The general rule of thumb is that, if it’s good for the owner then it must also be good for the dog. This is true for exercise, diet, mental stimulation and most of the other aspects of pet care. Dog teeth care is no different.
Making sure that a dog receives proper care for his teeth is essential to his health and well-being. Periodontal disease and periodontitis are no joke. They can cause great suffering and pain to dogs, and may eventually lead to death.
The good thing is that by simply implementing a couple of good habits (like regular tooth brushing and the use of oral hygiene chews) and scheduling regular dental checkups with your veterinarian, an owner can pretty much ensure that their dog is receiving the best oral care possible.
We're going to discuss all of these dog teeth care tips and more later in this article, and look at what scientific research supports and what it doesn't.
Based on a survey of veterinarians, it was reported that approximately 85% of dogs over the age of 4 suffer from some form of periodontal disease, with the highest risk among small dogs (Harvey, 1998). This type of disease is characterized by pain, tooth loss and infection.
Periodontal disease starts with bacteria in the mouth that forms plaque and dental calculus on the surface of the teeth. According to AVDC, the plaque and calculus can spread under the dog's gum line, causing damage to the supporting tissues, and potentially leading your dog into the path of loosing teeth.
ALSO READ: The Ultimate Guide to Dog Dental Care
10 Dog Teeth Care Tips Supported by Research
Human dental health isn't the only one that's been extensively studied over the last few decades. There are several studies that show how frequent brushing of your dog's teeth has been cited as the best way to maintain periodontal disease and removing plaque in dogs (Gorrel, 1998).
Why just the brushing process itself?
This is because mechanical stimulation caused by brushing the dog’s teeth enhances the proliferation of fibroblasts and junctional epithelium (Yamamoto et al. 2004). Fibroblasts are important cells in the canine's teeth, because they help with repair and remodel damaged teeth caused by mechanical loading (Lekic et al. 1996).
However, a toothbrush design may actually matter too.
For example, it was found that a toothbrush with polytene brushes was superior to a nylon toothbrush (Anneroth et al. 2009). This is because polytene brushes cause less damage to the gingival tissue. Another study showed that a hard bristled brush resulted in lower plaque scores, but caused more gingival erosions than when using a soft brush, so this is a give and take type of situation (Niemi et al. 1984). Usually, a veterinarian will recommend either soft or medium dog toothbrush.
Furthermore, force and duration of tooth brushing also have an effect. For example, brushing at a force of 1.96 N for 10 second resulted in the proliferation of cell nuclear antigen (PCNA)-positive (Tomofuji et al. 2004). PCNA is important for cell proliferation of tooth development during the repair process. In contrast, increased activity of procollagen Type I C-peptide (PIP)-positive fibroblast was seen with 20 seconds of brushing (Caviedes-Bucheli et al. 2009). What this means is that you need to apply some pressure when brushing your dog's teeth, but not too much.
2 Use Only Pet Toothpaste Made for Dogs
Using the correct dog toothpaste is important. Although it may be tempting to use toothpaste meant for humans, it would be a mistake. Many human toothpastes may very well be dangerous to a dog’s health. The same goes for dog-specific toothbrushes, which are actually more helpful to the owner than the dog. A special dog toothbrush is designed to ease the job while brushing your pet's teeth regularly.
Human toothpastes, like Colgate, contain an ingredient called fluoride, a substance that has been shown to be toxic to animals (Leone et al. 1956). Acute fluoride poisoning may lead to the onset of lethal ventricular arrhythmias.
It also important to avoid the following ingredients in your pet’s toothpaste:
Artificial colors and flavors – As an example, FD&C Blue #1 is an artificial colour that has toxic and carcinogenic effects in dogs (Borzelleca et al. 1990).
Artificial preservatives – Use of BHA, BHT, or propylene glycol can disrupt the endocrine system or may be carcinogenic (Kahl et al. 1993). As substitutes for these, it is recommended that your dog’s toothpaste include natural preservatives, such as Vitamin C and Vitamin E.
Corn, Gluten or Soy – These ingredients are typically fillers, instead of active ingredients, that can be harmful to dogs. For example, gluten can cause inflammation and allergic reactions (Soares et al. 2013).
