much sense, we wouldn’t spend our days eating lots of crunchy food and not brush our teeth afterwards. We know that it just doesn’t work like that, so why should we think it’d be the same for our dogs?

Kibble diets are also packed full of sugar and other nasty ingredients, and these food particles cling to the teeth and become a breeding ground for bacteria if they’re not brushed away at the end of the day. A natural diet that’s free from added sugar, additives and all the other questionable ingredients that are included in many commercial dry dog foods will be much better at keeping your dog’s oral health in good nick. The lack of sugar in a natural diet will leave the bacteria with nothing to feed on.

Pure is a natural, nutritious diet packed with ingredients that you recognise, with no need for any added sugars. Every ingredient has its purpose in a Pure diet, to keep your dog healthy in all aspects. For example, linseed is a key ingredient, promoting a shiny coat, healthy gut motility and is bursting with calcium, magnesium and zinc to encourage excellent oral health. Omega 3 fatty acids are another functional ingredient in Pure recipes, which has various benefits, with one being that it helps to reduce gum inflammation.

Whatever diet you choose to feed your dog, it’s never going to be a total replacement for actually brushing their teeth. However, keeping their teeth clean will be made much easier if they’re eating a much more natural diet, as less sugars will be clinging to their teeth.

Dental chews are also proven to aid your dog’s dental hygiene, but again, they’re no replacement for a regular tooth brushing routine.

Recap

If you brush your dog’s teeth on the regular, it’ll work wonders in keeping their pearly whites in good condition and avoiding any nasty, painful problems like gum disease. Not only will it help your dog out, but it’ll also help you avoid some costly vet bills and above all, keep you safe from that disgusting doggy breath!

Dr Andrew Miller BVSc MRCVS

Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS

Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.

Sources
  1. Dental home care in dogs - a questionnaire study among Swedish dog owners, veterinarians and veterinary nurses BMC Veterinary Research, 16, (90), March 2020
  2. Oral health benefits of a daily dental chew in dogs Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, 30, (2), 2013, 84-87, doi: 10.1177/089875641303000203

Related Articles