Caring for Your Dog's Teeth: 2023 Dog Dental Care Guide

33 Minute Read
Updated February 21, 2023

Does your dog have bad breath? Have you noticed plaque build-up on your cat’s teeth? Maybe it’s time you start to take a closer look at your pet’s dental care routine.

Why is your pet's dental health so important? Dental health can affect many aspects of your pet's overall health, including digestion and immunity. Maintaining a consistent dog dental routine can have positive effects far beyond what goes on in their mouths. 

Pet dental health is not always a priority until it’s too late and the damage is already done. Dental disease, and the unexpected vet bills that are associated with poor dog dental health, are preventable and, in some ways, potentially reversible.


The Stats On Dog Teeth (And Cats Too!)

If we can make simple changes to improve our pet's dental care, then why are the statistics around pet dental health still so alarming?

Did you know that, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), almost 80% of dogs and 70% of cats are showing signs of dental disease by the ripe age of just three?


That’s pretty incredible, considering dental disease is preventable. Pet owners, according to the Veterinary Pet Insurance Co., spend a combined 11 million dollars per year on dental procedures. $11 million on something that is easy, I’ll repeat it, preventable!

Vet visits and regular cleanings are recommended, and they aren’t cheap, but a lot of that $11 million was on procedures to fix dental issues that could have been avoided if we spent more time keeping up with our pet's dental health in between vet visits.

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The typical adult goes to the dentist twice a year for check-ups and cleaning or scaling. This process helps reduce the build-up that is difficult to remove. 

What would happen if you didn’t brush your teeth, floss or participate in any other dental routines in between your dentist appointments?

Obviously, your breath would be horrible, your teeth would rot, and all your friends would start keeping a generous distance from you. Of course, you keep yourself healthy by maintaining a regular dental routine, and this same line of thinking should apply to your pets as well.

So why do we disregard the importance of our pet's dental health?

Well, there are many reasons and excuses that we use to avoid putting too much effort into our pet's teeth, but they all come down to the fact that we often don’t know how to care for them appropriately.

The good news is that there are lots of products and methods to help with pet dental care, but knowing which one works the best, how to do it, and which products will be best for your individual pet’s needs can feel quite complicated.

So, let’s ditch the excuses and dive into how to make our pet’s dental health substantially better.


Pet Dental FAQs

Let’s look at some of the most asked questions regarding dog or cat dental care:

What is the best dental care for dogs?

There are many methods of caring for your dog's teeth, but the best dog teeth-cleaning solution is tooth brushing. Other maintenance methods and dog dental care products can complement regularly brushing your dog's teeth but will never replace it. 

Do I really need to brush my dog’s teeth?

Yes. Oui. Si. Ja. Shì. Hlja. Ok, that last one was Klingon, but you get the point. You need to brush your dog's teeth.

Brushing your dog’s teeth is the best dental care for dogs. There are tons of alternative products to help improve dog dental health, but none of them compare to good old-fashioned tooth brushing.

Brushing removes more bacteria than any other home dental procedure, so it’s an unavoidable necessity if you want a healthy dog. Oral bacteria hide well. It tucks itself under your dog's gum line, rests in between teeth, and even coats their tongue.

The scariest part is what bacteria can do below the surface. Periodontal disease is the decay and deterioration of the bone that holds the tooth. This can lead to teeth dying, breaking, chipping, and even falling out.

Unless you want a toothless dog, you’re going to need to commit to a regular dental routine for your dog.

Even worse, bacteria can sneak into the bloodstream via their gums. The blood can carry that bacteria to other areas of the body, which can lead to damage and infection in vital organs like the heart, liver and kidneys. 

How often should you be cleaning your dog’s teeth?

In a perfect world, you should be brushing your pet's teeth every day. In an even more perfect world, after every meal.

Does that sound familiar? That’s right, our pet's dental care needs are pretty similar to our own. Short, 1-2 minute brushing sessions will make a huge difference in overall dental health.

We know that that seems like a lot, so start with once per week and work towards getting as close to every day as you can.

