When I was growing up, the most pricey and nerve-wracking vet ordeals for my family were my dog’s yearly dental cleanings. When he got older, Cinnamon still ended up having to have most of his teeth removed. All dogs are different, but these days, we are more aware of two major preventive advantages in caring for our dog’s dental health: diet and regular toothbrushing. How lucky are our dogs these days?
Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth
Even if your dog eats a great diet and has seemingly clean teeth, it is still a good idea to brush their teeth daily. Many people say, “my dog is fed ___ and doesn’t need his teeth brushed.” Diet absolutely can help, but run through the list of variables. Does his diet contain carbohydrates? “Grain-free” or not, carbohydrates love to stick to teeth and contribute to plaque and tartar buildup. Does his breath smell? Smelly breath can indicate dental issues. Is he young? If he is young, dental issues might not be an issue yet, but can creep up as dogs age. Remember, like with us, there is no magic chew, diet, or pill. If there was, we would already be using it!
The top two reasons most people shy away from brushing their dog’s teeth are time and trouble. Miles is a Welsh Terrier with a punishing set of teeth and an even tougher strongly locking jaw — so it took me a lot of trial and error to figure out how to best brush his teeth! Here is a guide to how to actually go about brushing your dog’s teeth, no matter your challenges. The time and trouble involved can be greatly minimized if you get your dog used to the idea of toothbrushing and if you are ready with a straightforward toothbrushing technique.
1 Week to Get Your Dog Used to the Idea of Toothbrushing
Day 1-2 /// 1-2x daily: Sit on the floor with a towel in front of you. Put a little dog toothpaste on a toothbrush, and let your dog come to you. Let him sniff and even lick the toothpaste! Toss a treat away from you, then let him come back and check out the brush and paste again. Repeat a few times and then say “good boy, all done!” Stand up, and walk away.
Day 3-4 /// 1-2x daily: Sit on the floor with a towel in front of you with the toothbrush with some toothpaste on it. Let your dog come to you, and ask him to sit. Gently open his mouth, then let him lick the toothbrush with a little toothpaste. Stop and say “good boy, all done!’ And quickly stand up, and walk away.
Day 5-7 /// 1-2x daily: Sit on the floor with a towel in front of you with the toothbrush with some toothpaste on it. Call your dog to you, and ask him to sit. Gently open his mouth. Place the brush between his cheek and the outside surfaces of his teeth and brush a little, holding the side of his face gently. After a second or two, stop, toss a treat away from you, and say “All done!” as you walk away.
- Adjust the progress based on your dog. If you are unsure or need help, don’t hesitate to consult a qualified dog trainer.
How to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth
I’ve found that the most important thing about brushing your dog’s teeth is knowing how to hold their mouth, and taking things slowly at first. The most important thing to remember is to put a little time in everyday. It doesn’t matter what you do, just do it daily. Start by training, then begin to brush a little everyday — even if you are only brushing a few teeth.
Remember, even if you only do a little toothbrushing daily, some brushing is better than none. If you are gentle, patient and consistent, your dog will get used to toothbrushing and let you brush every part of their mouth soon!
Miles & Emma’s Dog Toothpaste Recipe
Over the last few years, I’ve developed the following do-it-yourself homemade dog toothpaste recipe. It is cheap, you know exactly what is in it, and you can easily whip it up as needed. All of the ingredients are safe for dogs, it lasts a long time, and it takes great (to dogs). Make sure to store the toothpaste out of doggie reach. While your dog could easily and safely ingest the whole recipe in one go, too much baking soda isn’t ideal. Aim to use a small amount of doggie toothpaste per toothbrushing. A little goes a long way!
- 2 heaping tbsp virgin coconut oil
- 1 tbsp baking soda
- 1 1/2 tsp water
- 1 1/2 tsp virgin olive oil
- Optional: 4 capsules powdered 100% pure natural kelp (optional – I like Natures Way brand)
- Place jar of coconut oil into a larger bowl and fill bowl with boiling water. Let jar sit in the bowl of hot water for a few minutes to soften the oil inside of the jar. Allow to soften just enough so that about half of the oil is melted.
- Measure 2 tbsp from semi-melted part of the coconut oil (should be roughly consistency of peanut butter) and place into a new bowl.
- Add 1 tbsp baking soda, 1.5 tsp olive oil and 1.5 tsp water to the coconut oil and mix well with a mini whisk.
- Optional – open kelp capsules and empty contents into bowl. Whisk the until smooth.
- Pour mixture into container. Let sit for 3 hours or overnight until set.
- Usage: Apply a small amount to a dog-friendly toothbrush or cloth and clean your dog’s teeth. Re-apply 1-2 times as needed during brushing, using tiny amounts. You should not exceed more than 1/8 tsp per brushing. A little goes a very long way!
- Storage: Store at room temperature. Separation may occur in warm months, simply mix before use.
- Kelp: Kelp is not necessary, but adds extra dog-friendly flavor and cleaning power to the toothpaste. Contact me if you have questions about sourcing.
Are Dental Cleanings At the Vet Necessary?
Plaque & Tartar – The Veterinary “Re-Set”: Good dental health doesn’t wait for anyone! If your dog has very dirty teeth (example shown above on the left), you may need to take your dog for a professional veterinary dental cleaning. Going under anesthetic is not ideal, but you can plan the experience as well as possible using the following tips. Think of a professional dental cleaning as a chance to “re-set.” Once things are under control, you can begin a good tooth-brushing regimen. With good diet and daily brushing, most dogs will have healthy teeth and will no longer need dental cleanings. Plus, in ideal circumstances, dogs can have clean breath! Growing up, I didn’t know a single dog with good breath!
Broken Teeth – Silent Pain: If your dog has chipped or broken teeth, you should have a trusted vet take a look. Some breaks do not cause problems, while others can be painful and concerning for your dog’s long-term health. Dogs don’t always show pain, and even delicate dogs can seem normal with dental pain. Read the stories of Miles’ broken teeth. Shortly after Miles’ two dental surgeries relating to slab fractures, he experienced a third slab fracture. While the first two were deemed urgent, the third was ruled unimportant by both our trusted veterinarian and the local veterinary dental specialist. If you can find trusted professionals before concerns arise, you won’t be afraid to ask for an experienced opinion (and possibly put off your dog’s well-being) later on.
If you try our toothpaste recipe, please email me a snapshot of your dog with it and I will add it below.
First up? George the Welsh Terrier: