If you’ve ever tried it out, I’m sure you know that brushing your dogs teeth can be a challenge. Often people rush too quickly to the final stage of tooth brushing, trying to brush their dogs’ teeth with a toothbrush and toothpaste. Even worse, if your pet has a painful mouth to begin with, sticking jagged toothbrush bristles into a painful mouth, is not the way to get your dog to like his tooth brushing. A gradual stepwise process where you get your dog used to different parts of the tooth brushing experience is the best way to ensure that you will have success with brushing your dogs teeth.

How often should you brush?

Just like your own teeth, canine teeth should be brushed at least once a day. This is because plaque will start to form on canine teeth within 24 hours of a dental cleaning or brushing. Plaque is what creates the filmy feeling on your teeth if you’ve missed a day of brushing. When plaque is allowed to stay on dogs teeth it generates a biofilm. Biofilms are collections of bacteria that create their own micro environment and are stubborn to remove and very resistant to antibiotics.

Dog holding a toothbrush in its mouth

This Dachshund understands the need for daily tooth brushing.

When you brush your dogs’ teeth once a day, this breaks up the plaque and stops biofilms from forming. If you’re thinking to yourself that brushing your dogs’ teeth once a day is ridiculous, then consider for a second how often you brush your own teeth.

That being said, dental disease is strongly related to genetics. Some pets will have great teeth without you ever needing to clean them. But there is also the opposite scenario where even if you are doing a great job brushing your dogs teeth, they still need some extra help along the way. Remember, you brush two to three times a day and get a dental cleaning once a year, and you might still get the occasional cavity. There’s no reason to think that your dog doesn’t need the same level of dental care.

Check up before brushing

Before starting regular tooth brushing for your dog, it is important to get the mouth checked out for any sign of dental disease. If your dog has a painful mouth, you’re going to struggle with brushing the teeth and probably cause your dog some pain at the same time. Brushing painful teeth or gums will also make sure that your dog will hate all your future teeth brushing attempts. Don’t rush to brush! Get your pet checked out first.

healthy dog teeth

An example of healthy canine teeth and gums

canine oral calculus

Not so clean canine teeth. Tooth brushing isn’t going to make a dent in this dogs oral disease. It also might cause this dog pain.

For teething puppies it is better to wait until after the teething stage before you start brushing. Sticking a pokey brush into a painful mouth is not going to get your dog to like tooth brushing. Wait until your puppy is at least 6 months old to start brushing to avoid any issues with teething.

Here are the 5 steps for tooth brushing success.

Step 1 – Handling the mouth and face

  • massage and handle the chin, upper and lower jaw for a couple minutes at least once a day
  • praise, affection, treats – reward your dog after massaging
  • once your pet likes this (at least 1 week), graduate to next step – don’t go too fast

Step 2 – Have your fingers in the mouth

  • massage the gums and teeth with your finger, including the teeth at the back of the mouth
  • praise, affection, treats – reward your dog

Step 3 – Massage the teeth and gums with a mildly abrasive material

  • mildly abrasive material – cloth, pantyhose, gauze
  • praise, affection, treats – reward your dog

Step 4 – Soft tooth brush on the teeth and gums (no toothpaste)

  • finger brush works as well
  • don’t neglect the teeth at the back of the mouth
  • start the brush on the gums and brush away from the gums
  • praise, affection, treats – reward your dog

Step 5 – Toothpaste and a tooth brush

  • check if dog likes the taste, try a few different flavours if not interested in the first one
  • 98% of cleaning action is related to abrasive action of toothbrush – it’s alright to not use toothpaste if you can’t find one your dog likes
  • enzymatic toothpaste is ideal
  • brush the gums and the teeth, scrubbing the brush from the gums and then off the tip of the teeth
  • praise, affection, treats – reward your dog
  • do not let your dog drink water for 1 hour after brushing

Holding technique for dog tooth brushing

Holding your dog in a calming position can also help make brushing a more tolerable activity. Facing the head away while brushing will help to relax your dog. Less squirming makes brushing easier on everyone.


dog brushing its own teeth

Please brush my teeth daily!

The key to the tooth brushing process is repetition, praise, and taking it slow. Don’t rush too quickly from one step to the next; take at least a week to get your dog used to each step. You may find you can skin one or two steps but please don’t jump right to the end. Rushing to the finish is why most people struggle with brushing their dogs’ teeth. Remember that practice makes perfect so doing a step multiple times a day will let you reach the finish line sooner.

Hope this helps out all those people who want to brush their pets teeth but just haven’t been able to. These tips and steps can apply for cats as well. If you’re still not having any success despite your best efforts, or you think your pet might have a painful mouth, contact your vet. There is likely a reason that your furry friend is complaining and it’s probably not the smell of your breath.

Good luck!
Dr. Tim Julian