They hate it when I brush their teeth. What do I do?

Dog hates toothbrush

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but most pets hate getting their teeth brushed. They fear what they don’t understand, and no matter how much they may trust you, their fearless leader, they are not going to enjoy you poking around in their mouths with a brush. Go slow, and be patient.

Over time, your pet will adapt to the routine, but only if you are consistent. Try different ways and methods of brushing to find the one that is the most manageable and least intimidating to your pet.

Can I use other dental products to avoid toothbrushing?

The short answer is no.

The long answer is that although nothing will replace tooth brushing, many dental products are great for enhancing a dental routine, especially when tooth brushing sessions are a bit of a struggle.

In the end, you still need to brush your pet's teeth regularly, but combining other tooth care options with their regular tooth brushing routine can get you faster and better results.

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How early can I start brushing my pet's teeth?

As soon as they have teeth, you can start caring for them. Obviously, those fresh baby teeth are going to be very healthy already, so the best dental care for puppies is less about cleaning and more about building the routine and making future dental care much more relaxed.

Frequently brushing your pet’s teeth will help them get used to having you fussing around in their mouth, the feeling of the brush on their teeth and gums, and additionally help you become comfortable with the practice. You'll both be pros at it sooner than you think.

Can diet affect dental health?


Absolutely! Some diet formats and ingredients can create more dental problems than they solve, and some are considerably less effective than you think.

Kibble diets are often seen as a dental solution. As your pet chews their food, it helps remove bacteria. It sounds great on paper, but that’s just not the case. Most pets don’t appropriately chew their food, and some do not chew at all.

If anything, kibble leaves more residue than it removes, providing an ample food supply for bacteria to feed on. Slow-feed bowls may help encourage chewing, but they will not reduce the need for a dental routine.

Wet food feeders are at the highest risk, as there is zero chewing involved. Toothbrushing is even more essential to pets eating strictly canned food diets. A regular routine of toothbrushing and natural chews can help combat the negative dental effects of wet dog food.

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One of the best types of diet for dental health is a raw diet. Whether it is dehydrated, freeze-dried, or frozen, raw meat contains enzymes that aid in the breakdown of oral bacteria. Consequently, even if there is very little chewing going on, these diets still provide superior dental care to kibble.

If raw diets aren't for you, then stick to minimally processed, high-quality foods. Feeding a dehydrated or freeze-dried diet, like Primal, will still be a better alternative than kibble or canned diets. Look for a diet with fewer carbs that uses fresh wholesome ingredients.


Ingredients matter too. Heavily processed, sugary ingredients feed bacteria, intensifying the problem and increasing build-up near the gum line. Look for low-carb and low-glycemic options to minimize the number of sugars passing through your pet's mouth.

Kibble is a very high-carb format compared to raw, so if you’re feeding a dry dog food, try incorporating raw or fresh foods into your pet's daily routine to help limit carb intake and increase the positive dental effects.


How to Get Rid of Bad Dog Breath


One of the most obvious giveaways of poor dental health is dog bad breath. While no owner wants their dog’s breath to stink, avoiding the unpleasant smell isn’t the only reason to get to the root of the problem!

If your pet (and you) are suffering from a case of stinky dog breath, this should tell you right away it’s time to start a dental additive for dogs. But first, read on to learn about what can cause bad breath in the first place and the health problems it can lead to if left untreated.

What Causes Bad Dog Breath?

Dog breath isn’t normal. Most pet owners have become accustomed to their pet’s nasty mouth odour and chalk it up to just being a dog. This is true to some extent because dogs tend to put a lot of gross things in their mouth, but other bad breath contributors can be controlled, eliminated or changed to improve your pooch's breath.

Let’s take a look at what’s causing your dog’s bad breath:

Plaque, Tartar, and Periodontal Disease

The foundation of bad dog breath is the build-up of food particles on teeth and gums and the resulting bacterial growth, called plaque. If this plaque is not removed from the teeth, over time it hardens and becomes calculus or tartar.

