Most people don't realize how important dental care is for our dogs and their health. We chalk up their bad breath to being dogs and figure their dental health is fine since they rarely get cavities (see why, here). However, dental disease is one of the most common health issues in pets. It's estimated that the majority of dogs (up to 80%) show signs by the age of just three, according to the American Veterinary Dental College and American Veterinary Dental Society.
Untreated dental disease can cause tooth decay or loss, painful abscesses and systemic infections. It also increases your dog's risk of permanent oral damage as well as heart, kidney and liver issues. This is why taking care of our dogs' mouths is nearly as important as proper exercise and a healthy, well-balanced diet. At-home dental care can go a long way in doing so. Here are nine dental care products to keep your dog's mouth as healthy as possible.
One of the best ways to care for your dog's dental health is by brushing their teeth. Doing so every day is ideal but not always (usually) possible in reality. Because of this, it's recommended that you try to brush your dog's teeth two to three times a week - the more the better. You'll want to use a special dog toothbrush with soft bristles, as adult human brushes are often too large and tough on the gums. Some even come with double- and triple-heads for maximum reach around teeth.
Pro Tip: If your dog doesn't like having their teeth brushed, you can train them using positive reinforcement.
Another option for brushing is the finger brush. These are typically made of safe silicone and slip onto your finger, turning it into the toothbrush. You can opt for ones with bristles on one side or all around for 360 degree cleaning. This option can be great for:
- Dogs who are fine with brushing but don't like the actual toothbrush itself
- Smaller dogs since it's more compact
- Those with sensitive teeth or gums, as the silicone bristles are quite soft
An important factor when brushing your dog's teeth is making sure you use dog toothpaste, which is specifically made for canines. Don't use human toothpaste, as that can be toxic to dogs. Dog toothpastes are specially formulated to be safe and come in pup-friendly flavors like poultry, vanilla, peanut butter, mint and more. Not only does this mean they won't harm your dog, they'll also be more enjoyable.
Some common ingredients in pet toothpaste:
- Silica – Abrasives that are effective at scraping away tartar from the tooth’s surface.
- Enzymes – Proteins that reduce bacteria in the mouth and help reduce bad breath.
- Emulsifiers – Salts that help control the buildup of tartar.
- Sorbitol – A sweetener for taste (not to be confused with the sweetener Xylitol, which is toxic to dogs).
Pro Tip: Find a toothpaste your dog likes because it will make brushing time easier for you and more enjoyable for all involved. Feel free to give your dog a few tastes before actually starting the brushing so they can enjoy the flavor.
Dental wipes are useful little tools, especially for dogs who won't allow the use of a toothbrush or finger brush. They work similarly to brushes in that you rub them against your dog's teeth and gums. Their textured surface helps remove debris, tartar, plaque and other buildup - though they're not quite as effective since they can't get into the nooks and crannies like bristles can. But they are a quick and gentle way to clean your dog's teeth at least a little bit.
Brushless Teeth Cleaners (Gel, Foam, Spray, Rinse)
If your dog really won't allow any brushing motions or you want to supplement your dog's dental routine, you can opt for brushless teeth cleaners. come in many forms, including gel, spray, foam and rinse. They're applied directly into your dog's mouth (typically on the teeth and gums, though this can vary). For example, Pet King Brands Oratene Brushless Toothpaste Gel is applied to your dog's teeth and gums, while TropiClean Fresh Breath Clean Teeth Gel requires only two drops applied to each side of your dog's mouth. Sprays (like Arm & Hammer's), foams (like Nylabone's) and rinses (like Vetoquinol's) are also applied directly onto the teeth and gums, often after a meal. It's important to note that many of these types of cleaners are most effective if food or drink is withheld for 30-60 minutes after application. Not only do these cleaners not require brushing, they also don't require rinsing afterwards.
Dental Water Additives
Dental water additive is a quick and easy way to improve your dog's dental care - though it's certainly not a replacement for brushing. You simply place the recommended amount in your dog's water for them to drink up all the oral care ingredients.
There are, however, some things to keep in mind when it comes to these additives. First, one common side effect is gastrointestinal upset, such as soft stool. So it may not be a good choice for dogs with sensitive stomachs or known digestive issues. Second, some dogs won't like the taste (our older dog Brody is one of them) and may even refuse to drink, which can lead to dehydration. Many claim to be odorless and tasteless, but your dog will be the judge of that. Lastly, not all water additives are created equal so always check the ingredients to ensure there's no Xylitol or other harmful ingredients. Here are some of the top ranked water additives:
Dental Support Supplements
There are also dental additives for food, rather than water. These supplements typically come in powder form and so you can sprinkle them on your dog's wet food or dry kibble alike. They often have natural ingredients that help with plaque and tartar buildup, freshen breath, and support teeth and gum health. For instance, ProDen PlaqueOff Powder uses sea kelp, while VETRISCIENCE Perio Support uses zeolites - a naturally natural volcanic mineral with detoxifying properties that can help prevent plaque from forming and sticking to teeth. We used VETRISCIENCE Perio Support for our dogs up until Brody's kidney disease diagnosis, when we had to add other, more urgent supplements. Bonus: both powders from ProDen and VETRISCIENCE are clinically tested!
Dental Treats And Dog Chews
Dog dental treats are specifically created to help remove plaque and other buildup, freshen breath and clean the mouth. And since canines love treats and chewing, why not incorporate dental care into that. There are tons of options (with Greenies and Dentastix as perhaps the most famous) that come in a wide variety of sizes and flavors so every pup can enjoy them.
Dog chews and safe-to-consume bones also provide their own type of oral care, even if not specially formulated like dental treats. This is because the act of chewing helps clean teeth and remove plaque, tartar buildup. In addition, many of the natural bones, like bully sticks and are other rawhide-free dog chews, are made from ingredients with enzymes that support dental health. You can also opt for nylon "bones" (like nylabones, Hartz Chew ‘n Clean collection, and Pet Qwerks BarkBone Stick), rubber chews (like KONG's Dental Stick) and toothbrush sticks (like this Bullibone with an easy to grip bottom).
Two important things to remember:
- ALWAYS supervise your dog with chewing treats and toys.
- Edible dental treats add calories to your dog's diet, so you'll want to feed them in moderation or adjust your dog's meal portions and exercise to accommodate the extra calories.
Dogs also love toys and playing, so you can take advantage of that too when it comes to dental care. There are lots of types designed specifically to clean your dog's teeth. These toys are made of safe, durable rubber and all feature nubs, ridges, grooves or some sort of texture to help clean teeth and massage gums. From textured balls and tug toys to rings and squeaky toys, here are some top-rated options:
Again, ALWAYS supervise your dog with chewing treats and toys.