How to Brush Dog Teeth and Why It's a Must

13 Minute Read
Updated January 26, 2024

Does your dog have bad breath? Brushing your dog's teeth is the most effective way to curb bad breath and ensure they have good oral health, especially as they age. Learn how to brush dog teeth in 10 simple steps. 

It's a common belief that dogs just naturally have bad breath, but that's not true. Your dog's breath will never smell like daisy's but it shouldn't be so pungent that you reel back whenever they breathe too close to your face.

The best method for freshening your dog's breath and giving them better overall oral health is regular dog tooth brushing. 


Why Should You Brush Your Dog's Teeth?

Regularly brushing your dog's teeth is the best way to ditch bad dog breath and keep their teeth strong and healthy.

Regular vet checks are important for keeping on top of potential issues, but doggy dental care can also be expensive. We encourage you not to skip your dog's checkups, but you can reduce the risk of serious teeth problems with the right at-home dental care for your dog.

Brushing your dog’s teeth is about more than just bad breath. Your dog’s mouth collects bacteria that can lead to periodontal disease and decay, especially in older dogs whose teeth have seen more wear and tear.

You’re probably thinking, “I’ve never brushed my dog’s teeth!” Or maybe you’ve tried but gave up when your dog was less than cooperative. Brushing your dog’s teeth can be a hassle at first, but even though they enjoy the process of doggy dental care even less than you, it has to be done!

How do I clean my dog's teeth at home, you ask? That one is easy. Keep reading to learn the best way to brush dog teeth and how to help your dog get comfortable with this regular grooming practice.


Do I Really Need to Brush My Dog’s Teeth?

Dog tooth brushing may seem a little intimidating. There must be easier alternatives, right? There are many hands-off dog dental care products that can help, but none can compete with a dog toothbrush and some pet-safe toothpaste.

Brushing dog teeth removes more bacteria than any other home dog dental procedure. You could use every dental product under the sun, but if you don't brush your dog's teeth, you are putting them at risk for more serious dental issues as they age.

Since professional dental cleaning isn't always the most affordable option for dogs, it's important to learn how to care for your dog's teeth at home to keep them healthy. This will help to maintain your dog's dental health in between vet visits.

For more information on how to improve your dog's dental health, check out our Caring for Your dog's Teeth: A Complete Pet Dental Care Guide.


Consequences of Bad Dog Dental Health

Oral bacteria hide very well. It tucks itself under your dog's gum line, rests in between teeth, and even coats their tongue. If the hidden bacteria aren't removed, they will grow and fester, leading to bad breath, gum inflammation, and plaque build-up.

The scariest part is what bacteria can do below the surface. Periodontal disease is the decay and deterioration of the bone that holds the tooth. This can lead to teeth dying, breaking, chipping, and even falling out.

Unless you want a toothless dog, you’re going to need to commit to a routine for your dog to avoid dental disease.

Even worse, bacteria can sneak into the bloodstream from their gums. The blood can carry that bacteria to other areas of their body, dog's dental health, which can lead to damage and infection in vital organs like the heart, liver, and kidneys.


10 Steps: How Brush Dog Teeth

Does your dog hate getting his teeth brushed? You're not alone. Your dog's dental care is important, but it can be intimidating to brush their teeth if you don't know how. 

Now that you know how important is, let’s go over how to get started. Tooth brushing is an entirely foreign practice to pets, so don’t be surprised if they are resistant to it. Just take it one step at a time to help your dog get accustomed to his dental cleanings.

Let's take a look at how to brush dog teeth in 10 simple steps:



1. Pick the Right Time and Place

To reduce the fear and stress of brushing your dog’s teeth, make sure you choose a time and place where your dog can be as calm and relaxed as possible. Ideally, you would start brushing your dog's canine teeth at two months of age. 

If your dog tends to be a bit groggy in the morning, or if he’s wiped out after a long day of playing, choose a time that he may be more agreeable.

Also, choose a place that is quiet and free of distractions. This will help to keep him calm, and he’ll be more likely to respond to vocal commands like stay and sit. This will help you reach more places in his mouth.


2. Find the Right Tools for Your Dog

You might be wondering - what can I use to brush my dog's teeth? Just like for people, toothbrushes are the best tool for cleaning your dog's teeth. Keep in mind every dog is different, and a standard toothbrush may not be right for your dog.