This tartar creates a rough surface that attracts more food particles and plaque, leading to even more tartar build-up. Tartar on bad dog teeth is much harder to remove than just plaque and often requires veterinary scaling.

One of the most common causes of bad conditions in pets, periodontal disease is also a major contributor to bad breath in dogs. Canine periodontal disease (a.k.a. gum disease in dogs, dog dental disease) starts when bacteria in the mouth cause the buildup of plaque and tartar along the gum line.

Bacteria then breed under the gums and begin to deteriorate supporting tissue around the tooth. The gums are now inflamed, and your dog has (reversible) gingivitis. Your dog's immune system then produces excess white blood cells to attack the bacteria.

Chemicals produced by the white blood cells cause additional damage to the supportive tissues of the tooth by causing inflammation in the periodontal space (between the tooth and gums).

This condition is referred to as periodontitis. If left for too long, the tooth will likely need to be extracted in an expensive dental procedure.

Indigestion and Food Intolerance

While not a primary cause of bad dog breath, indigestion and other gastrointestinal upsets can cause periodic bad breath in dogs. These causes of bad breath in dogs are occasional instead of chronic, occurring only after your dog has ingested the offending food and for several hours after.

However, it should be noted that if the offending food is in your dog's regular kibble, his symptoms will appear chronic. Usually, this bad breath is accompanied by an upset stomach, nausea, bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation, or other signs of digestive problems.

Switching to higher-quality dog food or a limited-ingredient diet can help reduce allergy symptoms and food intolerance.

Some dogs experience indigestion that does not have to do with food allergies or intolerance. Indigestion in dogs can also be caused by anxiety or stress, including separation anxiety or travel anxiety.

These symptoms can manifest during a stressful event or even for a few weeks after a traumatic event.

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What Can Bad Dog Breath Lead To?

You may think that bad breath is the worst that can happen if you don't brush your dog's teeth, but the reality is much worse. Poor dental health can lead to other health conditions that can easily go unnoticed until they become very serious. 

Heart, Liver, and Kidney Disease

Bad dog breath can be a sign of some very serious conditions. While these conditions are not the usual cause of bad breath in dogs, they are still worth noting. Some of these conditions, such as heart, kidney, and liver disease, can be caused by advanced periodontal disease.

Pay special attention if your dog:

      • Has breath that smells sweet or like urine
      • Has bad breath that is accompanied by difficulty in urinating, increased urination, lethargy or extreme tiredness, decreased appetite, profuse vomiting, yellow-looking gums
      • Has any other unusual symptoms

If you are concerned that your dog may have a serious health issue, please consult a veterinarian. 

When you allow bacteria to proliferate in your pet's mouth, they eventually make their way to the bloodstream, and then they can reach the liver, kidneys, and heart.

Severe dental disease has been linked to heart valve infections, heart murmurs, kidney disease that causes renal failure, and eventually even death.

This is why proper dental health and prevention of bad breath and periodontal disease in dogs are imperative! Now that you understand the importance of brushing your dog’s teeth, you're ready to learn how to get rid of bad dog breath solutions and keep those pearly whites clean.


10 Tips for How to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth:

Brushing your dog's teeth is not fun, especially for your dog, but these tips can make the process a whole lot easier and less stressful for both of you.  

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1. Pick the Right Time and Place

To reduce the fear and stress of brushing your dog’s teeth, make sure you choose a time and place where your dog can be as calm and relaxed as possible.

2. Find the Right Tools for Your Dog

Before you dive in, it’s important to understand your options and tools and how to use them appropriately to get the best result. Here are the most common and best products for cleaning dog teeth:

Many products can make doggy teeth cleaning easier and more effective. Don't be afraid to try a few different products to find out which will work best for your unique pooch.

3. Let Your Dog Taste Test

To help your dog get used to the tools you chose, it’s a good idea to let him taste the toothpaste. Once he realizes it’s tasty, he’ll be much more likely to let you brush his teeth.

4. Get Your Hands in There

This may not be the most fun part of the process, but a great way to help your dog get comfortable with this process is to practice touching his teeth and gums with your fingers. Start by gently lifting his lips, holding his jaw in place, and massaging his gums with your finger.

