how to brush your dog's teeth correctly
Pet Care Advice

How to Brush a Dog’s Teeth (that Hates Being Brushed)

Most dogs really don’t enjoy having their teeth brushed. They find the whole experience intrusive and troubling, and no human toothpaste will change their mind.

Thankfully, steps can be taken to help keep your dog’s teeth and breath in tip-top shape. From getting your dog to open their mouth to allow you to brush their teeth through to alternative methods such as dog dental wipes and natural teeth cleaning treats, there is no shortage of methods for removing plaque from a dog’s teeth.

Let’s take a look at what we can do to keep an eye on our canine companions’ oral hygiene, and ensure that this aversion to toothbrushes doesn’t cause complications. At the very least, you’ll learn how to clean your dog’s teeth without brushing!

Do Dogs Need to Clean Their Teeth?

The short answer is an unqualified yes. Just like human beings, every time a dog eats it can cause a build-up of plaque, and this will need to be dealt with. Not only can it lead to foul-smelling breath, but doggy teeth can also grow rotten and fall out.

In an ideal world, a dog will learn to tolerate their teeth being brushed on a daily basis. At the very least, they should be looking at polished pearly whites at least three times per week.

Sure, dogs managed to evolve without the aid of dentists and tooth care, but so did human beings. Look back at photographs of people in the dim and distant past, and you won’t see many dazzling smiles from our forefathers!

As we become more educated about the importance of keeping our pets happy and healthy, there is no excuse not to keep your tail-wagging chum’s mouth as fresh as possible. This includes brushing – and you’ll have to take the lead on that. Fido can do many things, but wandering into the bathroom and borrowing your toothbrush is not among them.

Gum Disease (Periodontal Disease)

We like to imagine that our furry friends are robust little critters, and that may well be the case. However, from the age of just three, canines can start to suffer from periodontal disease (that’s gum disease to you and me). The consequences of this can be far-reaching, and sadly our animals will not always tell us that they are suffering.

When a dog is feeling under the weather with most ailments, they may be off their food or spend their days whining and generally looking a little sorry for themselves. This isn’t the case when dogs have gum disease or even abscesses within their teeth.

Fido will still tuck into his dinner as though he doesn’t have a care in the world but will be privately living in a great deal of pain. We’re willing to wager that you couldn’t think of anything worse than your beloved pet suffering in such a fashion. Happily, keeping an eye on your four-legged friend’s mouth and brushing their teeth on a regular basis can avoid all this discomfort.

OK, here’s something essential that you need to know – never use human toothpaste on a dog. Human toothpaste includes a substance called fluoride, which combats tooth decay and prevents cavities.

That sounds like everything that you want from doggy toothpaste, but the catch is that fluoride is poisonous to dogs. This makes raiding your bathroom every bit as dangerous as it would be to tuck into an unattended box of chocolates.

Instead, visit your local pet store and pick up a tube of dog-friendly paste, or use one of the alternative methods for tooth cleaning that we will outline further into this guide.

How to Get Your Dog to Open Its Mouth

So far, so simple right? Get your pooch to open their mouth, take a look inside, and take the necessary action to clean their teeth. Of course, if it were that easy, there would be no need to write a guide on this subject!

Unfortunately, you’ll find that most dogs will not abide the very idea of having their teeth inspected. You may be able to snatch a quick glance while your canine companion is enjoying a big post-nap yawn, but they won’t enjoy having their teeth and gums prodded and poked.

Just like anybody that has ever attempted to convince a dog to drop a stick they have taken a shine to in the park will know, it can also be borderline impossible to convince your faithful hound to open wide by voice command alone. No matter what breed of dog we’re dealing with, you can rest assured that it will be a stubborn little so-and-so!

dog treats that clean teeth

Train Your Dog to Open Its Mouth on Command

Asking nicely won’t do it, and you won’t want to force anything.

Here are some simple steps that anybody can take to convince their pooch to open their mouths:

  1. Brush your finger across your dog’s mouth very Start by gently rubbing the side of the muzzle, keeping the pressure down. Make lots of reassuring noises as you do this.
  2. Lift up one corner of the lips, then very gently lift the other. Keep reassuring throughout this process, as this is where doggy suspicion about just what you are attempting is about to kick in.
  3. If you’re confident enough to do so, you should gently place your index finger inside your dog’s mouth. We do mean gently place here – don’t just shove your finger inside and start poking around like a boundary-deficient dentist, as that’s a quick way to lose some digits.
  4. If your dog lets you do this without too much resistance, it’s an excellent time for a treat and to make a fuss of them.
  5. Now try pulling back the lips again, and place your hand under the muzzle.
  6. Very gently, open the mouth wide enough to take a peek inside by separating the lips and teeth. Start to softly issue a very soft, calm command here so your pooch will associate a word with opening his or her own jaws in the future – something like, “open” or, “mouth.”
  7. Leave your dog catching flies for a few seconds then let them close their mouth naturally. Offer up another treat – they’ve earned it!
  8. Give your poor pooch a rest and then repeat this process again in a few minutes. After a while, you’ll find that your chum is sick to the back (and front) teeth of being physically forced to open his mouth, and will do so by the vocal command that you issued earlier.

