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Here's how often you should brush your dog's teeth, according to a veterinarian

Learn why you should to brush your dog's teeth, too.

Cleaning your dog’s teeth for maintaining a good dental hygiene. Daily routine when living with pets. Bonding with pets concept.
How often should you brush your dog's teeth? The answer may surprise you. (Getty Images)

While he's pretty small, my toy poodle requires regular grooming. I try to brush his hair every day to keep it from matting, but he goes to a professional groomer every 4 to 6 weeks for a haircut, nail trim and more. After a recent appointment, the groomer brought to my attention that my dog seemed to have an issue with his gums — they were red and sensitive when she tried to brush his teeth. Of course, I immediately reached out to my vet, and she advised me that I should be brushing his teeth more regularly to avoid it getting worse.

Quick Overview
  • Petsmile Professional Dog & Cat Toothbrush

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  • Wellness Whimzees Value Box Dental Chews Natural Grain-Free Dental Dog Treats, Medium, 44 count

So, how often should you brush your dog's teeth?

Now I'll be the first to admit, I love my dog — not to mention that I'm really into my own dental health — but I never brush his teeth. He hates it and wiggles so much, it makes it difficult to do. I tried when he was puppy, but gave up pretty quickly. Now, as he's coming up on his second birthday, I'm starting to understand just how important a pet's dental health is.

I reached out to Dr. Ambika Vaid, an integrative veterinarian and veterinary advisor to Badlands Ranch, a premium dog food brand. She specializes in pet nutrition, surgery and dental procedures, and so seemed a perfect source of expert advice. She advised brushing my (and your) dog's teeth once a day.

"Periodontal disease can lead to significant systemic disease if left untreated for too long. It is an underrated disease and prevention is highly effective in keeping your pet healthy for much longer," said Dr. Vaid. "Ideally, you should brush your dog’s teeth daily. If this is not possible, as often as you can."

If you have a puppy, she recommends starting a tooth-brushing routine right away, even if they only have a few baby teeth. This can help them get used to the sensation, so they won't fight it like my put-upon pooch does.

How do you brush a dog's teeth?

Of course, as a human, you should brush your teeth twice a day and brush them all over, making sure you hit every nook and cranny. But dog teeth are different.

"When brushing [your dog's] teeth, you only need to focus on the outside," said Dr. Vaid. "Dogs have enzymes in their saliva that help break down buildup of calculus [hardened plaque] and tartar on the insides of their teeth."

That said, you can use a dog toothbrush or a finger brush to remove tartar. You can do this alone or use a toothpaste with abrasive properties to help remove the really stuck-on stuff. Just note that there are toothpastes made specifically for dogs in fun flavors like chicken, beef or in my case, I got my dog a London Broil flavor. And unlike like human toothpaste, you don't need to rinse it out with water.

"You can start by putting a little bit of the toothpaste on your finger to help them get used to the taste, and over time, even enjoy it. This allows the experience to become a fun, treat-filled activity for your pet," Dr. Vaid explained.

Keep in mind, you should never use human toothpaste on your dog or anything that contains Fluoride. Dr. Vaid says, "Fluoride is an ingredient found in human toothpaste, but it's extremely toxic to dogs and cats, which is why it is never recommended to use a human toothpaste product on an animal."

Can you use dental treats or water additives in place of teeth brushing?

For a while, instead of brushing my dog's teeth, I gave him minty dog bones and put a water additive in his bowl to keep plaque at bay, but I learned that that's not enough. Think of it like this: Would you replace your regular teeth brushing with eating mints or drinking mint tea? Probably not.

Dr. Vaid shared that there's no replacement for regular, good old-fashioned brushing. "Toothbrushing is the only way to prevent dental disease," she said. If you do decide to give your dog a supplement in between brushing, however, make sure it's a healthy option.

