7 Dog Teeth Cleaning Tips Every Owner Should Read

Dog getting their teeth cleaned
Take the challenge out of cleaning your dog’s teeth with our easy guide to dental health, and learn how to reduce plaque, tartar, and the risk of dental disease.

If you struggle with dog teeth cleaning, know that you are not alone! 

43% of dog owners never brush their dog's teeth1, despite dental disease being one of the most common health concerns for dogs. 

In this guide we’ll look at how you can brush your dog’s teeth, when you should start, and some of the alternatives to brushing. 

Why should I clean my dog’s teeth?

Taking care of your dog’s teeth is an important part of supporting their health and giving them a good quality of life.

Without attention, your dog will inevitably develop dental disease, which can lead to bad breath, excessive drooling, and inflammation. It may even trigger an oral infection that can spread to other parts of the body, like the heart or kidneys.

Your dog’s size, breed, age, and the spacing of their teeth will affect their susceptibility to dental disease, but all dogs will show signs of dental disease at some point in their life. 

What’s the best way to clean a dog’s teeth?

Brushing removes the invisible plaque that accumulates on your dog’s teeth. 

If left untreated for more than 24 hours, this soft film of bacteria hardens into a yellow-brownish substance called tartar. Once formed, tartar cannot be removed by chewing or brushing and in time will lead to a painful inflammation of the gums called gingivitis. 

Periodontal disease occurs when this inflammation progresses and causes loss of attachment around the affected teeth by destroying bone and tissue.

Removing plaque by brushing before it hardens into tartar is the most effective way to prevent periodontal disease. 

How often should I brush my dog’s teeth? 

Just like you, your dog needs their teeth cleaned every day. 

When should I start?

The sooner the better. Dogs are at their most receptive as puppies, so it’s best to familiarize them with brushing as part of their early training when they’re playing with other puppy teething toys. But you can begin brushing at any age, the important thing is to be patient and to take things slowly.
 

How do I brush my dog’s teeth?

First, you’ll need a vet-recommended toothbrush and toothpaste. Dog toothpastes are flavoured to encourage brushing and are safe to swallow. Never use human toothpastes as they may contain ingredients that are toxic for dogs.

Illustration of a dogs head

Step 1

The first sessions are about making your dog feel comfortable. Choose a time when the house is quiet and free of distractions then try petting and gently handling their muzzle area for a few seconds to get them used to the experience. 


Illustration of toothpaste

Step 2

When they seem ready, dab a small amount of toothpaste onto your finger and gradually work it around their mouth starting with the fangs. Don’t forget to include the gums.


Illustration of a toothbrush and toothpaste

Step 3

Once your dog is comfortable with brushing by hand, you can introduce the toothbrush. First, wet the toothbrush bristles and add a line of toothpaste. Then using your finger, push the paste down into the bristles.


Illustration of a toothbrush moving round

Step 4

Hold the toothbrush like a pen and use a gentle circular motion to brush the fangs. Then using the same motion, work along the top teeth to the back of the mouth. Gradually you can build up the amount of time and pressure applied to each tooth. You shouldn’t need to brush the inside surfaces as most of the tartar build-up will be on the outside.


Illustration of a toothbrush moving round

Step 5

Repeat the same gentle circular motion along the bottom teeth.

Illustration of a toothbrush moving up and down

Step 6

To brush the front teeth, gently raise your dog’s muzzle and lift the upper lip, then move the toothbrush up and down.

Illustration of a dogs head

Step 7 

End every session on a positive note with lots of praise.

 

Are there alternatives to brushing?

Brushing is the best method for cleaning your dog’s teeth, but there are solutions you can use in combination with brushing to help prevent dental disease.

Dental chews can be effective at reducing plaque and tartar, however, there can also be drawbacks. Dental treats can unbalance a dog’s diet if they’re high in calories. Chews are less effective when it comes to cleaning certain teeth like the fangs and they can cause broken teeth if the chew is very hard – like antlers, hooves, and nylon toys.

Your vet may recommend a special diet that supports oral hygiene as a proactive measure against plaque and tartar or if your dog is prone to dental disease. These diets typically help to freshen breath, aid teeth cleaning, and reduce the risk of periodontal disease in dogs.

Royal Canin’s Dental dog food range, for example, provides optimal nutrition and triple-action formulas that:

  • scrubs teeth with a purposefully designed kibble shape.
  • reduces plaque thanks to their antibacterial and anti-adhesive properties.
  • reduces tartar build-up by binding the calcium in a dog’s saliva with a special kibble coating.

 

If you have questions regarding teeth cleaning or your dog's dental health, speak to your vet. The veterinarian is your dog's dentist and can recommend treatments to support your dog’s oral health. Periodontal disease in dogs is painful and requires veterinary attention before you can begin home treatment.

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To learn more about the signs and stages of dental disease read our in-depth article: Periodontal Disease in Dogs: Signs, Prevention & Treatment.

 

References:

1 Reid, I., 2015. 'Most (95%) Pet Owners Brush Their Own Teeth Daily, But Few Brush Their Dog’s (8%) or Cat’s (4%) Teeth on a Daily Basis'