Et voila! You are now fully capable of convincing a canine to let you inspect their mouth and teeth, and to ensure that they are as healthy as possible. Naturally, this begs the next question – just what exactly are you looking for?

Inspecting Your Dog’s Dog’s Teeth

According to WebMD, there are four core purposes for underdoing regular examinations of your dog’s teeth.

  • To prevent the build-up of plaque, tartar, and calculus
  • To check for and prevent gingivitis and gum disease
  • To look for trauma, such as broken or fractured teeth
  • To inspect for developmental or orthodontic problems

To further break down any concerns that you need to keep an eye on concerning your doggy chum, rush to a vet if you spot any of the following:

  • Bleeding gums
  • Loose teeth
  • Halitosis (assuming it’s worse than usual – a dog’s breath is rarely a picnic!)
  • Bite defects, such as an overbite or underbite
  • A build-up of plaque or other discoloration

You don’t just have to rely on your own two eyes, however. Most vets will inspect teeth as part of a nose-to-tail health check that should be undertaken at least once a year, ideally twice. You could also take Fido for a visit to the doggy dentist, where canines can undergo x-rays inside their mouths and even a full, thorough clean under general anesthetic.

Removing Plaque from a Dog’s Teeth

Much like humans, plaque building up can be a real problem for dogs. Not only is it unsightly and a potential cause of bad breath, but it could be a gateway to further health problems. Yellow staining on a dog’s teeth easily identifies plaque and tartar.

This is particularly likely to occur if Fido tucks into many sugary treats or food. Always read the label when shopping for sustenance for your best friend, and aim for products that offer as close as possible to pure meat. You may be surprised – and horrified – to find how many high street meals and treats are packed with sugar.

how to get dog to open mouth to brush teeth

A doggy diet that revolves around kibble leaves Fido particularly prone to struggling with plaque and tartar. Dry food is likely to get stuck to the roof of any dog’s mouth, and without the ability to take a toothbrush to the offending area there is no way of clearing it away. This food will then begin to rot and cause all kinds of oral health concerns.

Has that mental picture left you ready to take doggy tooth care seriously? We thought so!

Dog Toothpaste

As we have previously established, dogs should not use human toothpaste for their own safety. A dog is likely to swallow every bit of toothpaste that enters their mouths, and that will quickly become toxic if it contains fluoride. Always pick up specialist dog-friendly toothpaste online (or ask a vet for advice if you are unsure).

Here are some of your options:

Dog toothpaste comes in a variety of different flavors, and you’ll be able to pick up something that appeals to your particular pooches palate. This could be a conventional fresh mint, which will certainly lead to potentially more appealing breath. However, many dogs will gravitate more toward savory tastes and scents than you’d ever find in a human drugstore.

Dog toothpaste is often available in seemingly bizarre flavors, such as liver, beef or other taste sensations that will have your furry friend licking his or her lips. This may not appeal to human senses, but at least that means that you’re less likely to mix up the toothpaste tubes while bleary-eyed and half asleep in the morning!

Dog Toothbrushes

Purchasing the ideal toothpaste is one thing, but it’s only half the process. You will also need to invest in a specialist toothbrush that is designed for canine use. This goes beyond the basic hygiene of not wanting to share your own toothbrush with your doggy chum.

The simple fact is, human toothbrushes are not ergonomically suitable for dogs to use. The plastic head is usually too wide to be comfortable, and the bristles that used to conduct the actual cleaning are too hard. These will end up hurting Fido, and you’ll have even more trouble talking him into having his teeth brushed.

Here are some brushes that we like:

What type of toothbrush is best often depends on the breed of dog that you are dealing with, as all different dogs have different sized and shaped mouths. Consult a vet before committing to purchasing a canine toothbrush, but there are two primary types:

  • Power Brushes: More conventional-looking toothbrushes that will allow you to brush from afar
  • Finger Brushes: Slip over your finger (much like a thimble) and allow you to gently brush your dog’s teeth as though you were doing it by hand

Be aware that every furry member of the family should have their own toothbrush. You wouldn’t expect your human children to share due to concerns about hygiene, and the same goes for dogs.