5. Introduce the Brush Slowly

Now that he’s okay with you fussing with his mouth, you can help to get him used to the toothbrush. Show him the dental tool, and let him sniff it. He needs to see that the brush isn’t going to hurt him. Put a small dab of the tasty toothpaste on the brush and let him lick it off. This will help him get used to the sensation of the brush.

When you are ready, start using both the toothbrush to gently massage his gum and front teeth in small circular motions. His front teeth will be the easiest to reach, so start there.

Here is a helpful video to help you learn the technique:

6. Work Your Way Back

Once you’ve practiced brushing the front and easy-to-reach teeth, begin to work your way further back. Focus on the outer side of the teeth, facing his cheeks. When you pull the lip up, some of the premolars will be exposed, so you can start to work in small circles further and further back.

7. Try Out New Positions

While sitting or standing are the most common positions to have your dog in, some teeth may not be accessible or easy to see from that angle. Try out some new positions, like having your dog lay on their side, to help you get a better view of what you’re doing.

8. Take a Break

This one is important for both of you. If you find yourself getting stressed or frustrated, or if your dog is losing patience with you, then it’s a good idea to take a break. This will give you both a chance to relax and try again later.

9. Practice, Practice, Practice

No one said it would be easy or fun, but with practice, you will both get better at this. Building the routine of brushing your dog’s teeth is important, so try not to give up. It will eventually get easier. A consistent dental care routine will improve your dog's health and breath!

10. Finish with a Reward

At the end of each tooth brushing session, no matter how successful, give your dog a reward for a job well done. Give him a toy, a belly rub, or take him for a walk to end the session on a good note. If your dog gets something he loves after each brushing, then he will be less nervous about the next time.

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Choosing the Best Toothpaste for Dogs


Toothpaste is intended to reduce bacteria while you brush and is a wise choice when planning out your pet’s dental routine. Using toothpaste to brush your pet’s teeth is an effective way to minimize bad breath and prevent plaque and tartar build-up.

The first thing to know is that you should NEVER use human toothpaste on your pet. Toothpaste designed for people is dangerous for pets for two reasons"

    • Human toothpaste is toxic to pets. Ingredients like xylitol are commonly used to sweeten toothpaste, and xylitol severely compromises animals' liver function.
    • Human Toothpaste is a choking hazard for pets. Toothpaste for people contains surfactants or foaming agents. You and I know not to breathe in the foam while we are brushing, but your pet definitely doesn’t. 

Thankfully, there are many pet-specific products available, so always choose one of those when using tooth cleaning products in your pet’s dental care. 

Best Dog Toothpaste

When choosing a toothpaste or another dental cleaning product for pets, make sure it is appropriate for their species, dog vs cat, and is specifically labelled as an enzymatic toothpaste.

Enzymatic toothpaste contains glucose oxidase, which acts as an antibacterial, activated by glucose and oxygen in the saliva, and produces small, natural amounts of hydrogen peroxide to reduce bacteria further.

Without the glucose oxidase, this toothpaste may not be an effective bacteria killer.

Toothpaste can have a downside too. Take a look at the ingredient panel on your pet's toothpaste before you buy it. You may find some undesirable ingredients, like artificial colours and preservatives, that can be linked to allergies and digestive issues.

Take a very close look at the ingredients that give the paste its texture and flavour too. Peanut butter and chicken are commonly used to flavour things, so consider how this may affect both pets and people with allergies.

Thickeners like guar gum, which is thought to contribute to inflammation and digestive upsets, can also be present in some products. It’s best to avoid that ingredient whenever possible.

Here are a few of our favourite pet toothpaste options:

Best Dog Tooth Sprays, Foams, or Gels

Products in the form of gels, foams, or sprays can also help to clean dog teeth and freshen their breath. When applied directly to the gums and teeth or on the underside of the cheeks, gels and sprays work in a similar way to mouthwashes. Here are some great brands that are effective and easy to use:

Your pet tries to lick the product off, spreading the oral cleaner around his or her mouth. For more severe build-up, massaging the gel/spray onto their teeth with a finger toothbrush or just your finger will produce more effective results.

