How to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth: A Dog Mom’s pearls of Wisdom About Those Pearly Whites

Why I Brush My Goldendoodle Dog’s Teeth

photo dog with tongue trying to lick dog toothbrush

I need to “come clean” about my Goldendoodle dog’s dental health. I must confess that, while the topic of doggie toothbrushing is near and dear to my heart now, it wasn’t always that way. Here’s what brought me to my doggie senses about toothbrushing and why I’m so passionate about canine dental care.

Meet Choe and her arch-nemesis

When Chloe (my comical Goldendoodle) turned two years old, I took her annual well-check visit. After examining her teeth and gums, our veterinarian explained to me that she had the teeth of a 7-year-old dog. (Mind you, seven is considered the age of a senior dog.)

photo red goldendoodle dog with smiley face showing white teeth
Chloe as a two-year-old.

Chloe’s arch-nemesis? Plaque and food particles that loved to lurk in the back of her jowls. My half-hearted attempts at toothbrushing couldn’t win the battle when plaque was forming 24/7 on her teeth, especially the ones in the back of her mouth. It was time for me to tackle toothbrushing with more vigor and make it part of our dog-loving lifestyle.

But why did Chloe have such a time with her teeth at such a young age? The contributing factors were two-fold: her DNA and my sporadic attempts with at-home dental care and toothbrushing. Here’s how my vet explained it to me:

Plaque is like drying paint.

Our veterinarian used an analogy between plaque build-up and drying paint that “stuck” with me. Maybe it will stick with you too. Here’s how he “painted” the picture of what was going on inside Chloe’s mouth:

Imagine plaque as freshly applied paint. At first, it’s easy to wipe fresh paint off a surface, say a wall. After a bit, it starts to dry. You can still wipe it away, but it’s sticking on. Finally, the paint adheres to the surface and you can’t get it off.

The same is true for plaque build-up on Chloe’s teeth. Within a few hours after eating, plaque “paints” the surface of her teeth. After a while, it turns into tartar and sticks—like dried paint sticks to a wall.

In fact, it takes less than 12 hours for that “paint” (a.k.a. gunky bacteria to adhere to the tooth surface, absorb calcium from saliva and become mineralized to form tartar) to dry.

That’s why daily brushing is critical. The longer I waited to brush, the more time all that crud had to stick to the surface of her teeth. What does that mean for our dogs? If plaque had a slogan, it might be this:

“Plaque on the teeth and by the gums? Dental disease here it comes! ”

—Happy-Go-Doodle

Like paint on a wall, the more time plaque had to adhere to Chloe’s teeth, the higher Chloe’s chance for future issues. In fact, dogs can suffer dental issues such as tooth loss, tooth extractions, and periodontal disease. Periodontal disease causes gums to eventually recede and bacteria can enter the dog’s bloodstream. There is a chance it could spread to other organs, such as the heart.

Chloe had her teeth cleaned professionally by the vet, under anesthesia, and I set out to battle her arch-nemesis with more gusto.

How I learned to consistently brush my Goldendoodle dog’s teeth

Since that vet visit, I’ve become successful at consistently brushing Chloe’s teeth. You might think that it was my own determination or maybe a special toothbrush that inspired my change of behavior. Actually, it was better than that.

What was my secret? The four-legged fluffy Muppet of a dog who sat in front of me with a happy smile…waiting patiently. Yes, Chloe was not only my motivator but also my personal alarm clock. She loves schedules and once one was established for toothbrushing, she was consistent in reminding me of our nightly routine.

photo red goldendoodle dog head tilted

Chloe quickly learned that dental care equaled “tasty treat time” and gave me the classic head tilt, plopped her fluffy butt in front of me at the appropriate time, and waited for her favorite words, “Do you want your teeth brushed?” Her excitement bubbled over and made the daily ritual fun for both of us.

My “4Ps” for successful toothbrushing

Because of Chloe’s eagerness and enthusiasm, toothbrushing is a positive bonding experience that we both enjoy. Even though she’s genetically inclined to having teeth issues, we’re beating it with a daily protocol. Here are my “4Ps” of dog dental care: PUPeration, PAWsitivity, Polish, and Patience.

  • PUPeration: Prep your pup for a lifelong journey to happy dental care by starting early. Don’t do as I did and start out haphazardly. Make a commitment when your dog is a puppy by talking with your vet and putting a plan in place.
  • PAWsitivity: Make every single step positive and enjoyable. Use heaping amounts of love and praise and make sure your dog is enjoying every step in the process.
  • Polish: According to integrative veterinarian Dr. Julie Buzby, the toothpaste makes the process more fun and enjoyable for the dog, but it’s the the rubbing that does the job. Polishing or gently rubbing in a circular motion along the teeth and gum line breaks down the crud on the teeth.
  • Patience: Toothbrushing is not a natural activity for a Goldendoodle or any dog. Plan to have patience, take your time, and most of all, have fun!

What you’ll need to brush your dog’s teeth

Dog Toothpaste: Please note the word “dog” in front of “toothpaste.” It’s critical that I share a word of warning with you about human toothpaste. DOGS SHOULD NOT have human toothpaste. For more information on why NOT to give your dog human toothpaste, please check out this article from integrative veterinarian Dr. Buzby: Why Human Toothpaste is Bad For Your Dog.

