Dental disease is one of the most common health issues affecting dogs—as many as 80% of dogs will have some degree of dental disease by the time they’re 3 years old. Fortunately, there are many ways you can help slow the development of dental disease. The most effective way is to brush your puppy’s teeth once a day.
Like humans, dogs benefit from regular dental hygiene. Brushing your puppy’s teeth helps remove any plaque that has built up during the day, which helps prevent tartar formation and dental disease.
So, when should you start brushing your dog’s teeth? The best time to get your dog acclimated to this process is when he’s a puppy. Puppies are generally more amenable to new things, so the earlier you start, the better.
What You Need To Brush Your Puppy’s Teeth
All you need to brush your puppy’s teeth is a soft bristle toothbrush. You can use a children’s soft bristle toothbrush or a dog-specific toothbrush. While the bristles of a dog toothbrush are no different than a human toothbrush, the design can make brushing your puppy’s teeth a little easier.
To brush your puppy’s teeth, you don’t necessarily need pet toothpaste. According to the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC), the most important part of toothbrushing is the mechanical removal of plaque, which can be accomplished using a toothbrush and water.
However, toothpaste can add flavor and assist with plaque removal. If you decide to use toothpaste, choose one accepted by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), a group of board-certified veterinary dentists that reviews dental products on the market to determine their efficacy.
Brushing Your Puppy’s Teeth Step-By-Step
As with most new experiences, it’s important to slowly acclimate your pup to teeth brushing. By allowing him plenty of time to adjust to the process, you are more likely to be successful. Be patient and provide your puppy plenty of positive reinforcement as he learns to have his teeth brushed.
1. Acclimate Your Puppy to the Idea of Brushing their Teeth
Begin in a quiet area with few distractions. This will help your puppy stay focused on the training and reduce any stress.
To start, acclimate your puppy to simply having his mouth touched. Slowly lift his lip and touch his gums and teeth with your finger. If your puppy sits calmly and does not try to chew your finger, praise him for cooperating.
Once your puppy is used to having his mouth touched, rub your finger along his gums and teeth as if you are brushing them. Use plenty of praise, treats, and positive reinforcement—even when training sessions do not go well—to help your pup form a positive association with the process.
Teaching your puppy to accept having his teeth brushed can be a slow process, and it’s important to remain patient and provide plenty of positive reinforcement.
2. Introduce Toothpaste
Once your puppy is comfortable with having his mouth touched, it’s time to introduce toothpaste (if you plan to use it) and the toothbrush.
Introduce the toothpaste before the toothbrush. Simply put some toothpaste on your finger and brush your puppy’s teeth with your finger. As always, praise him and use lots of positive reinforcement.
3. Introduce the Toothbrush
Introducing the toothbrush can be challenging because many dogs will want to play with it or chew on it. Be patient and expect that this part of the process may go slowly. It may also take time for your pup to get used to the toothbrush’s bristles, which can feel strange in his mouth.
When you first introduce the toothbrush, simply touch it to your puppy’s gums and teeth without using toothpaste or a brushing motion. Praise your pup when he remains calm.
Next, brush a couple of your pup’s teeth for a few seconds. Over time, slowly increase the amount of time you spend brushing his teeth, but don’t push him too quickly.
If your puppy tolerates this well, slowly build up to brushing his entire mouth, and then using the toothpaste and toothbrush together.
4. Begin Brushing Your Puppy’s Teeth
Your puppy is now ready to have his teeth brushed regularly. At first, spend only five to 10 seconds brushing each side. As your puppy progressively becomes more tolerant of the process, slowly increase this time to about 30 seconds per side.
It’s OK to focus on your puppy’s front teeth while he gets used to the process, but try to eventually include his back teeth, since the greatest amount of tartar tends to accumulate on the molars and premolars. Be sure to reward your pup after each session.
It's important that you don’t push your dog to accept toothbrushing too quickly, as he may form a negative association with the process. This will make future attempts more difficult. If your puppy seems anxious or struggles, stop, praise him for trying, and give him a treat. The idea is to leave him with a positive impression so he’s more willing to try again next time.
How Often Should You Brush Your Puppy’s Teeth?
Teeth brushing is most effective when done at least once a day. Creating a routine or schedule, such as brushing your dog’s teeth after a meal or before a walk, can help you remain consistent.
While it may seem tedious, brushing your dog’s teeth is one of the best ways to help prevent dental disease, which can cause significant pain and worsen underlying medical conditions. Brushing is a simple, one-minute-per-day activity that can lead to a happier, healthier life for your canine companion.
Tips for Keeping Your Puppy’s Teeth Clean
Dental disease is a lifelong battle for dogs, but there are several things you can do to help prevent the condition:
Brush consistently: Once your puppy is used to having his teeth brushed, try to do it every day, or as often as you can. Brushing your pup’s teeth once a month or only when he goes to the groomer will do little for his oral health.
Keep up with regular wellness visits: Your veterinarian will evaluate your dog’s oral health during his annual wellness visit and let you know if they see signs of dental disease. Staying on top of your dog’s dental health throughout his life can help maintain his overall health, since dental disease can lead to or worsen other health problems.
Schedule professional dental cleanings: Even with daily toothbrushing, tartar will accumulate on your dog’s teeth. The American Veterinary Dental College recommends annual veterinary teeth cleanings starting around 1 year of age for small-breed dogs and 3 years of age for larger dogs. Avoid non-anesthetic dental cleanings, which are primarily cosmetic procedures that can cause your pet pain and stress. These procedures are not recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the AVDC, or the American College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia (ACVAA).
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