Best Natural Dental Alternatives for Dogs

For pet owners looking to consider a more natural approach to the typical pet toothpaste options, some common natural food ingredients can be used for toothbrushing. The ingredients can be used alone or as part of a homemade toothpaste recipe. Try to choose ingredients that have natural antibacterial properties or can help reduce bacteria build-up on their teeth.

DIY Dog Toothpaste

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Coconut Oil

coconut-oil-bowl-1Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which has antibacterial and anti-microbial properties. Use it just as you would a normal toothpaste, but a tad more conservatively.

Coconut oil is fat, so you should always start with a minimal amount, a pea-sized amount for small breeds and cats and a little more for bigger dogs.

Coconut oil is safe to feed both dogs and cats, so there is no need to rinse, and it's okay if they swallow it. Just apply, massage and let them lick the rest off. Chances are they will love the taste.

Learn more about the benefits of coconut oil in Coconut Oil for Dogs.

Baking Soda

This gritty powder can add abrasion to natural toothpaste and allow for an improved bacterial reduction. Apply it with coconut oil or even an enzymatic toothpaste to polish the teeth.

Baking soda is safe to ingest, but only in small amounts. I recommend wetting the toothbrush and dipping a corner into the soda. This is plenty for a single toothbrushing session.

The powder may leave more of a residue than other options, and it definitely won’t taste great, so it’s worth it to go over your pet’s teeth one last time with just water and the brush to remove any excess.

Baking soda on its own does not have antibacterial properties, so for this to be a truly effective toothpaste substitute, it's best to use it to enhance a ‘base’ toothpaste (like coconut oil or an enzymatic toothpaste) to maximize the benefits of both.

Ingredients to Avoid


Homemade toothpaste recipes are all the rage for people and pets, some with and some without merit. There are tons of ingredients that are safe to add to your pet's DIY toothpaste, but there are also a few that you should avoid.

Acidic ingredients can erode enamel, so avoid using ingredients like apple cider vinegar. Although they may reduce oral bacteria, the damage they can do is much more significant.

You should also be cautious with ingredients that are too gritty. Ingredients like charcoal are typically fine in small amounts, but if you brush too hard, then over time, the charcoal can damage their protective enamel.

Lastly, never use whitening chemicals like pure hydrogen peroxide. This should be pretty straightforward, but these types of products can irritate the gums and soft tissues in the mouth when applied directly, and they should never ever be consumed.

Regardless of which combination of cleaner and utensil you use, use them consistently. This will help build the routine and make it easier for both you and your pet, as well as have a significant impact on their dental health.


Best Dog Food and Water Additives

In between brushing, it’s great to have an additional method for dental care in place. Try some of these hands-off approaches to dental care that will improve dental health and maximize the effects of your routine.

Food or water additives can be very effective if used appropriately and add an extra layer to your dental routines. There are many options with varying levels of benefit and effectiveness, and the format that you choose should best reflect how your pet eats and drinks.

Best Dental Water Additives for Dogs


Water additives are easy to use and provide bacteria control throughout the day. A small amount of the liquid gets added to your pet's water bowl or fountain. As they drink, the solution is moved around their mouth, distributing the dental effects.

When choosing a dental solution, try finding products that contain natural bacteria fighters, like parsley, mint, or chlorophyll. These will be very effective at combating bad breath by reducing the number of bacteria. Products like Tropiclean Fresh Breath are essentially mouthwash for pets, which works great in conjunction with regular tooth brushing routines.

Many of these products contain alcohol, so they aren’t the right solution for every pet. Although there is not much in there, alcohol acts as a disinfectant and drying agent, which targets all bacteria in the mouth, good and bad.

The drying effect can also cause gum irritation, which can be painful for your pet. Try and use products like these in moderation for the best results.

For more long-term care and to reduce plaque and tartar, try Bluestem. Bluestem uses a proprietary technology called coactiv+ to soften and remove biofilm, or plaque, by targeting bad bacteria. This will freshen their breath and improve tooth and gum health in your dog.

