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How Often Should You Be Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth?

Reader's Digest logo Reader's Digest 7/27/2019 Morgan Cutolo
a dog looking at the camera: Owner cleaning teeth of cute dog with brush on color background © Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock Owner cleaning teeth of cute dog with brush on color background

Just like human teeth, your dog’s chompers have to be cleaned on a regular basis. Not brushing your dog’s teeth regularly can lead to plaque buildup, toothaches, and sore gums. Not only can this be uncomfortable, if left untreated bacteria can enter the bloodstream and affect your dog’s heart, kidneys, or liver. Veterinarians report that about 85 percent of dogs over the age of four are suffering from some kind of periodontal disease, which is an oral condition that can lead to tooth loss and infection. An important part of keeping your dog healthy is making sure they have good oral hygiene.

How often should you be brushing your dog’s teeth?

Veterinarian Dr. Rachel Barrack, DVM, CVA, CVCH, and founder of concierge practice Animal Acupuncture recommends that you brush your dog’s teeth daily. Before you freak out because you barely have enough time to brush your teeth twice a day, Dr. Barrack realizes that this isn’t always feasible. Realistically, to maintain oral hygiene, try to brush at least two times a week and bring them to the vet for dental cleanings under general anesthesia once a year. If you haven't been brushing your dog's teeth, you'll want to be extra vigilant in watching out for these silent signs that your dog is sick.

What products work best for brushing your dog’s teeth?

Chances are that your dog isn’t going to like you brushing something up against their teeth. They might think that you’re trying to play and it’s most likely going to be very uncomfortable for them. It’s best to start a brushing routine while they are still puppies if you can. Just like getting brushed, bathed, and groomed, they will eventually get used to it.

Dr. Barrack recommends a few products that will make the process a little easier. For toothpaste, try Vet's Best Dental Gel Toothpaste. It works to fight tartar and plaque and supports healthy gums, teeth, and fresh breath.

“Toothbrushes formulated for dogs are more angled than human brushes.  If your dog won’t allow you to utilize a toothbrush, try a finger brush that makes for easy access, I recommend Pet Republique Cat & Dog Toothbrushes,” says Dr. Barrack.

If your dog is wary about you sticking something bristled in their mouth Dr. Barrack says to try Petkin Fresh Mint Dog & Cat Plaque Tooth Wipes, a food or water additive, or dental chews to promote oral health. Just make sure to avoid these pet products that vets never buy.

What can you do if your dog refuses to let you brush their teeth?

If your dog weighs more than you do and it’s impossible to hold them down to get their teeth clean, Dr. Barrack says to increase the number of times you bring them to the vet each year to have it done. In between visits, make sure to give them dental chews or add something into their food or water.

Is it safe to use toothpaste and toothbrushes made for humans on dogs?

It’s important to remember that dogs don’t spit like humans when they get their teeth brushed, so whatever toothpaste you use has to be safe for them to swallow. “Human toothpaste can cause stomach upset in dogs and typically contains fluoride and/or xylitol which are toxic to dogs,” says Dr. Barrack. 

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