Maybe you’ve just adopted a dog. Maybe your faithful companion has been a member of the family for a few years, and your vet just mentioned that she’s got some tarter buildup and left it at that. What’s next—a doggy dental? Extractions? Some simple at home care?

No matter what canine tooth issues you’ve found yourself in, taking care of your pup’s teeth at home is something you can master in just a few minutes a day. Whether your pup is ten weeks or ten years old, every dog is capable of learning to have their teeth brushed. But if you see getting a toothbrush successfully into your dog’s mouth without any scratches or nips an insurmountable obstacle—talk to your vet. There are a variety of chews, water additives, and vet procedures that can help keep your pup’s pearly whites clean.

So, you’re going to give brushing Fido’s teeth a go. Now what?


  1. Toothbrush. Get a toothbrush made specifically for dogs, or a nylon-bristled children’s brush. You can also use a rubber finger brush, washcloth, or a piece of gauze—in fact, these options might be good stepping stones to get your dog used to the action, before you graduate to a toothbrush.
  2. Toothpaste. Be sure to use a toothpaste specifically formulated for dogs. People toothpaste can make dogs sick. Pet toothpaste comes in a variety of flavors (including liver or chicken flavors), can be swallowed, and comes in enzymatic varieties (which targets plaque and tarter).


  1. Start slow. Get your dog used to letting you rub her front teeth with just your finger. You can move up to a rubber finger brush to start brushing with toothpaste, and move up to including the back teeth too (which is often where the most plaque buildup is). 
  2. If your pup balks at the toothpaste, just put a bit on the tip of your finger and let her lick it off. No brushing necessary until she gets used to the toothpaste, and having your fingers around, and in, her mouth.
  3. Gently hold back your pet’s lips and start brushing. It’s okay to just do a couple of teeth the first time. As your dog gets used to it, do more and more teeth, eventually brushing them all at once. If your dog just doesn’t have the patience to let you do all her teeth at once, consider doing half in the morning and half in the evening.
  4. Reward. Be sure to tell your pup what a good dog she is once you’re done! Eventually, the quick daily tooth brushing can be a few quality minutes for you to spend together every day.

How often should you brush your dog’s teeth? Well, how often do you brush your own teeth? Ideally, your pup will have her teeth brushed every day. Though, even every other day brushing will go a long way in preventing dental diseases and plaque buildup. And even with regular teeth brushing, some dogs may need annual or biannual professional dentals at your vet’s office—be sure to have her teeth checked every year at her checkup to keep an eye on things. Your pup—and her teeth—will thank you.

By Rachel Leisemann Immel