Look for dental care tools that work best for you and your pet's health. Here are a few popular options that you can try:


Dog toothbrushes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so find one that is right for your dog’s mouth shape and size. When you are starting out, try to stick to smaller, softer toothbrushes that will be less intimidating to start brushing dog teeth. 

Here are a couple of our favourites:

Finger Brush

A finger brush, like the Triple-Pet EZ Dog Finger Brush, is excellent for beginners and for smaller dogs who just don’t have big enough mouths for a full-sized toothbrush. It will be less intimidating, so your dog may be more open to letting you brush his teeth.

Dental Wipes

If you are just starting out, wipes like Bluestem Dental Wipes are a great way to help your dog get accustomed to dental care before you move up to a larger brush and pet toothpaste. They are small and soft, so they will feel like a gentle massage for their teeth and gums.

For dogs with small mouths and compact cheek teeth, dental swabs, like Petsmile Applicator Dental Swabs, are great for reaching tight spaces that your dog's toothbrush is just too big to reach. 


Next, you need to choose a toothpaste that is dog safe and that your dog will like the taste of. Never use toothpaste made for humans on your dog treats. In addition to its foaming properties being a choking hazard, pet toothpaste may contain ingredients that are toxic to dogs, like the artificial sweetener Xylitol.

Dog-safe toothpaste, like Petsmile Professional Pet Toothpaste, is flavored with meat to appeal to dogs. If your dog treats have allergies or if you are looking for something more natural, you can make your own dog toothpaste at home.

You only need a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to do the job, even less if you are dealing with a smaller pet.

Check out all of our pet dental products to find the right ones for your pet's health. Some chew toys are designed to help baking soda with teeth cleanings. Or try a natural and safe homemade toothpaste recipe.

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3. Let Your Dog Taste Test

To help your dog get used to the tools you chose, it’s a good idea to let him taste the toothpaste. Many dog toothpastes are flavoured, like Petsmile Professional Pet Toothpaste - Rotisserie Chicken. Once he realizes it’s tasty, he’ll be much more likely to let you brush his teeth.

Put a tiny dab on your finger and let him sniff it. Make sure you give him lots of praise so that he knows he’s doing a good job. If he’s brave enough to taste it, then reward him with a treat. You can repeat this step several times if you need to. 


4. Get Your Hands in There

This may not be the most fun part of the process, but a great way to help your dog get comfortable with this process is to practice touching his teeth and gums with your (clean) fingers. Start by gently lifting his lips, holding his upper jaw in place, and massaging his gums with your finger.

He may not understand why you are doing it, but it will help him to see that it’s not painful or scary. Try it with a little bit of your dog's toothpaste to make the experience a little more pleasant and tasty!


5. Introduce the Brush

Now that he’s ok with you fussing with his mouth, you can help to get him used to the toothbrush. Show your dog the dental tool and let him sniff it. He needs to see that the brush isn’t going to hurt him.

Have some treats handy for when he sniffs, touches, or even licks the brush. As he lets you get closer with the brush, you can put a small dab of the tasty toothpaste on the dog toothbrush and let him lick it off. This will help him get used to the sensation of the brush.

When you are ready, start using both the toothbrush to gently massage his gum and front teeth in small circular motions. His front teeth will be the easiest to reach, so start there.


6. Work Your Way Back

Once you’ve practiced brushing the front teeth, begin to work your way further back. Focus on the outer side of the teeth, facing his cheeks. When you pull the lip up, some of his premolars will be exposed, so you can start to work in small circles further and further back.

When you get resistance from your dog, slow down and calmly tell him that he’s a good boy. You can give him a pat on the head or a quick belly rub to reassure him. You may not reach molars for a few sessions, so don’t try to rush the process.


7. Try Out New Positions

While sitting or standing are the most common positions to have your dog in, some teeth may not be accessible or easy to see from that angle. Try out some new positions to help you get a good view of what you’re doing.

Having him lay on his side, for example, may help you see his teeth better, allowing you to get the brush to new areas of his mouth.


8. Take a Break

This one is important for both of you. If you find yourself getting stressed or frustrated, or if your dog is losing patience with you, then it’s a good idea to take a break. This will give you both a chance to relax and try again later.

Trying to force your way through this process will only make it more frustrating, and you could risk your dog becoming fearful of you and the brush. This also increases the risk of him biting if he’s feeling overwhelmed.


9. Practice, Practice, Practice

No one said it would be easy or fun, but with practice, you will both get better at this. Building the routine of brushing your dog’s teeth is important, so try not to give up. It will eventually get easier.