Dog toothpaste plays a key role in make the experience fun and tasty for your dog. There are a variety of dog-friendly flavors to choose from. Chloe’s favorite flavor is “poultry” because it tastes like…yes, you got it. Chicken! (Chloe will attest to that 🙂

A toothbrush is the other tool you’ll need. The size of your dog may impact which one is best for him or her. I use a SOFT human toothbrush because it gives me more control and I know that Chloe can’t choke on it. I used a finger brush when she was getting accustomed to brushing. However, I found finger brushes hard to grip and I was always concerned that it would come off of my finger and into her mouth. In addition to toothbrushes and finger brushes, some people prefer to use tooth wipes—soft, disposable wipes that you can use over your finger to gently rub the teeth.

Helping your dog get comfortable (and excited about) toothbrushing

Before beginning: Talk with your vet about your dog’s dental health. Ask for a brushing demonstration, get hand-outs, request recommendations for toothbrushing supplies. My routine for Chloe’s dental health springboarded from my conversation with my vet. Your vet can share instruction that’s personalized to your dog.

Step 1: Choose a time and a place that will become “the spot” for your daily toothbrushing ritual. I decided that I would brush Chloe’s teeth in the evenings while sitting on the couch. (I later transitioned to the bedroom. After I brush my teeth, Chloe hops on the bed and I brush hers.)

Step 2: At the time and place you’ve chosen, simply ask your dog to come or sit down with your dog at the spot. Have the toothpaste and toothbrush beside you. Reward your dog with lots of love and head rubs.

Step 3: The next day, repeat step 2. However, this time hold the dog toothpaste tube in your hand. I let Chloe check out the toothpaste on her own terms. Reward with lots of love and praise. Also, I used a verbal cue. It seemed natural to tell Chloe what we’re doing. “Time for toothbrushing!” became the phrase. However, I do wish I’d chosen another word as I also use “brush” as the verbal cue for grooming her.

Step 4: The next day, repeat the above steps, but this time add a bit of dog toothpaste on your finger and let your dog come to it and lick it. Reward with lots of love and praise.

Step 5: Building on the steps above, gradually add in touching the teeth with your finger after your dog has gotten a good lick of the dog toothpaste and loved it. With Chloe, I gradually worked my way from touching her teeth to using my finger to rub along the outside of her back teeth by gently lifting her upper lip with one hand and rubbing her teeth with the finger on my other hand.

Step 6: Once your dog’s comfortable with your finger, graduate to using the brush of choice. I graduated from my finger to a finger brush, and now I use a SOFT bristled toothbrush.

Step 7: Add the circular motion. Now that Chloe was comfortable with brushing, I focused on rubbing the teeth in a circular motion.

Step 8: Put it all together. Once Chloe was comfortable and enjoying the new nightly routine, I focused on what I like to call the “compliment sandwich.”

My “compliment sandwich” toothbrushing method

photo of red goldendoodle dog looking at doggie toothpaste tube and soft-bristled toothbrush

I start by letting Chloe lick some chicken-flavored dog toothpaste off the toothbrush.

photo red goldendoodle dog with tongue out and looking at dog toothpaste on dog toothbrush

I polish by moving the soft-bristled brush in a circular motion, especially focusing on Chloe’s problem teeth (top molars). Note: from my research, unlike our own teeth, it’s less important to focus on getting the insides of the teeth (the side by the dog’s tongue) because the dog’s tongue is a natural “inside” polisher. It’s the outside surfaces, those by the dog’s sides of her mouth, that are key.

photo red goldendoodle dog and hands brushing teeth

The top back molars are critical for Chloe. In fact, I start with her back teeth first because that’s where a lot of crunching happens and food particles get socked away in the jowls. I focus on the gum line and gently brush in a circular motion. Then I move to the front teeth.

photo red goldendoodle dog brushing front teeth

Finally, I put a little more doggie toothpaste on the brush again so she gets to have one more chicken-flavored tasty treat. The entire process takes about a minute.

photo red goldendoodle dog licking dog toothpaste from dog toothbrush

How often do you brush your dog’s teeth?

Here’s an interesting tidbit of information: 95% of pet owners brush their own teeth, but only 8% brush their dogs’ teeth on a daily basis. (For more information, read this research article.) And only 1% brush their dogs’ teeth more than once a day. Twice daily brushing is the gold standard and recommended by VCA Animal Hospitals. By sharing my personal experience, I hope that you, if you don’t already brush your dog’s teeth, feel encouraged to tackle toothbrushing too! Together, we can help our dogs!

While I can’t change Chloe’s doggie DNA, I can give her healthy home dental care. Brushing at home is my weapon against plaque build-up.

photos of red goldendoodle dog smiley and showing white teeth
Left: Chloes’ pearly whites as a 2-year-old. Right: Chloe’s pearly whites as a 6-year-old.

Professional dental cleanings too

Does Chloe go to the veterinarian for professional dental cleanings even with at-home dental care? Yes, even with our daily tooth brushing, Chloe’s fight against periodontal disease includes professional dental cleanings under anesthesia at the veterinary clinic. It’s part of helping her live her best, healthiest life.

At Chloe’s last vet visit she got a two “paws up” report. Her teeth are not perfect, but she could go a year without a professional dental cleaning. Progress and pearly whites! Chloe and I are all smiles!

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Note: I am not a veterinarian or a trainer. I am a Doodle Mom who strives to share happiness and dog love. Please speak with your veterinarian for all your dog’s needs.

2 thoughts on “How to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth: A Dog Mom’s pearls of Wisdom About Those Pearly Whites

  1. Great instructions!

    1. Thanks, Linda! We always appreciate your comments! Doodle kisses and tail wags from Happy-Go-Doodle Chloe 🙂

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