Using a Dog Toothbrush

Using a dog toothbrush daily helps your dog’s teeth and mouth remain healthy between professional dental cleanings.

Tartar Causes Problems

Most canine dental problems are caused by a buildup of plaque. Plaque is an accumulation of food debris and saliva that forms in a dog’s mouth. Left untreated, plaque turns into tartar, which can lead to periodontal (gum) disease.

Gum disease can cause your dog’s gums to recede or pull away from his teeth. Food and debris can collect in the areas left open by the gum disease, which can cause infections and tooth loss. Other signs of gum disease include yellowish to brownish buildup on your dog’s teeth, inflamed or receding gums, bleeding and pain.

The American Veterinary Dental Society estimates that 80 percent of dogs over the age of 3 have gum disease. Untreated gum disease affects more than your dog’s mouth. It can cause heart, liver or kidney problems as periodontal bacteria spread throughout your dog’s bloodstream.

Toothbrush Training Your Dog

Good dental habits begin early, so ideally you should start training your dog to accept a toothbrushing routine while he is a puppy, although adult dogs can be trained to have their teeth brushed, too. You can start training your dog when he’s between 8 and 16 weeks of age.

To start training your dog, place a small amount of canine toothpaste on your finger and let your puppy lick and smell the paste to get him acquainted with the odor, texture and taste.

The next step is to get your puppy used to having a toothbrush in his mouth. At first, your finger will substitute for the brush. Place your toothpaste-free finger in your puppy’s mouth and gently rub his teeth and gums. Repeat the process over several days and lengthen the amount of time your finger stays in his mouth each day. Add toothpaste to your finger after a few days of practice without it.

Once your puppy is accustomed to your finger in his mouth, substitute an appropriate-sized soft-bristle toothbrush. First use the brush without toothpaste, then with toothpaste. Praise and reward your pet's good behavior.

Use Circular Brushing Motions

Brush your dog’s teeth slowly and in a circular motion. Start with two or three front teeth and work on those for the first few brushing sessions. As your dog becomes comfortable with brushing, increase the number of teeth you brush, and begin working toward the back of his mouth.

You won’t need to worry about brushing the interior surfaces of your dog’s teeth. Normal tongue action helps reduce tartar buildup in these areas. Concentrate your efforts on the tooth surfaces on the cheek side of your dog’s mouth, and gently brush the area closest to the gums to ensure that tartar and plaque don’t build up there.