This type of product is not for instant gratification seekers. When we said long-term, we meant it. It can be disappointing not to see the fruits of your labour for weeks or even months, but the product will be effective over time.

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Water additives are not always an ideal choice for every pet. Cats, for example, generally don’t drink nearly enough water, as they are instinctually built to get moisture from their diets. For pets that just don’t drink enough, the effects will be significantly muted and possibly completely ineffective.

Another factor to consider that may affect the efficacy of a water additive is the cleanliness of the bowl or dish in which the water is offered in. Water bowls should be cleaned weekly to prevent bacteria build-up.

Plastic or rubber bowls should be exchanged for metal, ceramic or glass to prevent further bacteria that can fester in the cracks and scratches of the material.


Best Dental Food Additives for Dogs


For a different approach that may be more effective for our less-hydrated pets, try a food additive. Similar to water additives, these flavourless, odourless powders can be added to their meals, and they do the rest of the work for you.

Probiotics, like Buco+ Dental Care, are chalked full of healthy oral bacteria to help populate the mouth and overpower the harmful bacteria, stealing its food source and making your dog's mouth an inhospitable environment for bad breath-causing bacteria.

This is an effective way to prevent plaque build-up and bad breath. Simply add the recommended amount of Buco+ to your pet's food, and as they eat, they will naturally circulate the healthy bacteria around their mouth.

Another very effective food additive is Proden Plaque-Off. Plaque-Off is not a bacteria. Instead, it works with your pet's saliva to coat the mouth and break down plaque build-up over time, allowing you to brush the softened plaque away.

They claim that once mixed with your pet's saliva, it will continue to work long after the meal is over, providing 24-hour effectiveness.

PlaqueOff Fresh Breath

Proden Plaque-Off powder is made of Norwegian sea kelp, so it is all-natural and safe to ingest. We recommend this product for pets that have an existing build-up of plaque.

When used in combination with regular toothbrushing, Plaque-Off is extremely effective for reducing build-up and improving your pet's bad breath.


Best Dog Food for Dental Health

The type of food your dog eats can contribute to dental problems too! Your dog's food not only feeds your dog, but it can also feed the bacteria that lead to bad dog breath. So what kind of food is best for limiting bad breath and preventing dental issues in dogs?

Kibble Dog Food

It's a very common myth that dogs that eat crunchy kibble diets will have better dental health than those that eat mostly softer foods. While the abrasion from chewing can help scrape away bacteria, it's not a foolproof solution. 

Firstly, not all dogs chew very well. Some dog barely chew their kibble, while others don't bother chewing at all. Suddenly, the crunchy morsels of food are no longer helping control plaque. 

Another thing to consider is the ingredients of the food. Bad breath-causing bacteria feed on sugars, so diets that are rich in carbohydrates may actually be feeding the bacteria.

Dog kibble formulated for dental health can be a better way to control plaque in your pet’s mouth than standard kibbles, as they can contain ingredients like calcium carbonate, which serves as an abrasive on teeth. Additionally, dental kibbles are usually quite large, forcing dogs to chew more. 

That being said, even when your dog chews the kibble properly, the starches and carbs will deposit food debris between the teeth and the gum line. These leftovers are the perfect food source for unwanted and smelly oral bacteria. 

Canned Dog Food

Canned foods are also not the best solution for doggy dental health. Wet, mushy foods offer no abrasion at all, so dogs that only eat canned dog food are at a greater risk of dental issues if they aren't getting regular dental cleanings at home. 

Canned dog foods can contain fewer carbs, which will reduce the growth of bacteria, but without regular toothbrushing, chewing, and other dental care routines, wet food-fed dogs are likely to have dental problems as they age. They might even end up toothless!

Raw Dog Food is Good for Dental Health

Raw diets are by far the most effective food for maintaining proper oral health. The intact enzymes in raw meat are superior to other diets at protecting your dog's mouth from the bacteria that cause plaque and tartar.

