Dog dental hygiene

Discover our guide to keeping your dog's teeth and mouth clean.

vet checking labrador teeth outside

There are lots of ways to help keep your dog's teeth clean and healthy. You can get specially formulated dry foods, additives for their water and chew toys that can help clean teeth if used frequently. But often the best way to keep your dog’s teeth clean is by brushing.

The basics

When should you start brushing your dog's teeth? 

  • It's a good idea to introduce your dog to having their teeth brushed when they’re a puppy. For dogs of any age, toothbrushing needs to be introduced in a gradual and positive way
  • Ideally, brush your dog's teeth daily
  • If your dog pulls away or is uncomfortable at any point, stop what you’re doing and take a break
  • During your next session, go back a stage to when your dog was comfortable and practise that step slowly and gradually before progressing again
  • If you're struggling to brush your dog's teeth or they show any signs of being worried, speak to your vet or seek support from a qualified behaviourist.  

What should you use to brush your dog's teeth? 

  • You can buy enzymatic dog toothpaste and a brush or rubber thimble from your vet/pet shop. Enzymatic toothpaste helps break down plaque and reduces bad breath. They also come in enticing flavours like chicken or liver. 
  • Never use human toothpaste as it can be toxic for dogs. 

Do you need to brush your dog's teeth? 

  • It’s important to look after your dog's teeth. Dental disease is one of the most common health problems experienced by dogs and can result in significant pain from sore teeth and gums.
  • Daily teeth brushing can help prevent the build-up of plaque and tartar which can lead to gingivitis and dental disease.  

Possible signs of dental problems 

It can sometimes be difficult to recognise if a dog is in pain because of dental disease — they will often continue to eat which can mask the severity of the problem. But there are a few signs to look for that could indicate that your dog has dental problems.

These include: 

  • bad breath
  • a change in your dog's eating habits
  • red or swollen gums (gingivitis- A thin red line along the gum will indicate inflammation of the gums)
  • discolouration of the teeth (plaque- this is a sticky, colourless film of sugars and bacteria that builds up on the teeth)
  • Plaque can then lead to (tartar- a hard calcified deposit that will build up and cause dental disease)
  • fractured or missing teeth. 

Your vet will check your dog's teeth on a regular basis but if your dog shows any of these signs, seek veterinary advice. Many vet practices offer free dental clinics with their vet nurses or free nurse checks with pet care plans. 

To get started, you'll need to teach your dog how to rest their chin on your hand. 

  1. Hold your open hand flat with your palm up in front of your dog’s snout slightly below chin level. 
  2. In your other hand, hold a treat in front of your dog just below their nose. As your dog reaches for the treat, slowly lower your hand holding the treat towards your open palm. As your dog places their chin across your open palm, mark that they got the behaviour right by saying 'yes' or 'good' and reward them.
  3. Repeat this a few times and once your dog is getting it right, start to fade out the treat by repeating the steps with the same motion but with no treat in your hand.
  4. Reward them with a treat when they place their chin onto your palm. Once you have practiced this, start to fade out the moving hand by moving it less and less until you are able to present just your palm and your dog will place their chin across it.
  5. Reward your dog every time they get it right. Once they’ve got the hang of it you can add a verbal cue like ‘chin’, wait for a second, then present your palm for your dog to place their chin on. You can also start to increase the duration over sessions by waiting a second before marking and rewarding your dog. 

It's important to understand your dog's body language so you can tell when they're feeling uncomfortable or apprehensive. Once they have mastered this you can get them used to having their mouth and teeth touched and cleaned.

How to brush your dogs teeth

Introduce touching their mouth

Help support your dog's head by asking them to rest their chin on your hand, then gently touch the outside of your dog's lips. Remove your hand and give your dog a treat straight away.

Repeat this process, briefly touching both the upper and lower jaw. Gradually start …

Progress to touching inside their mouth

Providing your dog is comfortable with this, you can progress to touching inside their mouth. With your hand in the same position as before, gently slide a finger inside your dog's upper lips and over the gums. Remove your hand and give them a treat and praise straight …

Touch their snout

Next work on getting your dog comfortable with your hand resting gently on top of their snout. Gently place your hand over their snout and give them a reward. Repeat this and providing they’re relaxed, you can start to add in touching and lifting their lips …

Touch their teeth

Once they are comfortable with those steps you can lift their top lips and slide your finger over their teeth and gums. You don’t need to open your dog’s mouth, by lifting the upper or lower lip you can reach their teeth. Reward them straight away with praise and treats. …

Use the brush

Now you can progress to using the brush to gently touch your dog’s teeth and gums. Start by brushing a couple of teeth in a circular motion. Over multiple, short sessions, build up very gradually until you can brush all the teeth. Brush using a circular motion concentrating …

Add toothpaste

Finally, put a little bit of toothpaste on your brush, let your dog sniff and lick it, then gently slide the toothpaste under their lip and start to brush their teeth in a circular motion.

As always reward your dog for doing so well!

Options alongside brushing

Tooth brushing is the best way to keep your dog’s mouth healthy. Your vet may also recommend specific food types, treats and toys to help with oral health to use alongside brushing, or while you’re working with your dog to get them used to tooth brushing.

Always consult your vet before using any products alongside brushing, and book in with a nurse or vet for a dental check.

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