From the desk of Dr. Turgai:
Your dog can be introduced to brushing soon after you bring him home. It is not necessary to brush a puppy’s teeth from the perspective of tooth health since all the baby teeth will naturally fall out, but by brushing two or three times a week at an early age, they will be familiar with the procedure by the time the adult teeth come in. Once you notice baby teeth starting to come out, you should take a break on brushing as the gums will be a bit sore. Once all of the permanent teeth are in, you can pick up where you left off.
There are probably a lot of ways to introduce a dog (or cat) to tooth brushing, but the underlying theme should be to make it a good experience for your pet. I prefer a stepwise training approach that allows the pet to become comfortable with the idea of a brush before moving on to serious cleaning.
First, start out with the brush of your choice garnished with a tasty treat. The brush can be the handheld or over-the-finger variety, but should have nice soft bristles. The tasty treat ideally might be some chicken flavored tooth paste made just for dogs, but if he does not initially see the paste as his absolute favorite thing, then it would be OK to spice it up a bit with some chicken baby food or something else equally interesting. The idea here is to have your dog come running when they see the tooth brush come out rather than go hide under the bed. Allow some time to get your dog very familiar with the brush before moving on.
The next step could be having him sit before he gets his “treat”. Future brushings will be easier if this becomes part of the routine. Alternatively, the next step could be making a game of trying to poke the brush under the lips while he is trying to lick it off the brush. Here we are trying to get the brush into the mouth in a very casual nonintrusive manner. Lavish praise is always a part of the process, but there is no point in reprimanding at any step along the way.
Once your pet is comfortable with having a brush between his lips, then and only then might you start to really do a serious brushing. Ideally he would sit, you would lift a lip, and then you would brush the gum line in circles in the same way as you would with your own teeth. Only brush the outer surfaces of the teeth and pay special attention to the back teeth and the large fang teeth (canine teeth) in the front. A variety of pet toothpastes is available, but you should avoid human toothpastes, baking soda, or hydrogen peroxide as any of these can cause stomach upset. A treat of Hill’s teeth cleaning diet called “T/D” can be given after the procedure or even as a break in the middle of the brushing. T/D is specially made to have a tooth scrubbing effect.
Cats are a bit more of a challenge, but the same training concepts apply and T/D is also available for cats.
Lastly, even with good brushing habits, your pet may need scaling in the same way that people still need scaling even if they brush thoroughly and regularly. Examination of the oral cavity should be a part of every physical exam, and your veterinarian can let you know when it is time to schedule a teeth cleaning. Good home care including brushing will mean fewer professional cleanings, less tooth loss and a happier, healthier pet.