Making sure that your dog receives proper dental care is essential to their health and well-being. Periodontal disease and periodontitis are common and serious health issues in dogs, which can lead to the development of even more dangerous problems and even death of the animal.

Based on a survey of veterinarians, it was reported that approximately 85% of dogs over the age of four suffer from some form of periodontal disease, with the highest risk among small dogs (1). This type of disease is characterized by pain, tooth loss and infection.

Periodontal disease starts with bacteria in a dog's mouth that forms plaque and dental calculus (tartar) on the surface of their teeth. 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 (2).

11 Vital Dog Teeth Care Tips (Based on Science)

Dog Teeth Care Tips Brush Your Dog’s Teeth

Human dental health isn't the only one that's been extensively studied over the last few decades. There are many studies now that show how frequent brushing of your dog's teeth has been cited as the best way to prevent periodontal disease and removing plaque in dogs (3).

Why just the brushing process itself?

This is because mechanical stimulation caused by brushing your dog’s teeth enhances the proliferation of fibroblasts and junctional epithelium (4). Fibroblasts are important cells in the canine's teeth, because they help with repair and remodel damaged teeth caused by mechanical loading (5).

Force and duration of your dog's teeth brushing also have an effect.

For example, brushing at a force of 1.96 N for 10 seconds resulted in the proliferation of cell nuclear antigen (PCNA)-positive (6). 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 (7). What this means is that you need to apply some pressure when brushing your dog's teeth, but not too much.

Use an Appropriate Dog Toothbrush

Your dog's toothbrush design matters as well in how effective teeth brushing will be. For example, it was found that a toothbrush with polytene brushes was superior to a nylon toothbrush (8). 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 toothbrush, so this is a give and take type of situation (9). Usually, a veterinarian will recommend either soft or medium dog toothbrush.

Some of the best dog toothbrushes recommended by veterinarians are:

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Use Only Pet Toothpaste Made for Dogs

Using a dog-specific toothpaste is important. Many human toothpastes may be dangerous and toxic to dogs if swallowed. The same goes for dog-specific toothbrushes, which are actually more helpful to the owner than the dog. A 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 (10). Acute fluoride poisoning may lead to the onset of lethal ventricular arrhythmias.

It's also important to avoid the following ingredients in your pet’s toothpaste, many of which are often found in human toothpastes:

Artificial colors and flavors – As an example, FD&C Blue #1 is an artificial colour that has toxic and carcinogenic effects in dogs (11).

Artificial preservatives – Use of BHA, BHT, or propylene glycol can disrupt the endocrine system or may be carcinogenic (12). 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 (14).

Sorbitol – Sorbitol is usually added into toothpaste as a sweetener and a preservative. However, in dogs, sorbitol can result in renal damage (15).

You can even make your own DIY dog toothpaste. A simple homemade mixture of baking soda, salt, and water to form a paste can be a good alternative to a commercial pet toothpaste if you want to save money.

Brush Your Dog’s Teeth Every Day

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 dental problems.

For example, there's an older study with 12 Beagle dogs with artificially-induced periodontal defects which 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 (16).

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 pet's teeth on a weekly basis (17).

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.

Use a Dental Gel

In addition to tooth brushing with a toothbrush and toothpaste, chemical agents such as a dog dental gels and dental water additives 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 pet toothpaste, but you can also buy them separately. There's a good reason to make sure these are included, too.

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 (18).

According to several other studies, chlorhexidine application is effective in reducing bacterial colonization of the tooth surface (19). 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 (20).

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.

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 old studies (21). 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, i.e. kibble that has harder and dryer consistency, can improve the health of a dog’s teeth (22).

Dry food requires vigorous chewing that is linked to a lower incidence and prevention of periodontal disease in dogs. 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.

Chew Bones and Dog Chew Toys

Providing your dog with special dental chews and chew toys isn't only to entertain your pooch; it can be very helpful to the 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 (23). The study also points out how the textural properties of the dental chews and 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 (24). The results show that the daily use of a chew was effective in reducing plaque and calculus accumulation on the surface of the animal's 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.

Some of the best dental chews and chew toys for a dog's oral health include:

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 (25).

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.

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 (26).

Dog dental diet foods typically include ingredients that are proven to reduce the build up of tartar and plaque. 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 we reviewed their newest formula with Pumpkin Spice flavor before.

Some of the best dental care dog food brands currently available include:

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10  Calcium and Vitamin D Supplementation

Calcium is a mineral that is crucial 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 (27).

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 (28).

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 (e.g. an increase 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 dog's body (i.e. from their bones), thus an extra source of calcium must always be present to avoid negative effects of Vitamin D.

11  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. Studies show how sugars are correlated with the amount of dental caries in the teeth both in humans and dogs (29). 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).

READ NEXT: 6 Step Checklist for Fast & Effective Dog Teeth Brushing

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Top 10 Science-Based Dog Teeth Care Tips