Is Brushing Your Dog's Teeth Every Day A Necessity? A Vet Explains

We brush our teeth every day to keep our dental hygiene in check, so it makes sense that our dogs should do the same (check out Fido’s breath right now, and you’ll see that it’s a fair assessment). When you have a million other things to do, though, giving your dog a daily dental cleaning might not seem a very high priority in the grand scheme of things. But how bad is it really to skip brushing your dog’s teeth?

Spoiler alert: It’s not great to let Fido’s chompers go unchecked. Regular teeth brushing can help improve your dog’s dental health, including warding off bad breath and disease.

“Just like humans, dogs can develop plaque and tartar on their teeth, leading to gum disease and tooth decay,” Dr. Abel Gonzalez, clinical director of Dutch and telemedicine veterinarian, tells Scary Mommy. “Poor dental hygiene can result in bad breath, painful infections, and loss of teeth. Additionally, severe dental diseases can impact a dog’s organs, including the heart and kidneys, as bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream. Smaller breeds and brachycephalic dogs are particularly susceptible to periodontal disease due to genetic factors.”

So, now that you know you should be brushing your dog’s teeth, where to start? How often should you do it? What do you need to use? Should you leave it to the professionals? Below, Gonzalez answers FAQs about brushing dogs’ teeth.

Do I need to brush my dog’s teeth, or is that only for a professional?

Yes, we might go to the dentist twice a year, but we do most of our brushing at home. The same goes for your dog. “Brushing a dog’s teeth is primarily an owner’s responsibility and should be a regular part of home care,” Gonzalez shares. “Professional cleanings by a veterinarian are also crucial and should be integrated into a dog’s routine health care. Regular veterinary check-ups, including a yearly physical exam, help assess dental health and determine the frequency of professional cleanings needed.”

Early and regular dental check-ups can catch signs of dental issues early on.

When should I start brushing my dog’s teeth?

According to Gonzales, it’s best to start when they are puppies to get them accustomed early, but it’s never too late to start with older dogs.

Gonzalez suggests gradually introducing teeth cleaning by using your finger to rub their gums and teeth gently. Then, “progress to a dog-specific toothbrush and toothpaste, rewarding them with praise and treats to foster positive associations.”

How do I clean my dog’s teeth?

“Ensure your dog is calm, apply a small amount of dog-specific toothpaste to a dog toothbrush, and gently lift your dog’s lips,” Gonzalez says. “Use circular motions to brush the teeth, focusing on the gum line, aiming for about 30 seconds on each side.”

Gonzalez recommends using a soft-bristled toothbrush or a fingerbrush designed for dogs and “always use toothpaste formulated for dogs, avoiding human toothpaste due to its toxicity to dogs.”

He advises being too forceful with brushing to prevent gum damage, and to be on the lookout for bad breath. Contrary to what you might think, “bad breath should not be dismissed as normal, as it often indicates underlying dental disease.”

Gonzalez says regular brushing is key to optimal oral health. He also recommends using dental chews and water additives as supplementary aids to reduce plaque and tartar buildup.

“Regular brushing combined with these aids can significantly improve your dog’s dental health,” he explains.

When should I see a pro?

Gonzalez recommends scheduling professional cleanings annually or as recommended by your vet. “If you observe bad breath, visible tartar, swollen gums, or changes in eating habits, consult your vet promptly,” he says. “Breeds prone to dental issues may require cleanings twice a year.”

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