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Brushing your dog's teeth can seem like a daunting task. However, most dogs in the USA have some form of dental issue by the time they reach the age of 3. Therefore, it's important to have a dental hygiene routine for your pet to guard against tooth decay, gum disease and maintain overall good health.

It's best to start brushing your dog's teeth while they're young so they get used to the process, but even older dogs can get used to having their teeth brushed if you introduce them to the routine gently.

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Choosing the Right Toothbrush

Before you start a tooth brushing routine with your dog, you'll need a suitable toothbrush. It's best to buy a canine toothbrush specially designed for dogs. These are similar to human toothbrushes but have much softer bristles. If you can't source one easily, a baby toothbrush is a suitable alternative.

You can also buy toothbrushes for dogs which fit over your finger. Some owners prefer these because they make it easier to reach your dog's back teeth.

dog canine tooth brush belchonock / Getty Images
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Dog-Friendly Toothpaste

As well as a canine toothbrush, you'll need a toothpaste that's safe for dogs. Human toothpaste isn't suitable for dogs because most contain fluoride. While fluoride prevents tooth decay, it is extremely toxic to dogs and can cause fatal poisoning. You can buy toothpaste specially formulated for dogs. They come in flavors which dogs find delicious such as beef and poultry, making the tooth brushing process more enjoyable for your pet.

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Find a Comfortable Position

It's important to find a comfortable position to brush your pet's teeth. If you stand over your pet or hold them down for tooth brushing, they are likely to feel threatened. This could cause them to become frightened of having their teeth brushed or even act aggressively out of fear.

Choose a location to brush their teeth where they feel relaxed and at ease. Try sitting at their level in front of them or to the side. If your dog appears anxious or uncomfortable, stop the session and try again when they're calmer.

dog tooth brushing comfortable position Daniela Jovanovska-Hristovska / Getty Images
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Accustom Your Dog To Tooth Brushing

Before you try brushing your dog's teeth, it's a good idea to get them used to you touching their teeth and gums. Start by simply rubbing your fingertip over your dog's teeth and gums. Don't press too hard and stop if your dog seems uncomfortable. You may need to do this several times over a few days before your dog is comfortable enough to allow you to start brushing their teeth.

rubbing dog's teeth gums fingertip Fenne / Getty Images
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Let Your Dog Try the Toothpaste

You should also get your dog used to the taste of their toothpaste so it's familiar to them when you begin tooth brushing. Offer some on your finger for them to lick off so they can learn to enjoy this new texture and taste. If they turn their nose up at it, you may need to try a different brand or flavor. It will be much easier to brush their teeth if you find a flavor they love.

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Brush the Front Teeth

Once your dog is used to their toothbrush and toothpaste, you can try brushing their front teeth. Lift their lips gently and angle the brush at a 45-degree angle so you can clean any plaque that's formed on their gum line. Brush in small circles along their top and bottom teeth, stopping if they show signs of discomfort. It may take several sessions before your dog is happy for you to brush their back teeth.

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Brush the Back Teeth

Once your dog is happy and relaxed having their front teeth brushed, you can try brushing their canine and back teeth. This is where plaque is most likely to have built up. Brush the outside of the teeth and the insides if the dog will allow it.

Some dogs won't tolerate having the insides of their back teeth brushed. If the dog won't let you, there's no need to force the issue. Dogs have rough tongues which help to keep the insides of their teeth clean.

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Reward Your Dog

End each tooth brushing session by praising your dog. You can offer a small treat if you want. This helps your dog to build up positive associations with tooth brushing and should make them more likely to accept it. You can buy special dog chews which help stop harmful plaque building up on their teeth. These are a great choice of reward as your dog can enjoy their treat while furthering your efforts to keep their mouth clean and healthy.

dog reward chews clean teeth Stephanie Verhart / Getty Images
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What To Do If Your Dog's Gums Bleed

A small amount of bleeding from the gums is normal, especially when you first start brushing your dog's teeth. If the bleeding is heavier or persistent, it may mean that you're applying too much pressure with the toothbrush. It could also be a sign of gum disease. Consult your vet about any significant bleeding.

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How Often Should You Brush Your Dog's Teeth?

It's best to try and brush your dog's teeth every day. However, even a few brushing sessions a week will be beneficial for their oral hygiene.

No matter how carefully you brush at home, it's a good idea to have your dog's teeth cleaned professionally each year. This helps to prevent decay, gum disease and other issues with the teeth and gums which could threaten your dog's overall health if left untreated.

vet cleaning dog's teeth AndreyPopov / Getty Images

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