Why, When, and How Often Should You Brush Your Dogs' Teeth
Have you ever heard the statement, "a dog's mouth is cleaner than a human's"? Fortunately for humans, this isn't true. But, our mouths are a lot more similar than you may think.
Just like ours, your dog's dental health starts with a clean mouth. And the most effective way to ensure your dog's teeth are brilliant and clean is through daily brushing.
While daily brushing might seem completely unrealistic, we'll explain:
- Why teeth brushing is important
- How to tell if your dog needs dental care
- When to start brushing your dog's teeth
- How often should you brush your dog's teeth
- How to brush your dog's teeth
- Supplies and supplements to help with dental care
Why is tooth brushing important
Dental hygiene is an essential component of your dog's health. Without clean teeth, your dog may avoid eating their food, chewing toys, and exercising. These are all things that help them stay healthy and contribute to a long, happy life.
More serious health problems can also show up as a result of poor dental health. In fact, more than two-thirds of dogs will experience periodontal disease before the age of three.
Brushing your dog's teeth is the best way to:
- Prevent dental disease
- Promote good breath
- Support long-term dental health
Unfortunately, many pet owners do not brush their dog's teeth. A study by Ipsos found that only 7% of dog owners take part in daily brushing. And another found that 70% of dog owners have never brushed their teeth. That's a lot of unhygienic dog mouths.
The reality is, nothing replaces brushing your dog's teeth. But if you're not keen on teeth brushing, there are a few other options to consider:
- Your vet. One option is to have your veterinarian clean your dog's teeth. They'll do a great job and can keep an eye out for more serious health problems. But, routine visits to the vet can get expensive and may be hard to schedule.
- Professional groomers. Some grooming salons offer dental cleaning services for your dog. This is a convenient option if you get your dog groomed regularly. But, they won't be able to give your pet's mouth a deep clean the way medical professionals can.
How to tell if your dog needs dental care
If you avoid brushing your dog's teeth on a regular basis it could lead to gum disease, dead teeth, and more. All of which you cannot remedy at home.
There are several ways to tell if your dog needs care from a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). Infrequent tooth brushing may result in:
- Discolored teeth from plaque and tartar
- Bad breath (Halitosis)
- Bloody gums or blood in their water bowl
- Painful infections
- Reduced or loss of appetite
- Discomfort while eating
- Sore or swollen gums and face
- Excess, thick saliva
- Periodontal disease
Signs and symptoms of periodontal disease
Periodontal disease (or gum disease) is fairly common in dogs before the age of three. Periodontal means the "disease that relates to or affects the structures that support the teeth" — aka the gums and gum line.
When your dog's teeth don't receive proper care, plaque will harden into tartar which is difficult to remove. If it resides below the gum line it can be damaging for your pet and lead to periodontal disease.
Some common signs and symptoms of periodontal disease include:
- Gingivitis (red, bloody, swollen gum line)
- Bone or gum loss around the teeth
- Tooth decay (broken or loose teeth)
- Discolored teeth (brown or yellow)
- Irritability and discomfort
- Weight loss or decreased appetite
- Excess, bloody or thick saliva
The biggest concern with periodontal disease in dogs is bacteria. Bacteria that live in your dog's mouth untouched can make their way to your pet's bloodstream. This can lead to other health problems for internal organs like the kidneys, heart, and liver.
Your veterinarian should always test your dog's dental health problems so they can determine the best course of action. But to prevent any dental disease altogether, brushing your dog's teeth is imperative.
When to start brushing your dog's teeth
Right away — especially if you have a puppy. It’s much easier to train your dog to love tooth brushing when they are young.
If tooth brushing is new to you, don't stress. Convincing your adult or senior dog to allow you to brush their teeth can be difficult. So while it's usually easier to start brushing your dog's teeth when they are younger, it's never too late to start.
How often should you brush your dogs' teeth
You may be wondering, "how often should I brush my dog's teeth?" Knowing how often to brush your dog's teeth isn't rocket science.
Experts recommend at least two to three times per week at the least. This cadence helps:
- Remove plaque and tartar
- Protect the gum line
- Identify health problems
It may feel totally unrealistic to brush your dog's teeth every day. So getting your puppy into a regular routine right away will be helpful in the long run.
Here's a good schedule for keeping your dog's teeth clean and healthy:
- Daily: If you can't brush your dog's teeth on a daily basis give them a dental treat or chew. They will chew and gnaw on it which can help remove plaque and tartar.
- Weekly: Experts recommend brushing your dog's teeth for one minute two to three times per week. But, even once a week will help you prevent dental disease.
- Annually: In addition to regular upkeep, your vet may recommend professional teeth cleanings for your pet. These are usually done once a year and can be a part of their annual dog check-up.
Professional teeth cleaning can be totally routine or complex and expensive. It's all dependent on your dog's dental health. Typical cleanings look like this:
- (When needed) Your dog receives general anesthesia.
- Your vet will conduct a thorough dental exam.
- Vets and vet techs will help clean and polish their teeth.
- Depending on the severity, they may extract decaying teeth.
The cost of professional dental care is dependent on your pet's age, weight, and the use of general anesthesia. Typical cleanings range from $50-$300. But, if your dog has periodontal disease, this can quickly increase to $500 or more.
General anesthesia might seem scary. But, sedation helps your veterinarian clean your dog's teeth more effectively. It also reduces stress and pain for your pet.
