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How to Brush a Dog’s Teeth

How often do you brush your dog’s teeth? If you answered rarely or never, it’s time to brush up on dog dental care. Regular tooth brushing, which you can learn about in our Infographic [see below], combined with at home checks and annual dental cleanings at your veterinarian’s office can help your dog have a bright, healthy smile and avoid issues like periodontal disease.

About Periodontal Disease

According to the American Veterinary Dental College, most dogs and cats have some evidence of periodontal disease by the time they are three years old.* Periodontal disease is an infection that can cause the loss of teeth and jaw bone. The infection can also spread throughout your dog’s body causing damage to vital internal organs including the heart, liver, and kidneys.

Periodontal disease is caused by the build-up of plaque, which hardens into tartar and sets the stage for infection. Signs of periodontal disease include persistent bad breath, loose or missing teeth, and inflamed or bleeding gums. You may also notice a loss of appetite, difficulty chewing food, and sensitivity in and around your dog’s mouth.

Dog Dental Care 101

Periodontal disease isn’t reversible, but it is preventable with proper dog dental care. Here are three things you can do to help your dog’s mouth stay healthy.

1. Brush Your Dog’s Teeth

Brushing your dog’s teeth may sound like a chore and, if your pup is anything like mine, it may not be his favorite activity either, but it’s essential for removing food particles and plaque. The steps in our Infographic along with these tips on dog teeth cleaning can help you brush like a pro.

Dog Teeth Cleaning Tips

Dog Teeth Cleaning Tips:

  • Use a toothbrush designed for dogs, which will be smaller and softer than an adult human toothbrush. You can also choose a toothbrush you wear over your finger.
  • Never use human toothpaste, since it contains ingredients like fluoride and Xylitol that can be harmful to dogs who tend to swallow toothpaste as you brush. Pick dog-friendly toothpaste that comes in appealing canine flavors, like chicken.
  • Ideally, you should brush your dog’s teeth every day or, at least, a couple of times a week. You can use tooth brushing as a time to bond with your dog.
  • Hold the brush at a 45° angle to get at the gum line area and clean in small circular motions.
  • Take your time and work on one part of the mouth at a time.

With practice and patience, your dog may even come to enjoy the process. If you’re having problems getting the job done, talk to your veterinarian for advice on how to brush a dog’s teeth.

2. Do a Weekly Home Check

Take a good look at your dog’s teeth and gums at least once a week. Find a time when your dog is relaxed, such as after a long walk, and have your dog face you. Gently lift his lips so you can see the gums and teeth. If you notice signs of periodontal disease or other potential problems, such as lumps on the gums or discoloration of the gums or teeth, reach out to your veterinarian.

3. Schedule an Annual Cleaning

Even if you take great care of your dog’s teeth at home, you need to set up an annual dog teeth cleaning session at your veterinarian’s office. Your veterinarian can:

  • Safely scrape away plaque, which can’t be brushed away at home.
  • Closely and thoroughly examine the teeth and gums, including areas below the gum line.
  • Polish the teeth and remove microscopic scratches.

You can sign up for coverage that includes an annual dental cleaning with ASPCA Pet Health Insurance. Learn more about dog insurance.

Anesthesia for Dental Cleaning

The American Veterinary Dental College recommends anesthesia for professional dog teeth cleaning because dogs can’t understand the need to sit still and stay calm during a dental procedure like we do. While anesthesia always carries risks, the pros outweigh the cons for most dogs.

Anesthesia not only makes the experience less stressful for your dog, but it can also make it less painful as well. In addition, it allows the veterinarian to clean below the gum line and closely examine each tooth in your dog’s mouth.

Chew Toys for Dog Dental Care

Chew Toys for Dog Dental Care

Offer your dog safe chew toys and chew bones to gnaw on. They can provide your dog with an appropriate outlet to satisfy that natural instinct to chew (which can save you a few shoes!) and help strengthen teeth and gums.

Be sure anything you give your dog to chew on is safe and not too hard. Very hard objects can cause damage to the soft tissues of the mouth and loosen or fracture teeth. For instance, our insured friend Roddy learned the hard way that bocce balls don’t make good chew toys. Here’s the story his pet parent shared with us:

“Roddy, my 13-year-old Scottish Terrier, has played on the beach since he was a puppy. He especially loves to chase soccer balls with children. One day a group of men was playing bocce and, Roddy swooped in and grabbed one then took off down the beach. He had no idea that bocce balls are extremely heavy, and he broke a big molar.

White Scottish Terrier on a leash

The broken tooth had to be pulled under general anesthesia by breaking it into pieces and surgically removing them. Roddy came through the procedure fine, but the veterinary bills were in the hundreds of dollars. Roddy’s ordeal was a lot less painful for me with his ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan covering most of the bill!”

If you’re interested in dog insurance coverage that can cover dental injuries like fractures as well as annual exams, get a free quote now. You can also check out this other dog safety infographic, which lays out the dangers of chocolate for dogs.

dental infographic


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