A raw dog food and bone diet also does not contain as many simple sugars and ingredients that promote the growth of bacteria in your pet's mouth.

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Best Dental Treats for Dogs

Additional dental care products, like treats, can enhance daily dental routines and be a rewarding experience for your pet. Treats designed for dental health contain ingredients like mint, parsley, and chlorophyll to freshen breath and reduce harmful bacteria.

Treats can be a simple addition to any dental routine, but depending on the ingredients and calories, might not be suitable for pets with allergies, digestive issues, or weight problems.

Dog Biscuits

dental-biscuitsBiscuits are a typical format for this type of benefit. Geared towards freshening breath, biscuits have similar effects to some water additives. Treats can be fed regularly and are easy to incorporate into some existing treating routines, like treat training and rewarding good behaviour.

While biscuits do have their benefits, just like kibbles, they are full of carbohydrates and sugars that can feed unhealthy bacteria. They can also leave residue between teeth and along the gum line, furthering the point that nothing replaces the benefit of brushing your pet’s teeth.

Dog Dental Chews

merrick-fresh-kisses-1Dental Chews are another common dental treat format designed to create abrasion through repetitive chewing. While there are many types of dental chews available, they will typically be either hard to encourage chewing or soft enough for your pet’s tooth to sink into it while the treat holds its structure.

Check out our top 10 Dental Dog Chews and Treats to help find the best option to complement your dog's dental care routine. 

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Natural Chews for Dogs

eldons-bully-sticksAn often overlooked treat for dental health is natural chews. When talking about the effectiveness of dental treats, the focus is on chewing, which is the primary purpose of natural chews. They not only provide a rewarding activity, but they work the jaw and help remove bacteria too.

Unlike dental chews, natural chews are meant to be long-lasting. They don’t contain bacteria-fighting ingredients, but many of them soften and can slink between teeth to remove bacteria and food particles, similar to flossing. Tendons and bully sticks both share this quality.

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Some tougher chews can provide hours of chewing, like bones, antlers and cheese chews, depending on the chewer, of course. These are generally safe but aren’t without concerns.

Really hard chews like this have the potential to splinter or snap off into large chunks, which can be a choking hazard or a digestive concern. Many are even so hard that they can crack, chip, or break teeth.

Avoid feeding these types of chews to puppies or senior dogs, or feed at your own risk. The longevity of the dog treats is attractive, but it’s not worth the pain and cost of permanent dental damage.

If you think your pet may be susceptible to this type of teeth damage, instead try offering raw bones, which are softer and don’t have the same risk of splintering as cooked options. Check out Raw Bones for Dogs for more tips for finding the safest bones for dogs.


Cats are not avid chewers like dogs, although some cats do take to it quite nicely. Bones would not be an ideal choice, except for poultry necks, backs, feet and wing tips, but many types of jerky, tendons, or fish-based treats intended for small dogs would also be perfect for cats with the desire to chew.

Check out this article for natural chews for cats. to find out what kind of tasty and fun natural chews your cat might love to sink their teeth into.

For some cats, chewing may not be their first instinct, so it may help to start by using chews with a stronger scent or more desirable flavours, like fish skins or chicken jerky.


Best Dental Toys for Dogs


The last method of dental care is toys. Yes, toys can help clean your pet’s teeth! Not every toy works for this purpose, but many toys intended for chewing are an excellent way to improve your pet’s dental health in a fun and enjoyable manner.

Some toys are specifically designed for dental health, like Benebones. Rubber toys, like the Playology Dental Stick, will massage gums and help remove bacteria and food residue.

These toys can even be combined with a small amount of flavoured pet-safe toothpaste to encourage your dog to chew. This won't replace toothbrushing, but it can contribute to better overall dental health in your dog.

Check out our Best Dog Toys for some tough dog toy recommendations that may stand up to more determined chewing habits.

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Even cats can benefit from chewing on toys. Petstages Dental Toys for cats provide a mesh fabric that helps to scrape away bacteria on the surface of the teeth.


