How to clean your dog’s teeth

Regularly brushing your dog’s teeth will help keep their gums and teeth clean, contributing to their long-term wellbeing, as well as helping to prevent or fight gum disease.

Many dogs show signs of gum disease as early as four years old due to a combination of the wrong diet, a lack of access to decent chew toys, few or no visits to their vet for check-ups and minimal proper oral care.

One of the most obvious signs of an unhealthy mouth is bad breath (halitosis). Doggie breath doesn’t usually smell like a bunch of roses, but if your pet's breath is very offensive and perhaps accompanied by a loss of appetite, excessive drooling or discomfort when eating, you should assume that there's a problem in their mouth. So make an appointment to get them checked out as soon as possible.

Your vet will examine your pet's mouth thoroughly, checking its gums for any inflammation (gingivitis), strange growths or wobbly teeth that require extraction, and will offer you advice on any dental treatment required.

When your pet is young (or as early as possible with a rescue pet), it's a good idea to get into the habit of inspecting its mouth and keeping it as clean as possible in order to spot any abnormalities so you can alert your vet at the earliest opportunity. Bacteria and plaque-forming foods easily accumulate on your pet's teeth and quickly harden to form tartar, so you should try to prevent any build-up through regular brushing.

Although it’s not exactly natural for your dog to have their teeth brushed, it’s wise to introduce dental care when they are puppies and gradually build it into your pet’s routine. Ideally, you should brush your dog’s teeth every day.

Here are some top tips for cleaning your dog’s teeth…

When to start brushing your dog's teeth

A dog’s teeth are mainly used for eating, however, they come in handy when playing and chewing toys, too. Like humans, dogs have two sets of teeth in their life. Between three to six weeks of age, a puppy’s first set of 28 teeth arrive.

At about four months old, their puppy teeth fall out and are replaced by 42 adult teeth. Once your dog’s adult teeth begin to grow, you should gradually begin introducing dental care such as brushing your dog’s teeth.

Choose your moment

When you introduce daily dental care with your dog, always try to choose a quiet place and a time when your dog isn’t hungry or tired. This will increase the chances of your dog sitting still for a tooth-brushing session.

Use the right tools

Make sure you have the right equipment for brushing your dog’s teeth:

Toothbrush - A soft bristle brush is ideal for small dogs. For a larger dog, you can use an adult-size toothbrush with medium bristles. Alternatively, you can use a specially designed brush that has a tapered head, sitting at an angle to the handle, so that your dog’s cheek teeth can be reached.

Toothpaste for pets - introduce the taste of toothpaste to your pet before beginning to brush their teeth. Poultry or malt-flavoured toothpastes are safe for animals to swallow. Let your dog lick the toothpaste off your hand and gradually transition them to licking the toothpaste off the toothbrush. Do not use human toothpaste – it froths, and fluoride interferes with an animal's enamel formation, as well as irritating its stomach lining

How to brush your dog’s teeth

You should gradually introduce your dog to tooth brushing by allowing him to taste the toothpaste and by encouraging him to get used to something in his mouth, like your finger.

When your dog seems calm with you sliding your finger under his top lip (be careful when doing this and be sure to gently hold their muzzle shut), you can start to bring in brushing.

With a wet toothbrush and a small amount of toothpaste, start to brush the outer surfaces of the teeth in a gentle circular action, with the bristles directed at an angle of 45 degrees towards the gum line to clean under the gum where the teeth meet it.

You may find it easier to start with the side teeth towards the front rather than at the very front, as this area is more sensitive. Remember to stop as soon as your pet resists.

Gradually develop your own routine. Each session, brush more teeth at a time as you work towards the back of the mouth. You only need to brush the outer surfaces of the teeth, as your pet’s tongue will do the inner surfaces naturally. Always remember to praise and reward your pet after a successful teeth cleaning.

And finally, remember to book an annual dental check-up so that your vet can check your dog’s teeth – you’ll also need to do this for your insurance.

Do you have any tips for cleaning your dog’s teeth? Share them with us on Facebook, Instagram or X, using the tag #PethoodStories.

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