If your pet needs x-rays, sedation will help keep your dog still. That way your vet can capture a clear image of their mouth and jaw.
How to brush your dog's teeth
Taking your dog to your vet or a groomer to clean their teeth might be your preference. And for most pet owners this is certainly the case. But if you're wanting to take your dog's dental care into your own hands, it's totally doable.
Here are 7 expert tips for training your dog to love tooth brushing.
1. Set up a calm, safe space.
If your pet isn't used to regular teeth cleaning, you'll want to make sure they feel safe and comfortable. This is also true if you have a brand-new puppy.
Set up a cozy spot with their favorite blankets and toys. If necessary, enclose the space with a playpen, crate, or kennel and have lots of treats on hand.
2. Get a friend or family member to help.
Most pet owners know that taking care of a pet can be overwhelming if you have to go it alone. Plus, teeth cleaning can feel scary and threatening to your dog. Especially with hands or foreign objects near their mouths. As a result, they may get aggressive or squirm as you try to clean.
Grab another human that your dog is familiar with to help hold their head so you can focus on their teeth. If you have a small dog, have your friend hold them in their lap. Otherwise, have your human helper sit behind your dog and give them a bear hug.
3. Gather the right supplies.
You and your dog's mouth have many similarities. But, you should not use human toothpaste or other supplies to brush your dog's teeth. Dog tooth enamel is much thinner than humans so using the same supplies can actually harm your pet.
- Look for dog-specific toothpaste. The best dog toothpaste contains enzymes that help fight plaque and tartar. Many have chicken or beef flavoring which helps encourage your dog to lick the paste.
- Find a long-stem dog toothbrush or finger brush. Human toothbrushes are too short for dogs and can be easily chewed through by your dog. Dog toothbrushes have long stems and short heads. This helps you reach those back molars.
- Be cautious of home remedies. In a pinch, home remedies made with baking soda may seem like a positive choice. But, baking soda and chicken broth concoctions can cause gastrointestinal upset for your dog.
- Lookout for toxic ingredients. Xylitol is an ingredient found in human toothpaste. It is toxic to dogs and can be fatal. Human toothpaste also contains a lot of sodium which can create stomach problems for your dog.
4. Start slow.
Ease your dog in the process by introducing the supplies you'll be using to brush their teeth. Allow them to smell, taste, and inspect everything so they don't get frightened.
Start with a cloth, dental wipe, or simply your finger to explore your dog's mouth. Reassure your pet along the way with treats and verbal encouragement. Familiarizing the tools you'll be using on a regular basis will help your puppy accept treatment more easily in the future.
5. Begin at the gum line.
When you're ready to start brushing, gently lift their lips with your fingers. Place the toothbrush or finger brush at the top of their canines. This is where plaque and tartar tend to build up the most.
Start at the gum line and work your way down and forward. As your dog gets more comfortable, work your finger or toothbrush further back to their molars. Be sure to get the outer surface and bottom of the teeth.
Don't worry about your dog's tongue or the inside of their teeth. Especially if they are getting fussy or aggressive.
Most periodontal damage shows up on the surface of their teeth. Brushing should only take you a minute or two. Spend at least 30 seconds on each side.
6. Supplement brushing with daily treats.
Unlike humans, who eventually develop the skills to brush on their own, dogs need your help to brush. And as pet parents, we want the best for our pets. But with busy schedules and full days, it can be hard to keep up with our dog's dental health.
One natural way for dogs to clean their teeth is through regular chewing. If you can't brush your dog's teeth daily there are other products that you can use to supplement brushing.
Keep a stash of these dental supplements on hand to boost your efforts:
Dental chews: There are a few different types of dental chews to choose from. Most are made from potato starch or rawhide which are tough to chew but easy to digest.
Dental treats: Like chews, dental treats are tasty, compact alternatives for your dog. Treats are usually safe for daily or weekly use. They come in many shapes and sizes that seem like normal dog treats.
Bones or antlers: Dog bones, antlers, and rawhides are also helpful ways to treat your dog's teeth. Not meant to be consumed, bones are a great alternative for dogs who love to chew. They help scrape away plaque and tartar that contribute to gum disease.
Chew toys: There are tons of dental chew toys that can also help between teeth brushing. They are often made of plastic, rubber, or nylon and are designed to help scrape away
Dental gel: If your dog isn't much of a chewer, the dental gel might be a good alternative for you. Dental gels are an oral treatment that is applied directly to the gums. You can also put it on dental chews or treats.
Dental wipes: Wipes are great for dogs who are a little more skeptical about teeth cleaning. They typically come with a medicated solution and are used to wipe the surface of the tooth. But, they aren't super effective at cleaning out small spaces between the teeth.
Water additives: This supplement is exactly as it sounds. Water additives are solutions that get added to your dog's water. They are made with enzymatic ingredients that help break down plaque and tartar and promote good breath.
Food: Tons of fruits, vegetables, and animal proteins can promote good dental health in your pet. Some great natural treats for your dog include raw meaty bones, celery, carrots, strawberries, and blueberries.
7. Practice regularly.
Brushing can easily become a regular part of your dog's training and grooming routine with a little practice. Practice may not make perfect, but it will help dental cleanings feel more normal for your dog. The more often you clean, the easier it will be.
You don't have to be a professional to brush your dog's teeth. With the right supplies, space, and steps you can take care of your pet's oral health pain and stress-free.
Dental health is only one part of a healthy lifestyle. Find out how we can keep your pets happy and healthy.LEARN MORE