Do You Really Need to Brush Your Dog's Teeth?

By: Jesslyn Shields  | 
Brush dog teeth
While brushing your dog's teeth isn't exactly fun for either of you, it will help your pooch stay healthy and will also aid in the stinky breath department. sergey kolesnikov/Shutterstock

While a dog's grooming regimen involves a lot of pretty basic chewing and licking, if you tell your dog to go brush his teeth, there's a pretty good chance you'll never get more than a blank look from him. Dogs cannot brush their own teeth and, since they physically can't, you should absolutely be doing it for them, according to veterinarians.

Although you know it would probably be better for your pet and definitely more pleasant for your nose, it's difficult to get around to a daily toothbrushing session with your furry friend. For starters, dogs often don't love the process, and also, who has the time? Well, as the dentists say, only brush the teeth you want to keep, and this is true for Fido's pearly whites as well.


What's In a Tooth?

Teeth look like bones, but actually they're a lot more dynamic. The bones in the bodies of dogs and humans are made up of both collagen, a protein that makes them soft, and calcium phosphate, a mineral that makes them hard and strong. Teeth, on the other hand, are composed of many layers of hard and soft tissue. The softer bit in the center of the tooth is called pulp, which contains blood vessels, connective tissue and nerves. The harder bits layered on the outer portion of the tooth are the enamel, dentin and cementum. Enamel is made of calcium phosphate and is the strongest material in the entire body. Dentin is harder than bone and is made up of calcified living tissue. Cementum surrounds the root of the tooth and attaches the booth to the jawbone below the gumline — it's made up of protein polysaccharides and a type of collagen.


Why Brush Your Dog's Teeth?

Teeth, therefore, are complex and each mouth has a lot of them — dogs shed their baby teeth at about 4 or 5 months old and keep one set of adult teeth for the rest of their lives. Coupled with the fact that dogs use their mouths to explore things on the ground we wouldn't dream of licking, it seems like we should probably be brushing their teeth.

And a lot of people do!


"Teeth brushing has become much more common in dogs," says Beth Yash, a small animal veterinarian at Hawthorne Animal Hospital in Athens, Georgia. "We encourage our dog owners to start brushing their dog's teeth during puppyhood. A positive start makes a daily oral hygiene routine achievable."

Brushing your dog's teeth comes with all the same benefits you enjoy as a result of brushing your own teeth.

"Teeth brushing removes bacteria which prevents plaque buildup and subsequent tartar formation," says Yash. "It also prevents bacteria under the gumline which leads to gingivitis, periodontal disease and systemic bacterial infections of the organs. Plus, it keeps breath smelling fresh!"


How to Brush Your Dog's Teeth

Veterinarians recommend brushing your dog's teeth daily.

"I recommend an enzymatic pet toothpaste," says Yash. "Some folks use a small toothbrush, but you can also use a finger brush, gauze or even paper towel. Using a 45-degree angle, brush in small circular motion over all the teeth."


And while brushing is best, some dogs just can't tolerate the sensation, don't understand the assignment and start playing or gnawing at the brush, or just run away. There are plenty of "tooth brushing treats" on the market — not all of them are created equal, but many of them are decent alternatives to brushing when it isn't an option.

"I refer people to the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) website for accepted oral hygiene products," says Yash.