How to Clean Your Dog’s Teeth at Home: Best Practices for Brushing

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I think we all understand that dental hygiene is important, whether that’s your own or your pets. If there is one message I would tell my younger self, it would be “take care of your teeth”.  With the advent of electric toothbrushes, sonic toothbrushes and a myriad of toothpastes – I’m talking about dog’s teeth here – what is the best way to care for your canine’s canines? 

I wanted to get the best advice for how to care for your dog’s teeth at home and avoid unnecessary trips to the vet. Especially during these strange times when we’re going from tiers and full lockdown and swinging back and forth.  So, I reached out to two expert Veterinary Nurses who deal with canine teeth issues on a regular basis for their top tips on how to manage your dog’s teeth cleaning routine at home.

As a general rule you should brush your dog’s teeth daily. However, the age of your dog affects the frequency and how you need to provide dental care for your dog.

Our experts

Rachel Bean RVN MCFBA 

rachel bean
Rachel Bean RVN MCFBA 

Rachel has been in Veterinary Practice for 18 years, 6 of those years as a Head Nurse. She is a Listed Qualified Veterinary Nurse registered with The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and qualified in 2002 Rachel runs dedicated Canine First Aid Workshops that offer practical and theory based workshops using real dogs for bandaging techniques.

Emma Betts VN SQP

Emma Betts VN SQP

A Veterinary Nurse with extensive experience in animal care in a career spanning over 20 years. Emma  made the move from Veterinary Nursing to professional animal grooming. In 2005 Emma opened A-Z Animal Care in Bethersden, Kent.

Why is canine dental hygiene important? 

It is important to maintain dental hygiene as the teeth are very important for dogs throughout their life. They use them to eat, to play, to hold things, to chew things etc.” said Rachel. “It is important to keep the teeth clean from the puppy teeth through to adult teeth. By keeping healthy gums and teeth, very much like us, it keeps nasty bacteria at bay. If bacteria from unhealthy gums builds it can enter the bloodstream and cause other health problems.” 

If plaque builds up and tartar forms this can erode the gums making the teeth vulnerable to bacteria which will rot the teeth causing pain and discomfort for the dog. 

Rachel Bean RVN MCFBA 

“ Issues from poor dental care include:  Gingivitis – Inflamed, red, bleeding gums, bad breath, dental pain, tooth loss, eight loss due to inability to eat, unnecessary surgery and vet treatment” continued Emma. “Poor hygiene can also lead to, on rare occasions, a bacterial infection that travels to your dog’s heart.”

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Tartar build up in dog’s mouth ( Image credit: Rachel Bean RVN MCFBA 

If your pet has a permanent infection within their mouth this will add strain to the whole body and as they get older can cause stress to their liver,
kidneys and heart. 

Emma Betts VN SQP

How to clean your dog’s teeth at home the proper way

In a recent survey out of 78% of pet owners who agreed that oral hygiene is important for overall health in their canine companions, only 10% brush their dog’s teeth at least once weekly.  So when do you start and how do you teach your dog to love their brushing routine?

Start young and teach your puppy to like having their teeth brushed

People ask what age you should start brushing your dog’s teeth and the answer is, as soon as you get them home and settled in. It is important to clean puppies teeth so they get used to it. The deciduous teeth (baby teeth) start to fall out from around 16 weeks up to around 24/26 weeks.

  1. Make sure you touch your puppies mouths and teeth with your finger and firstly get the dog used to you looking around in their mouth. 
  2. You can then start to introduce a pet safe toothpaste and rub it around the teeth and gums with your finger getting the dog used to the taste and the feel of having their teeth touched. 
  3. Try and brush their teeth when they have had a walk and are a bit sleepy so they accept it better. 
  4. You can do a few teeth each day and rotate which teeth so they don’t get irritated by you doing all the teeth all at once. 

In a perfect world your dog’s teeth should be cleaned daily but in reality, the minimum should be at least once or twice a week.

Emma Betts VN SQP

My dog refuses to let me brush their teeth, what should I do?

If your dog doesn’t like their teeth being brushed you can start with micro steps. Grab a handful of tasty treats and do the following:

  1. Position yourself on the ground at their level so they don’t feel threatened.
  2. Lift up their lip and reward them with a treat. Repeat this several times.
  3. Then gently touch the gums with your fingers and reward.Repeat.
  4. Gradually touch more parts of their mouth with your fingers rewarding each time.
  5. Repeat steps 1-3 gently with a dog toothbrush.
  6. If, after several days of trying your dog doesn’t like the toothbrush you could try a finger brush or the cotton wool method above. 
  7. Now let your dog sniff and taste the toothpaste. You may need to try different ones( or homemade) to find one that appeals. Even though we like minty toothpaste, your dog will prefer meaty flavours.
  8. Now pop some toothpaste on the brush and gently place the brush at a 45 degree angle to the gumline. You want to use small circular motions and brush the play away from the gum, not into it. 
  9. Do a little brushing, then praise your dog verbally. Repeat.

