How To: Toothbrushing

By Dr. Karen Burgess

Right time right place
Chose a time when your pet and you are relaxed and in a comfortable space.

Pet face
Hold your pet as you normally would when petting. Rub or stroke their outer cheek (overlying their teeth) with your finger. Lift their lip periodically during this process. Provide a reward/treat at the end of each session. Repeat this process twice daily for gradually increasing amounts of time until able to perform for 2 minutes and successfully rub over both upper and lower teeth.

Opening the mouth
Put a hand underneath your pet’s chin and let them rest their head in your hand. At the same time, place your second hand on top of their nose (muzzle). Immediately release and provide a reward/treat. Repeat 5-10 times a couple times a day. After several days (when pet appears at ease with above), do the same but lift the upper lips with the hand on the nose exposing the teeth for a few seconds. Reward and repeat as above. Next gradually increase the time teeth are exposed until up to 10 seconds. Once this has been achieved, open your pet’s mouth and touch inside the mouth for a second. Reward and repeat 5-10 times a couple times daily. With each session, try and open mouth slightly wider with the goal being to see all the way to the back teeth. Finally, gradually increase the time the mouth is kept open and time that your finger is kept in the mouth/touching the teeth/gums. If at any time your pet shows signs of anxiety or resentment go back a step until they are comfortable and relaxed before moving on.

Bouillon or tuna water dip
Dip your finger in a tasty liquid of choice. As before, hold the nose and lift the upper lift keeping mouth closed, gently rub your opposite hand’s finger along the gums and teeth working from back to front. The gum line (crevice where gum meets crown or white part of tooth) is of particular importance. Initially perform for 2-3 seconds before providing a reward/treat. Repeat 2 to 3 times daily for gradually increasing amounts of time until able to rub outer surface of all teeth for 10 seconds each.

Pantyhose wrap
Repeat step 3 but with finger wrapped in pantyhose or gauze. Provide a reward/treat at the end of each session.

Taste test toothpaste
Repeat step 4 after placing a small amount of animal toothpaste on your finger. Provide a reward/treat at the end of each session.

Place a small amount of toothpaste on soft bristled children’s or pet’s toothbrush; try to apply the paste between the bristles thus allowing it to last longer and not be immediately licked off. Lift the upper lip and using slow oval motion at a 45 degree angle focusing on the gum line; brush one tooth and associated gum only. Pay particular attention to the gum line as this is where bacteria and plaque collect. Provide a reward/treat at the end of session and repeat twice daily.

Gradually increase
As pet is comfortable with it, increase the number of teeth that are brushed up until brushing each side for 30 seconds. Attempt to do three to four teeth at a time and complete 10 strokes over each section. As always, provide a reward/treat at the end of each and every session.

Inside of teeth
Although of less importance, above steps can also be repeated for the inner surfaces of the teeth.