10. Finish with a Reward

At the end of each toothbrushing session, no matter how successful, give your dog a reward for a job well done. Give him a toy, a belly rub, or take him for a walk to end the session on a good note.

If your dog gets something he loves after each brushing, then he will be less nervous about the next time.


This 10-step process should put you on the right track toward a better dental routine for your pet. Getting started is hard, but you will be glad you did. Your reward is a healthier dog with better breath and fewer vet bills.

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Do You Need to Brush Your Puppy's Teeth?

What about puppies? Do you need to brush your puppy's teeth too? During the first 6 months of life, your puppy is going to go through the teething process, losing her baby teeth to make room for her permanent adult teeth.

So if your dog's baby teeth will fall out, should you even bother brushing them?

Benefits of Brushing Your Puppy's Teeth?

Starting your puppy's dental care routine early won't do anything to stop those baby teeth from falling out, but there are still benefits to brushing your puppy's teeth at an early age. 

Puppy Breath

If you've ever had your puppy's breath in your face and it just about knocked you back, then your puppy, and you, will benefit from brushing your puppy's teeth. Puppies can get bad breath from bacteria and food debris, just like fully grown dental disease dogs. Regular brushing will remove this bacteria and give your puppy fresh breath. 

Gum Health

Brushing with a small, soft toothbrush can massage the gums and ease the teething process. Gentle brushing can help soothe the pain and discomfort from moving teeth and gums that are swollen from teeth falling out and new teeth poking through the surface. 

Stimulating the gums can also help new teeth breach the surface quicker, shortening the painful periods of puppy teething. 

Check out our Puppy Teething Guide for more tips to help your puppy manage teething. 

Practice Make Perfect

In addition to the oral health or pet health benefits of brushing your puppy's teeth, training your puppy to accept toothbrushing early will make it easier to maintain her dental care routine as she ages. Your young puppy may be hesitant to let you root around in her mouth, but with practice, your puppy will get used to the routine with toothpaste. 

Adult dogs who are new to toothbrushing may be more stubborn or less trusting of the toothbrushing process. The earlier you start, the easier will be dental cleanings. 


How to Brush Puppy Teeth

Wondering how to brush your puppy's teeth? The process is similar to brushing your adult dog's teeth, but you will need to be a little more gentle. 

Dental Tools for Puppies

Your puppy's gums will be tender during teething, so you may need to start with different tools. A soft microfiber cloth or a rubber finger toothbrush is going to be gentle enough to help your pup get accustomed to the process and can help soothe irritated gums. 

Just be aware of brushing puppy teeth if you plan on using your fingers. Your rambunctious puppy will likely think you are playing a game and may try to nibble a bit. Once your puppy is big enough for a toothbrush, look for something small enough to comfortably fit in her little mouth. 

Skip the Toothpaste

Puppies also have sensitive tummies because their digestive system is still developing the right balance of healthy gut bacteria. Dog toothpaste has a lot of ingredients that will be new to your puppy and could upset their stomach.

This is why skipping toothpaste is a good idea at the beginning. Alternatively, you could use a very small amount of coconut oil instead of toothpaste. No larger than a pea.


Frequently Asked Questions 

How often should I brush my dog's teeth?

Brushing your dog's teeth at least 2-3 times a week is recommended to maintain good oral hygiene.

What kind of toothbrush and toothpaste should I use for my dog?

Use a toothbrush specifically designed for dogs, and select a dog-friendly toothpaste in flavours like chicken or beef that they'll enjoy.

How can I introduce my dog to tooth brushing?

Start by letting your dog lick a small amount of toothpaste from your finger to get them used to the taste. Then, gradually introduce the toothbrush by letting them chew on it, and eventually begin brushing gently.

Do I need to lift my dog's lips to brush their teeth?

Yes, lift your dog's lips to expose their teeth and gums, and brush the outer surfaces of the teeth. Be gentle to avoid discomfort.

Can I use a regular human toothbrush on my dog?

It's best to use a toothbrush designed for dogs, as they have softer bristles and are easier to maneuver in your dog's mouth.

What if my dog resists tooth brushing?

If your dog resists, try using dental wipes, dental chews, or dental toys as alternatives. Consult your veterinarian for additional advice on oral care products or professional cleanings.


Pet Dental Care Guide


Written by

Krystn Janisse

Krystn is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast. She has worked in the pet industry for over a decade and loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She is currently working for one very rebellious cat, Jack, and hanging out with a goofy but loveable doggo named Roxy.


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