Sorbitol – Sorbitol is usually added into toothpaste as a sweetener and a preservative. However, in dogs, sorbitol can result in renal damage (Lindberg et al. 1939).
A simple homemade mixture of baking soda, salt, and water to form a paste can be a good alternative for a dog toothpaste if you want to save money and avoid purchasing pre-made commercial dog toothpastes. However, you can find many different brands of toothpaste available that is made specifically for dogs, some of which are endorsed by veterinarians and AVDC.
3 Brush Your Dog’s Teeth Every Day
This is an issue with many pet owners – keeping a set routine of brushing their dogs' teeth on a daily, or at least a semi-daily basis. The reason for brushing your dog's teeth at least once a day is the exact same one we ourselves brush teeth on a daily basis – studies show it's the most effective way to prevent problems.
For example, there's an older study with 12 Beagle dogs with artificially-induced periodontal defects showed that brushing 7 times a week was beneficial for establishing and maintaining gingival health compared to brushing frequency of 3 times or once per week (Corba et al. 1986).
Contrary to this, a similar study that same year found that the critical brushing frequency in Beagle dogs was 3 times per week, meaning this is the minimum amount you would absolutely need to brush your canine's teeth on a weekly basis (Tromp et al. 1986).
Brushing your dog's teeth doesn't have to take up too much of your time, and once you perfect the technique, it will only take a few minutes of your time every single day. Take a look at the below video and read the guide of quick and easy way to do this.
4 Use a Dental Gel
In addition to tooth brushing using a doggy toothbrush and dog toothpaste, chemical agents (such as a dental gel) may also reduce plaque accumulation. These usually are included in some branded dog toothpaste products, which is why they may be a better option than a homemade dog toothpaste, but you can also buy them separately. There's a good reason to make sure these are included, too.
Let's take a look what evidence is there. One study in 2002 showed that applying a gel containing Chlorhexidine on teeth for 7 days resulted in significantly less plaque accumulation in Beagle dogs, and may even reduce the severity of gingivitis in the long term in these dogs (Hennet, 2002).
According to several studies, chlorhexidine application is effective in reducing bacterial colonization of the tooth surface (Davies et al. 1970). Even in a 0.2% solution, chlorhexidine is an effective microbial agent, which is why you can often find it in many commercial dog toothpaste brands (Delany et al. 1982).
But what is this stuff?
Simply put, chlorhexidine is a cation that interacts and forms salts of low solubility. The presence of salt temporarily increases the pH balance of the mouth, which creates an alkaline environment that is difficult for bacteria to survive in.
5 Dry Dog Food May Be Better
In general, the consistency of food plays an important role in the formation of periodontal problems. In fact, individuals on a soft food diet can result in soft gingivae, where tissues may be soft, dark red, and more prone to bleeding, and this was found in a few very old studies (Burwasser et al. 1939). A hard food diet, on the other hand, can result in tissue that is more resistant to injury.
Although research is limited, there is some weak evidence to suggest that dry dog food brands – kibble that has harder and dryer consistency can improve the health of a dog’s teeth (Watson, 1994). Dry food requires vigorous chewing that is linked to a lower incidence and prevention of periodontal disease. Chewing of hard dry dog foods has a scrubbing effect on teeth, similar to a toothbrush, but this is mostly based on theory and little scientific research is available.
Also, some may claim that soft or wet dog food tends to stick to the teeth or get stuck between the gums, promoting the growth of plaque. However, similar may be said about certain types of dry foods, thus the jury is still out on this.
6 Chew Bones and Dog Chew Toys
Providing your dog with special dog dental chews and chew toys isn't only to entertain him; it can be very helpful to your dog's teeth as well.
For example, one study noted how dogs given an oral hygiene chew daily have shown to display a marked reduction in plaque and calculus development (Hennet et al. 2006). Note that the study also points out how the textural properties of the dental chews and dog chew toys appears to be the most important attribute, particularly ones that are abrasive enough to scrub the dog's teeth, but not cause pain or damage.
In another older study, dog dental chew was used to determine its effect on the accumulation of dental deposits, development of oral malodor, and the development of gingivitis in canines (Gorrel et al. 1999). The results show that the daily use of a chew was effective in reducing plaque and calculus accumulation on the surface of the teeth. It also reduced the severity of gingivitis and oral malodor.
