How To Brush Your Dog’s Teeth

black and white dog with teeth showing - how to brush dogs teeth

How To Brush Your Dog’s Teeth


How many times has your veterinarian pleaded with you to brush your dog’s teeth? This task may sound daunting and even a little dangerous, but with the proper instrumentation, technique, training, and a positive mindset, it may be accomplished.

When performing this crucial job for your pet’s health and longevity, please always keep in mind that this should be a positive experience and safety is of the utmost importance for both you and your pet. Brushing your dog’s teeth can be equated to mending a battered fortress on a battlefield.


How Often Should You Brush Your Dog’s Teeth? 


The ideal frequency for brushing your dog’s teeth is once daily. Studies performed in dogs repeatedly support that daily brushing is superior to every-other-day or weekly brushing. This is because plaque accumulation takes place on the surface of every tooth on a daily basis. Once plaque has formed, this complex layer of bacteria (biofilm) calcifies and turns into tartar (calculus).

When this conversion of plaque to tartar takes place, brushing is no longer as effective of a treatment and the teeth need to be ultrasonically scaled to have the tartar removed. Untreated plaque forms into tartar in 48-72 hours. Thus, brushing every other day is the minimum brushing frequency in dogs to maintain optimal oral health.


How to Go about Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth


Teaching and reinforcing a novel and desirable behavior in your dog is best performed at a young age. It is very important not to be forceful when starting to brush your dog’s teeth for the very first time. Start SLOWLY. Let your dog lick the dentifrice (toothpaste) from your finger. Then, gradually place the toothbrush in your dog’s mouth. Once this simple action is tolerated, start to add brushing motions. Positive reinforcement is crucial. This means that rewarding cooperation by your dog is essential during this process.

When brushing, prioritize the areas of the mouth that collect the most plaque. This means focusing on the buccal (external) surfaces of the teeth. In extremely well-mannered or tolerable dogs, the lingual/palatal (inner) surfaces of the teeth may also be brushed.

In an ideal world, all surfaces of the crown of the tooth are brushed. Although the caudal (back) teeth are more difficult to access and visualize, these tend to be the teeth with the heaviest plaque accumulation overall. 

The back teeth (ie. premolar and molar teeth) are the teeth that dogs predominately use for chewing so food and debris easily accumulate in the areas in and/or surrounding these teeth. Additionally, these are the areas where the salivary ducts enter into the oral cavity which also contributes to increased plaque accumulation.


Techniques for Brushing Your Dogs Teeth


There are multiple well-described methods of toothbrushing that can be taken and used from human dentistry. Two of the most common techniques are the Bass and Stillman techniques. An educated pet owner must first understand an important anatomical structure—the gingival sulcus—to understand these techniques.

The sulcus is the natural space between the surface of the tooth and the surrounding gum tissue (gingiva). This is the space that is impossible to completely clean if your pet receives an anesthesia-free dental cleaning. The sulcus is also the space that dental professionals in both human and veterinary dentistry will take a small ruler, referred to as a periodontal probe, and place just under the gum tissue to measure pocket depths.

Other important and common terminologies when referring to the anatomy of a tooth are the crowns and the root of the tooth. The crown is the portion of the tooth that lies above the gingiva, and the root lies within a bony socket (alveolus) underneath the gumline. The term apical refers directionally toward the base of the root of the tooth. And the opposite directional term is coronal, or towards the tip of the crown of the tooth.


What is the Bass Technique? 

The Bass technique involves angling the toothbrush in order to brush your dog’s teeth underneath the gumline in the gingival sulcus. To do this, place the toothbrush parallel to the teeth with the bristles toward the gums. Then, tilt the brush to a 45-degree angle and move the bristles slightly under the gumline.

This technique is ideal for teeth with established periodontitis. Also, this brushing technique concentrates the cleaning action on the cervical and interproximal portion of teeth, which can have plaque and debris accumulation. The cervical margin of a tooth is the surface above the junction of the crown of the tooth and the root of the tooth.


What is the Stillman Technique?

The Stillman technique is similar to the Bass technique with the exception that the bristles are placed partly over the cervical portion of the teeth and partly on the adjacent/neighboring gingiva. As compared to the Bass technique where the bristle ends enter the gingival sulcus, Stillman’s technique uses sides rather than the ends of the bristles, and penetration of the bristles into the gingival sulci is avoided.

The brush is placed in the same manner as described for the Bass technique (i.e. at a 45-degree angle) toward the root of the tooth (apically to the long axis) of the teeth. The brush is activated with short back-and-forth strokes and is simultaneously moved toward the crown (in a coronal direction) along the attached gingiva and tooth surface. This technique is best for cleansing areas where the goal is to minimize abrasive tissue destruction.

Typically, when brushing your dog’s teeth, unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian, it is recommended to use the principles of the Bass technique. 


Step-by-Step Guide of How to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth


In summary, when just starting, there are four basic yet essential steps to brushing your dog’s teeth:


Step 1

Place your non-dominant hand in a “C-shape” around your pet’s muzzle to close the mouth (and to keep it closed). With the mouth completely closed, gently lift the upper lip on the side of the mouth that you plan to brush.


Step 2

Making sure to use a soft-bristled toothbrush, grasp the brush and dampen the bristles of the brush with water only. Then place the brush at the level where the tooth and gingiva meet. Be sure to angle the bristles of the brush at 45 degrees in relation to the gumline to brush along and even just underneath the sulcus.


Step 3

Move the brush in a circular motion applying mild pressure on the surfaces (enamel) of the teeth on the outside (buccal) margin. Be careful not to use too much pressure as this can damage and/or irritate the gingiva (gums). Please note that mild bleeding may occur during the first several episodes of brushing. This is normal.


Step 4

Use toothpaste that is specifically formulated for dogs. Apply a modest amount of paste with your finger around the gum tissue and external surfaces of the teeth. 


Step 5

Always remember that when you are finished brushing your dog’s teeth, reward them with their favorite treat or give them extra love and attention. Try to finish the process quickly, and stop when your dog is still having fun!


A Quick Note

In step number 2, the usage of water instead of flavored toothpaste (ie. chicken, mint, etc.) will deter your pet from chewing on the brush. Remember that toothpaste is not required for brushing. It is the mechanical motion and physical contact of the bristles that are essential for plaque removal. Once your pet is completely trained to accept the action of toothbrushing, then apply the toothpaste to the brush during brushing as long as they do not try and eat the toothbrush.


Vet Dentist in Colorado Springs


Brushing your dog’s teeth is one of the best things you can do to prevent periodontal disease. If you have further questions about how to brush your dog’s teeth or want to schedule a routine cleaning and exam, let us know. Call Animal Dental Care and Oral Surgery in Colorado Springs at 719-284-2790


Photo by Yoav Hornung on Unsplash (3/28/2022)