Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth

Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth

Did you know that two thirds of dogs older than three years old have periodontal disease? Brushing your dog’s teeth often can help prevent this disease. Periodontal disease starts with inflammation or infection of the gum tissue surrounding your dog’s teeth, eventually leading to destruction of the bone and soft tissue around the tooth. Gingivitis is caused by plaque and calculus (tartar) buildup at the gum line and is typically the first step in the development of periodontal disease. Left untreated, gingivitis can progress down to the bone around the teeth. Periodontal disease can eventually lead to your pet having painful tooth loss.

To help slow down the progression of periodontal disease, regularly brushing your dog’s teeth is recommended. In fact, brushing is the single most important dental preventative measure you can do for your pet. There are steps you can take to make tooth brushing so easy that it can become a regular part of their pet care routine, like brushing their coat and trimming their nails. In this article, our team at Montana Pet Dentistry and Oral Surgery will cover some helpful tips on how to brush your dog’s teeth to make it a positive experience for you and your dog. If you take your time and proceed slowly, around 80% of dogs (and 50% of cats) will accept some level of brushing.

How often should I brush my dog’s teeth?

Dogs benefit from having their teeth cleaned just as often as humans—twice daily.  Studies have shown that the bare minimum amount of brushing that shows any benefit at all is once every other day, and this amount of brushing only slows the continued progression of the disease; it does not reverse any disease that is already present.

Start Young

It is best to start brushing your dog’s teeth when they are a puppy, while they are small and accepting of new things.If you have an older dog, it is still possible to get them used to having their teeth brushed, but it may take a bit more time and patience in order to get them to cooperate.

Create a Calm Environment

No matter what age you begin brushing your dog’s teeth, you should always choose an ideal time to introduce the concept. Your dog’s first brushings before he becomes acclimated to regular brushing should be a calm, quiet, and low stress environment. Try to find a time without lots of distractions, multiple people around, or anything else that may keep your dog from enjoying the tooth brushing experience. 

It is important to make it a positive experience for both you and your dog. You can do this by praising your dog throughout the procedure, and reassuring them every step of the way. Don’t make it a battle. If your pet is resisting your efforts, it might be better to take a break and try again in a few hours.

How to get it done

1. Make sure your dog is comfortable with you touching his teeth without a toothbrush or toothpaste before you begin. 

You can do this by running your finger along their teeth and gums, or using a soft washcloth and running it along their teeth and gums with your finger. Once your dog is comfortable with this, you can move on to the next step.

2. Allow your dog to taste a bit of pet toothpaste from your finger. 

Allow your dog to taste a flavored pet toothpaste from your finger.It is best to use a toothpaste formulated specifically for pets, as human toothpaste contains detergents and pumice that can irritate a dog’s stomach when they swallow the product. Pet toothpaste is also available in flavors that are more appealing to dogs, such as beef, chicken, mint, seafood and peanut butter. Surprisingly, some dogs actually prefer the mint flavor. These different flavors can make the entire experience much easier for you and your pet. 

3. Brush With A Pet Toothbrush

After getting your dog acclimated to the toothpaste, it is time to actually brush! Be very gentle and use a soft bristle brush. There are brushes made specifically for pets that have very long and soft bristles and a head shaped to fit the teeth in the back of the mouth. Apply a small amount of toothpaste to the toothbrush. You don’t even need to open your dog’s mouth to brush, just slide the brush under the lips in the corner of the mouth. Most of the benefit will come from brushing the outside of the upper teeth in the back of the mouth. Brush as well as possible, for at least 30 seconds on each side. If your dog will allow it, brush the insides and outsides of all the teeth, especially the back teeth; the more the merrier! Again, if you meet resistance back off and try again in an hour.

4. Finish Strong 

Praise and reward your dog for allowing you to brush his teeth. This helps to make tooth brushing a positive experience. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after you are finished. Rinse the pet toothbrush well after brushing, before putting it away. Your dog’s toothbrush, like a human’s, should be replaced every three months. If you have multiple dogs, each should have their own toothbrush. 

5. The “Gold Standard”

For those owner’s who want to provide the best preventative dental home care possible for their pet’s, here is our suggestion.
1. Do this twice daily.

  1. Wait 20-30 minutes after feeding your pet. This gives some time for the food stuck to the teeth to fall off naturally.
  2. Brush for 2 minutes as described above.
  3. After brushing, squirt a small amount of chlorhexidine gluconate solution under the cheek on each side of the mouth. Chlorhexidine is a very safe antibacterial agent that provides a slow-release action against plaque causing bacteria. Although the product has a bitter taste that some dogs object to, it is very safe and has been used in humans for many years.

This level of home care will take you 2-3 minutes twice a day, but will pay big dividends for your pet, help decrease the severity of periodontal disease, make you more aware of what your pet’s mouth normally looks like and extend the time between cleanings. Good Luck!!

Professional Dental Cleanings for Dogs

In addition to brushing at home regularly, your dog should also have regular dental cleanings and exams to maintain proper oral health. Dr. Tony Woodward is the only board-certified veterinary dentist in all of Montana and is highly experienced in treating dental disease—and the good news is that you don’t need a referral to have your pet seen by Dr. Woodward. All you need to do is call our Bozeman office and schedule an appointment. Dr. Woodward is on-site here in Bozeman full time to handle all of your dog’s dental needs.


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