Note that there may be some bleeding when you brush, which is normal. Excessive bleeding from the gums should be checked by your Vet.

Dolly gets hands on with her brushing.

A word about dog toothpaste

It is important NOT to use a human toothpaste as dogs cannot process the additional fluoride that is in the toothpaste. Most of the pet toothpastes contain enzymes that help break down plaque, tartar and bits of food. Many of the toothpastes only need to be applied to the teeth not always brushed so the fact you have the toothpaste on the teeth will help. 

Emma recommends toothpastes called  “Logic Oral Enzyme Gel” or “Orozyme”. These are toothpastes designed to be applied by finger or toothbrush and are designed to be applied by either finger or toothbrush. 

I took a closer look at what’s in dog toothpastes in this article to find out what ingredients they use and alternatives you can use at home. The results were somewhat surprising.

A Simple alternative to dog toothpaste

Rachels’ tip: “You can also use damp cotton wool balls, dip in Bicarbonate Of Soda powder and rub the teeth, this is abrasive enough to remove the plaque.”

You can make homemade toothpaste that works really well with a few simple ingredients.

Dog toothbrushes

There are a number of toothbrushes that can be purchased. Some look like a normal human toothbrush and some are finger brushes that fit on your finger. You can even use ultrasonic toothbrushes!

You can use a special dog’s toothbrush or a baby tooth brush with special dog toothpaste, never use human toothpaste.


What to check for in your dog’s mouth

As part of your regular routine you should check your dog’s teeth once a week.

If you have a puppy start them young by having their teeth brushed and make sure all the baby teeth do fall out at the correct time and none are retained. 

You are looking for any discolouration on the teeth, mainly tartar which is brown in colour and rotten teeth are usually grey or black. Infected gums can be red and look sore and may bleed, especially chewing or playing with a toy. Some breeds are more prone to dental issues especially small breeds such as Yorkshire Terriers or Chihuahuas for example. 

Dog Dental Checklist

  • Discoloured teeth
  • Foul smells
  • Loose teeth / fractured teeth
  • Receding gums
  • Red gums
  • Foreign objects such as grass seeds, hair from grooming which gets in the gums, sticks or bones that can wedge across the roof of the mouth.

Natural ways to keep your dog’s teeth clean 

Marrow bones are great for cleaning teeth, just allow the dog to chew the sinew of the bone and throw the bone away. Beef wind pipes are great from chewing also and anything where the dog has to use its back teeth, the carnassial teeth.

Emma recommends a product called Plaque off. This is a seaweed that you sprinkle on your pet’s food to soften plaque and tartar and prevent new plaque from sticking. “We have seen very good results with this.” says Emma.  

Chewy items and dental sticks

There are many specific dental chews on the market that can help  reduce plaque by up to 70% but you need to be careful that the chews can be quite calorific. Some can account for up to 1/3 of your dog’s daily calories. Chew items which are also useful are Yakkers, Whimzees, dried rabbit ears or similar. 

dog dental care dental stick
Dolly and her daily dental stick

Ask your vet for a doggy dental check up

If you want your dog to have a dental check up just call your Vets and make a Veterinary Nurse Appointment, these are generally free and can help you keep your dogs teeth healthy.

Professional teeth cleaning at the groomers

Find a pet groomer who offers teeth cleaning. Many are now using ultrasonic toothbrushes and the change in environment can change the dog’s behaviour. Some groomers also work in pairs which means one can hold / distract the dog whilst the other can clean the teeth.

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Before and after of professional dog teeth cleaning. Image credit : Emma Betts VN SQP

Signs that you need to take your dog to the vet

You need to see the Vet if you notice the tartar levels building,  or if there are any red or bleeding gums, any teeth are loose, any teeth are discoloured, black or pussy. It’s important to see the vet if you notice your dog is losing weight or showing a reluctance to eat as this could indicate an underlying dental issue.If your dog’s mouth smells it is advisable to the Vet or Veterinary Nurse for a Dental Assessment. 

To summarise, how do I keep my dog’s mouth clean?

The main techniques for keeping your dog’s mouth clean are by brushing, using dental treats, and having your veterinarian perform dental cleanings as needed. There are also a handful of supplemental teeth cleaning options for maintaining your dog’s oral hygiene. These options include tooth wipes, chew toys, dental bones, and water additives. You should keep an eye on your dog’s mouth and contact your vet if your dog shows any of the following symptoms:

  • Bad or worsening breath
  • Buildup of plaque along the gumline
  • Swollen and bleeding gums
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive drooling
  • Pawing or scratching at their mouths consistently
  • Unexplained lumps or growths on the gums
  • Broken and discoloured teeth

Recommended products for dog dental care

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