If one of them does have a problem that requires medical attention, you will not want it to be shared. A dog toothbrush will also need to be replaced every three months or so to ensure that no bacteria settle into the bristles.

 How to Brush a Dog’s Teeth at Home

Convincing your dog to allow you to let you brush their teeth will not be an immediate thing. In fact, at times it will feel like a fruitless negotiation that you are doomed to fail in. If you stay the course and show perseverance, however, you should eventually succeed in training your pooch pal into accepting their fate.

Much like we all fear the dentist as children but learn to accept them as a necessary evil as adults, dogs will finally grow to understand that tooth cleaning is for their own good.

When you’re ready to give it a go, it’s very important not to attempt too much, too soon. Following these steps, and you should enjoy a successful stint of tooth cleaning:

  1. Start the process by placing a little of the toothpaste on the end of the brush, and allowing Fido to lick it up as though it’s a treat. Dogs explore everything via their mouths, and this will encourage them to gently take a look at what is on offer and associate the toothbrush – and toothpaste – as something pleasurable.
  2. Once you get those big wide eyes asking for a little more, Oliver Twist-style, it’s time to introduce the idea of brushing to your pooch. That means applying more toothpaste to the brush, and very gently touching it against those canine gnashers.
  3. Don’t force this, and don’t apply any physical pressure such as lifting the teeth or gums – at least not at first. If your dog is going to accept having their teeth brushed, it will be a matter of building trust over time. This could take several months; patience is critical! Play the long game, for the sake of your dog’s health.
  4. Once your chum happily opens wide and lets you brush away, be sure to ensure a good, quality cleaning. That means not just focusing on the front teeth that you can see every time your dog yawns, pants or smiles. You’ll have to really get into their mouth and polish up the back teeth. These do a lot of the hard work of chewing and tearing food apart and could cause significant pain and discomfort if the damage is done.
  5. Don’t neglect the gums. Don’t push too hard and make them bleed, but equally, ensure that you are comfortable and confident that Fido’s gums are in good health.

Dog Tooth Brushing Alternatives

In the event of a real struggle to convince Fido to allow you to brush his teeth – which is entirely possible – there are alternative methods.

Dog Dental Wipes

Just as the name suggests, dog dental wipes are damp pieces of cloth that can be run across Fido’s teeth.

The impact will be familiar to anybody that eye wipes to treat staining around the tear ducts. This product will remove the worst of the surface-level discoloration, but it will not necessarily do anything to treat the cause of the problem.

Here are a couple of options:

Despite this, dental wipes are a great addition to any pet’s routine. They are less intrusive than a toothbrush and considerably gentler on the gums. They’ll also freshen breath, and many dogs will have hours of fun tearing them apart after use.

Dental wipes may not be the best treatment for canine oral healthcare, but they are beneficial in addition to more traditional methods.

dog dislikes his teeth being brushed

Tooth-Cleaning Treats

Many treats will promote themselves as being great for your canine companion’s teeth. Take these claims with a pinch of salt – if only to counter the amount of sugar that is often found within these snacks.

That’s right, what the manufacturers of these treats are not making clear is that they are loading their products with sugar to entice your pooch, and tempt them into munching in the first place.

Also, common core ingredients for mass-produced treats such as rawhide are packed with calories and will cause more problems than benefits in the longer term. The truth is, owners are better served by investing in a tug-of-war-centric rope toy that will encourage Fido to sink his teeth into something.

If you’d like to help clean your dog’s teeth through chewing – which will, of course, appeal to their instincts at the same time – consider introducing raw bones into his or her diet. You’ll be able to pick these up from a local butcher, and they’ll keep your pooch occupied for hours.

The correct bone can also help prevent, or even reverse, gum disease in older dogs. Note that use of the word correct, though. You’ll have to do some homework to ensure that you’re offering Fido a bone that will help rather than hinder, and not cause more damage to potentially weak or damaged teeth.

Professional Help

Sometimes, only professional help will do. If your hound howls the house down when you try to approach them with a toothbrush or wipe, and displays an aversion to bones and other tooth-cleaning tools, you may need to seek assistance from a vet to prevent them from growing unhealthy.

As we have already explained, a vet will be able to administer a general anesthetic to a dog and conduct a thorough cleaning process. This is performed while the canine in question is asleep as it can be very intrusive, involving direct scraping from many sharp implements. If a pooch will not allow their beloved human to clean their teeth, it’s safe to assume that a hygienist will not be made welcome!

This use of anesthetic means that such treatment should only be considered for the sturdiest, healthiest of dogs. On the plus side, however, one treatment will typically leave your tail-wagging chum with a dazzling smile that would turn a Hollywood starlet green with envy.