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How To Brush Your Dog’s Teeth

By Colleen Williams
published: March 2, 2018 - updated: January 12, 2024 • 4 min. read
dog teeth

Key Takeaways

  • Caring for your dog’s teeth is as important as other preventative care, and will keep your pet from developing related health conditions.
  • The more you brush your dog’s teeth, the quicker your pet will become comfortable with it.
  • Start off slowly and gently to get your dog used to the idea of you putting a brush in his or her mouth.

There’s not a single pet parent out there who doesn’t feel a twinge of guilt when they think about their dog’s teeth – according to the AVMA, only 1 percent brush pets regularly. Humans brush their teeth (hopefully) twice daily, but the frequency for dogs is less clear. Some scoff at the thought of brushing their pet’s teeth – after all, no one was keeping wolves’ canines pearly white – and others are scared off by the high price of professional dog teeth cleaning.

Pet parents mostly worry about the impact brushing (or not) will have on their dogs. At first, brushing a dog’s teeth can be mildly stressful and confusing for the animal. But like anything, the more you do it, the quicker your pet will become comfortable with you cleaning his teeth.

The problem is, brushing a dog’s teeth takes time, often falling at the bottom of busy pet parents’ to-do lists. Even veterinarians neglect their brushing duties, as Dr. Andy Roark writes on VetStreet.

“Unfortunately, the problem with my being a real person — one with a working spouse, young children, two jobs and a few hobbies — is that what I know to be “the best thing” and what I actually do at home are occasionally not the same,” Dr. Roark confesses.

How to brush your dog’s teeth

brushing dogs teeth
Start by getting your pet used to the brushing sensation. Use a towel or finger to rub your pet’s gums and teeth. (

1. Get the good stuff.

Dog toothpaste comes in a variety of flavors, so pick your pup’s favorite! You can even make dog-friendly toothpaste at home with a few simple ingredients. There are many different styles of dog toothbrushes as well, depending on the animal’s size and level of comfort. Some have angled heads for easier brushing, while others are rubbery and fit on a fingertip. The Veterinary Oral Health Council recommends using a dog toothbrush that has rounded bristles, to avoid irritating gums. Never use human toothpaste, as it is not designed to be swallowed, or baking powder – in addition to upsetting the stomach, its bad taste can make pets uncooperative.

2. Start off slow.

Before you stick a strange object into your dog’s mouth, it’s best to gauge his level of comfort. Start off by petting the muzzle and lips, allowing your dog to get used to the sensation of you handling the area. Work up to rubbing a towel or piece of cloth on the teeth, mimicking the brushing motion. Finally, give your pup a taste of doggy toothpaste! If your dog seems to accept both the simulated brushing and the toothpaste, it’s time to move on to the next step.

how to brush dogs teeth
Select a toothbrush and toothpaste designed for dogs to avoid irritating your pet’s gums or stomach. (

3. Begin brushing!

Now introduce the dog toothbrush, applying a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Gently raise your dog’s lips out of the way – this is the part where most pets struggle. Brushing in circular motions, focus on the outside of your dog’s teeth and around the canines; these areas are hot spots for periodontal disease. For the first few sessions brushing your dog’s teeth, you won’t be able to get all his teeth. Work up to it over several weeks – even one forced brushing can make a dog anxious.

Pro Tip: If you have trouble using the traditional toothbrush, the product Bristly is worth a look. Eliminating the stress and awkwardness of brushing a dog’s teeth, Bristly harnesses their natural instincts to bite and chew, and effectively cleans their teeth easily within 5 minutes.

dog teeth cleaning
Most vets recommend yearly teeth cleanings for dogs, but some may require treatment more or less often. (
Protect your pet

How often should I brush my dog’s teeth?

So how often do you really need to brush your dog’s teeth? VCA Animal Hospitals recommend brushing your dog’s teeth as often as your own – twice daily is ideal. However, if that seems unrealistic to you, aim for biweekly brushings.

Even with regular brushing, it’s highly recommended you get a professional dog teeth cleaning. For most dogs, this happens yearly; your pet’s annual checkup is a great time to bring it up. However, because anesthesia is required for the procedure, it’s pretty pricey – and not covered by pet insurance. Consider budgeting for an annual dog teeth cleaning, especially if your pup has a history of dental problems. The cost of cleaning dogs’ teeth can be anywhere from $150 to $500 depending on your city as well as the age and weight of your dog.

What happens if I don’t brush my dog’s teeth?

The vast majority of pet parents – 99 percent, according to the AVMA – don’t brush their dog’s teeth, and this is reflected by the persistence of periodontal disease, especially in senior dogs. This category of disease includes gingivitis and periodontitis, which involves loss of bone and soft tissue surrounding teeth. The American Veterinary Dental College says the majority of adult pets suffer from this entirely preventable condition, which has few symptoms. Signs your pet might have periodontal disease include persistent bad breath (halitosis), reddened gums, loss of appetite, and excessive whining.

Treatment for periodontal disease in dogs is expensive, depending on the extent of the treatment, but around $500 on average. If left untreated, abscesses and infection may develop; in some cases, osteomyelitis – infection of the bone – can occur, or the infection may travel to other organs. Tooth extraction can run $300 to $1000; the price tag is determined by the specific tooth and several other factors.

dog greenies
Teeth-cleaning treats like Greenies can help keep pups’ chompers clean between brushings. (

How else can I keep my dog’s teeth clean?

In addition to brushing your dog’s teeth, there are many other ways to maintain his dental health. Foods, treats, toys, chews, water additives, and oral sprays are all available to promote a healthy mouth. Greenies dental treats are a favorite among pet parents and dogs, and are VOHC certified. For hardcore chewers, Purina’s HeartyHide and PPVD rawhide treats fight tartar on teeth. If your pup has recurring problems, ask your vet about a prescription dog food specifically for dental health.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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