Rawhides can also be effective hygiene chews. Using rawhide chews up to three times per week can significantly reduce supragingival and calculus deposits. Beef bones, particularly femurs, can clean teeth, massage gums and provide exercise for your dog’s jaw muscles, and have been shown to positively reduce calculus formation in teeth.
7 See a Vet for Regular Dental Care
Like humans, dogs should regularly visit a veterinarian for oral care. While there isn't any surveys or research available on the correlation between vet visit frequency and dog dental health, we can take a look at some evidence with humans.
For example, some studies show that individuals with higher frequency of dental health related check-ups and orthodontist visits resulted in a lower rate of tooth loss, and a fewer number of teeth with active decay, which isn't surprising (Sheiham et al. 1985).
Frequent visits to the vet may have the beneficial effect of postponing tooth loss and maintaining dental function of your dog. Your veterinarian will be much more likely to spot potential problems before they become serious, and note if you've been lacking in taking care of your canine's teeth. It is recommended that dogs should receive dental care from their vet at least every 6 to 12 months, so pair that with your regular vet check-ups.
8 Specially Formulated Dental Diet
Feeding your dog a commercial dog food diet that is formulated, blended and processed specifically for canine oral health is 39% more effective at fighting plaque and gingivitis than most other standard dog food brands or homemade dog food diet, according to research (Logan et al. 2002).
Dog dental diet foods typically include ingredients that are proven to reduce the build up of tartar and plaque. Of course, you need to be sure to consult your veterinarian before switching your dog's diet, and also pay attention to nutrient profile – you may need to use a dental diet alongside some other brands to make sure your dog is receiving all the nutrition that he requires.
Oral dog food brands are not very popular and only a few companies sell this formulation. Hill's Science is one of the more known with their Oral Care Dry Dog Food formula which includes ingredients specifically formulated for canine oral health.
Another option may be to use regular commercial diet but include some vet recommended and proven dog dental treats on a daily basis that are low calorie. Greenies is currently the most popular brand with great formulation, and Samantha has recently reviewed their newest formula with Pumpkin Spice flavor which dogs enjoy.
9 Calcium and Vitamin D Supplementation
Calcium is a mineral that is important for bones and dental health, and it's been shown in studies to help form strong teeth and healthy gums. In an elderly population, a combination of calcium and Vitamin D supplementation effectively decreased tooth loss (Krall et al. 2001).
Other studies show that this same combination positively impacted periodontal health. In addition to the benefits to teeth, calcium also has benefits for your dog’s bones and other muskoskeletal potential health problems by increasing total bone volume, according to a few older studies (Goedegebuure et al. 1986).
It's important to note the following:
If you're increasing your dog's Vitamin D intake through supplementation or a diet that's very high in Vitamin D (like a lot of fish or adding fish oil), then calcium intake must also be increased accordingly. This is because Vitamin D, when ingested, takes calcium from the body (meaning, from the bones), thus an extra source of calcium must always be present to avoid negative effects of Vitamin D.
10 Feed Your Dog Fruits and Veggies
We have previously looked at plenty of science and research on the effects of fruits and vegetables in dogs, and clearly established that there's a reason to feed both of these natural foods to your dogs as long as they're safe.
There are a lot of fruits and vegetables that provide great nutrition as well as improve dogs' dental health. However, you must be cautious when feeding these, because there are also risks involved, both for general health and dental problems.
Let's take carrots as an example. Carrots can be beneficial for dog's teeth because of their rough and fibrous nature, which acts as a natural scrub. However, feeding your dog carrots should be seriously limited due to their high sugar content. And we all know that studies show how sugars are correlated with the amount of dental caries in the teeth both in humans and dogs (Rodrigues et al. 2000). The same applies to many other fruits and vegetables with high natural sugar content.
Some herbs can be beneficial to dogs' teeth as well, although there's little to none research available on this. Herbs like cilantro and parsley can be used to help to freshen your dog’s breath, for example. Limited amounts of coconut oil can be used to control breath odor as well and has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties due to its lauric acid content, which has been shown in some studies (linked above).