"I know it can be difficult to brush daily, or even weekly, so when you aren’t able to brush as often as your veterinarian recommends, you can try supplementing with a treat to aid in breaking tartar accumulation while chewing," she said, adding that, "a Kong filled with your pet’s favorite snacks and then placed in the freezer is a great option that requires chewing."

If you want to go the more holistic approach, you can give your dog raw carrots. "[They're] a great source of Vitamin A and beta-carotene and can naturally strengthen enamel," she said,

However, it's important to note that Dr. Vaid recommends avoiding bully sticks, antlers, or other types of large bones, sharing that these are the No. 1 reason for broken teeth in dogs.

Additionally, Dr. Vaid suggests considering your dog's diet, especially if you're concerned about bad breath. "Diet also plays a large role in prevention of periodontal disease," she said. "Bad breath is directly related to gut health. If you are running into an issue of bad breath even after having the teeth professionally cleaned and/or brushing daily, your pet may need a diet change."

She recommends a whole-balanced diet that's rich in vegetables and proteins.

"While raw or fresh food has grown in popularity, these diets are often soft, which don’t provide much value to our dog’s dental health. For the best of both worlds, you can opt for a whole food diet that’s air-dried using a low-and-slow drying method, like Badlands Ranch Superfood Complete, which maintains nutritional value, while offering our dog’s teeth with the benefits of a hard food diet," she said.

What if you've never brushed your dog's teeth before?

If you've never brushed your dog's teeth before, you may want to talk to your vet about getting them professionally cleaned.

"If you are unable to brush teeth at home, I would recommend starting professional cleaning as early as 2 years of age," Dr. Vaid advises. "If you can brush teeth at home, you can push this back to 4 years of age. Usually by 4 years of age, a yearly cleaning is necessary to ensure periodontal disease does not occur."

That said, professional cleanings often require putting your pet under general anesthesia so your vet can clean and remove any infected teeth if necessary. It's a serious procedure that also comes with a serious price tag, anywhere from $600 to $1,200.

That's why if you can brush your dog's teeth regularly, you can usually delay getting it done while also keeping your pet's teeth and gums in tip-top shape.

Keep in mind, if your dog develops advanced periodontal disease, they may be in pain and may even need to get some of their teeth extracted.

What kinds of toothbrushes, toothpaste and treats are safe to use on your dog?

Ready to upgrade (or start) your dog's toothbrushing routine? You'll need the right tools. Dr. Vaid and my own vet suggested choosing products that have the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval. There's even a list with all of the VOHC-approved items online, including toothbrushes, toothpaste, food and treats.

Take a look below at some doggy dental products you can purchase online today. While it may take some time for you both to get used to it, it's never a bad time to start brushing your dog's teeth to prevent periodontal disease and bad breath.

This dual-headed toothbrush has a smaller brush head on one side and a larger brush head on the other, so you can use it for any size dog. It also has BPA-free, soft nylon bristles that won't irritate your dog's gums.

You can also purchase this toothbrush in a bundle with the brand's toothpaste, which is VOHC-approved. 

$14 at Chewy

Like Dr. Vaid said, your dog could view flavored toothpastes as a treat, so pick you one they'll like! This toothpaste comes in flavors such as London Broil, Rotisserie Chicken and Cheese.

$15 at Chewy

While the VOHC doesn't have these finger brushes on their list, my own vet recommended them for my small pup, because they can be a little easier to maneuver, especially over his tiny teeth. 

$6 at Chewy

If you have a dog, you've probably heard of Greenies. Not only do dogs love them, but they're on the VOHC's list of approved dental treats for dogs. Like Dr. Vaid said, you can use one of these to supplement your teeth brushing routine, not replace it. 

Keep in mind not all dogs like mint, so Greenies also offers blueberry and sweet potato flavors. They also come in different sizes for small and big dogs.

$18 at Chewy

My dog personally prefers Wellness Whimzees to other dental dog treat brands. This value box includes 44 treats in a range of shapes to keep things interesting for your pup. They also come in different sizes for different dogs — this box is the brand's medium-sized treats.

$45 at Chewy