What to Expect from Your Pet’s New Dental Routine

Dental care is multi-faceted, and immediate results are rare. This can be frustrating, especially when you are trying multiple methods, and significant results could take weeks or even months to recognize. Look for small changes to tell if your pet’s dental health is improving.

Here are some subtle signs that you are on the right track:

Improved Breath


No one is expecting their pet’s breath to smell good, but seeing an improvement in how bad it can smell is an excellent sign. Better breath means that there is a reduction of harmful bacteria circulating in their mouths, and this can prevent plaque and tartar build-up, which can lead to other serious illnesses and diseases in the future.

Better Eating Habits


As anyone who has ever experienced dental pain can attest to, how you chew can be affected by your dental health. Something as minor as tooth sensitivity or gum tenderness and inflammation can change the way your pet eats.

As your new dental routine becomes a priority, your pets who don’t chew might start. Pets who typically skip meals or aren’t interested in food may suddenly have an increased appetite.

Pets who refuse to eat hard foods or treats may begin to show an interest in kibble or natural chews. All of these can be signs of improved dental health.

Improved Overall Health

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Dental bacteria can affect more than just the mouth. Bacteria that hide under the gum line can be transported through the bloodstream and have an effect on organ function, commonly the heart.

Poor oral health is thought to be directly linked to some heart diseases. It doesn’t stop there, other organs can also be affected, like your pet’s liver or kidneys. This is due to their body's natural response to bacteria ending up where it shouldn’t be, inflammation.

The inflammation can restrict blood flow which has a significant effect on organ function. All of these vital organs aid in digestion, immunity, and energy levels. Therefore, improvements in weight, activity, and stool quality are all indicators that your pet’s oral health is on the rise.

If you’re concerned that your pet is suffering from ailments concerning their dental health, you need to talk to your vet.


Take Control of Your Pet's Dental Health


In the long run, we desire to see perfectly white, healthy teeth, but depending on the severity of your pet’s current dental health, that may be a tough goal to accomplish. Work with your vet to determine the best methods for your pet’s situation, and be patient. 

These things take time and practice. Don’t give up!

You may not even be aware of how impactful your dental practices are. The subtlety of the improvements may make it harder to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but in the end, you will achieve better quality, and possibly even quantity, of life for your pet.

Our final note is that none of the alternative dental procedures that were addressed in this blog will replace regular vet visits and brushing your pet’s teeth daily.

You may hate doing it, and trust us, your pet probably hates it too, but it has to be done.

Talk to your vet about getting a dental assessment to determine the right course of action. A simple dental cleaning may kick-start your progress and help you stay on top of your pet’s dental care.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

Why is dental care important for dogs?

Dental care is crucial for dogs to maintain their overall health. Lack of dentalcare can lead to problems such as pain, infections, and even systemic health problems. 

How often should I brush my dog's teeth?

Ideally, you should brush your dog's teeth daily. The more consistent you are, the better your dog's oral health will be.

Can I use human toothpaste for my dog?

No, human toothpaste is not safe for dogs because it contains ingredients that can be harmful if swallowed. Use a specially formulated dog toothpaste, which is safe and comes in dog-friendly flavors.

What are some signs of dental problems in dogs?

Signs of dental problems in dogs include bad breath, swollen or bleeding gums, yellow or brown tartar buildup, loose or missing teeth, and difficulty eating or pawing at the mouth. Regularly checking your dog's mouth for these signs is essential.

Are dental chews and toys effective for maintaining my dog's dental health?

Dental chews and toys can help reduce plaque and tartar buildup, but they should not replace regular tooth brushing. They can be part of your dog's dental care routine, but brushing remains the most effective method.

When should I schedule a dental checkup for my dog with a veterinarian?

You should schedule a dental checkup with your veterinarian at least once a year. However, if you notice any signs of dental issues, such as bad breath or swollen gums, consult your vet promptly for an examination and potential dental cleaning.


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Written by

Krystn Janisse

Krystn is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast. She has worked in the pet industry for over a decade and loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She is currently working for one very rebellious cat, Jack, and hanging out with a goofy but loveable doggo named Roxy.


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