Q: I brush my dog’s teeth every other day because I was told it would make a difference. What do you think? A: You will significantly improve your pet’s oral health by brushing and staying on top of their dental health care.

Q: I brush my dog’s teeth every other day because I was told it would make a difference. What do you think? 


— W.S., Rockport, Mass.


A: If –– and this can be a big “if” –– your pet is up for it, brushing his teeth can significantly delay the need for a formal dental cleaning at the vet.


Just like with humans, bacteria and plaque accumulate on our pets’ teeth and needs to be removed to prevent disease. Letting a pet walk around with dental disease puts a stress on the immune system and allows bacteria to get a foothold, which can then spread elsewhere in the body to trigger other serious health issues. As for how often to brush a pet’s teeth, research suggests at least twice a week to get the best results.


Brushing –– primarily for cats and dogs –– can be a positive and rewarding experience. You can introduce it as part of your daily routine and even link it to events like walking and feeding. Here are some helpful tips to get you up and running.


Start off with the right tools. A soft-bristled, human or pet toothbrush is what you need. The bristles are essential for cleaning under the gum line, and if your pet decides to bite, they’ll bite the brush and not your finger.


Also, you must use toothpaste designed especially for pets. Never use human toothpaste. Pet toothpaste does not contain fluoride, which can upset a pet’s stomach, and it will not foam, which can cause choking and aspiration. Plus, it is produced in pet-friendly flavors, such as poultry, liver and seafood.


When you make your first attempts to brush, skip the actual brushing and try to simply get your pet to taste and enjoy the toothpaste. He may even see it as a treat or a reward. After a few days of this, rub the toothpaste on your pet’s gums with your finger as if it were the toothbrush –– do not get bitten!


Once your pet is comfortable with this, introduce the brush with toothpaste on it and gently try to rub it on a small section of your pet’s gums for two to three seconds. Never force the issue; always offer praise and positive reinforcement.


Before you know it, you’ll build up to where you’re brushing the outer surfaces of the upper and lower sets of teeth. Focus on the teeth way in the back as best you can, and don’t sweat brushing the inner side of the teeth if it’s too big a battle. Notify your veterinarian immediately if you notice anything concerning in your pet’s mouth.


You will significantly improve your pet’s oral health by brushing and staying on top of their dental health care.


Dr. Ray Cahill owns and operates SeaPort Veterinary Hospital in Gloucester, Mass. Submit questions via e-mail on the contact page of the hospital’s website, seaportvet.com.