- Periodontal disease is a common cause of health problems in dogs — Periodontal disease can be found in most dogs by age three. This condition can lead to serious problems including heart, kidney, and liver damage.
- Never use human toothpaste — Dog toothpaste is better for your dog. Human toothpaste contains ingredients like xylitol that are poisonous to dogs. Dog toothpaste is specifically created to suit your dog. Plus, dog-friendly flavors like beef and poultry make it more appealing!
- Brushing your dog’s teeth is part of responsible dog ownership — Just like humans, dogs need their teeth brushed daily to maintain healthy gums and teeth. Though it might not sound like fun, brushing your dog’s teeth is the only way to fend off plaque and tartar (and potentially costly medical bills).
At a glance: The best dog toothpaste and oral gels
- Virbac C.E.T. Plaque Tartar-Control Enzymatic Dog and Cat Toothpaste: Budget-friendly toothpaste
- Vet’s Best Dental Gel Toothpaste for Dogs: Most affordable vet-formulated dog toothpaste
- Petrodex Natural Toothpaste Dog: Non-foaming natural dog toothpaste
- Sentry Petrodex Veterinary Strength Enzymatic: Popular poultry-flavored product
- Fresh Breath by TropiClean: An all-natural, vet-recommended drop formula
- Oratene Dog & Cat Oral Gel: A brushless oral gel for sensitive pups
- Vetoquinol Vet Solutions Enzadent Enzymatic Kit: The best beginner dental kit
- Oxyfresh Soothing Dog & Cat Gel: Vet-recommended soothing dog gel
Why brush your dog’s teeth? Is dental care important for dogs?
Periodontal disease — a gum disease caused by plaque and gingivitis — is the most common dental condition in adult dogs. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports that most dogs will show signs of having periodontal disease by age three. This bacteria can travel through the bloodstream to other parts of your dog’s body. Periodontal disease doesn’t just affect your dog’s mouth: it can cause kidney, liver, and heart muscle changes.
Since your dog can’t tell you they’re not feeling well, brushing their teeth gives you a chance to check for any symptoms of gum disease. Bright red gums, teeth discoloration, sensitivity, excessive drooling, and difficulty eating are all signs something is wrong.
Regularly brushing your dog’s teeth will go a long way toward keeping your dog healthy. It can keep them around for years to come and prevent costly veterinarian bills. Practicing regular oral hygiene will improve gum health, prevent tooth loss, remove plaque, and give your pooch fresh, kissable breath!
How to brush your dog's teeth
Doggie toothbrushing isn’t as intimidating as it may seem. Though you need to be patient during the process, it’s important to constantly associate good dental hygiene with positive reinforcement. Making this a positive experience will help your dog enjoy doggie toothbrushing in the future. Brushing your dog’s teeth can even lead to a deeper canine-human bond, all while giving them clean teeth in the process.
5 Steps: How to brush your dog's teeth
- Use a dog toothpaste and soft-bristle dog toothbrush. Using the right equipment will be more comfortable for both you and your pup, and ensure that you reach all of your dog’s teeth.
- Be patient during the entire process. Encourage and compliment your dog frequently throughout the process to comfort them and make it a good experience. Future cleanings will be easier when it’s a good memory for them. It’s okay to reward your pooch with dog treats through the process.
- Let dogs sniff the toothpaste first. Give your dog a small sample to taste. After giving them a minute to sniff and taste, bring your toothbrush up and gently move it around their gums and teeth. If your dog becomes agitated, stop and try again later. What’s most important is getting your dog gradually used to regular dental care, so give your dog treats and positive compliments. If your dog is extremely fearful or aggressive to the point of biting, see a veterinarian or behaviorist.
- Start brushing slowly. Gently rub the toothbrush on both the outside of teeth and gums for a few minutes. Allow your dog to lick the toothbrush afterward if they are interested.
- Reward your dog with a hug, compliment, chew toy, playtime, or another favorite to reinforce that this was a positive experience.
👉 Visit our guide for more detailed instructions and advice on brushing your dog’s teeth.
How to choose the perfect dog toothpaste (and toothbrush)
Our veterinarians recommend looking for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Seal of Approval.
“The most effective kinds of toothpaste will be the ones that are veterinary-approved or the ones that have the Seal of Approval from the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). These are backed by clinical trials and by the opinions of medical professionals,” explained Erica Irish, DVM.
After all, there are many pet toothpaste and brush products on the market — and not all of them are as effective as they claim. The VOHC evaluates and reviews products that are intended to fight plaque buildup and tartar. Look for the seal on any dog health product. Check the VOHC’s list of approved products for dog dental care before purchasing.
You’ll want to choose a pet toothpaste that not only freshens your dog’s breath and removes plaque but has an appealing taste with a poultry flavor or peanut flavor.
What ingredients to avoid
Never use human toothpaste — leave that Arm & Hammer or Colgate to the humans. Human toothpaste contains a harmful ingredient called xylitol, an artificial sweetener that is lethally toxic to dogs. Since xylitol can poison your dog, it’s not safe for them to consume (and typically requires an emergency vet appointment if ingested). Xylitol can cause severe drops in blood sugar, which can result in seizures, lethargy, and liver failure.
Another common ingredient in human toothpaste, fluoride, is also dangerous for dogs.
What about natural toothpaste or enzymatic toothpaste for dogs?
Most dog toothpaste is made with enzymes. The enzymes in doggie toothpaste alter the pH in the mouth to make it harder for bacteria and plaque to form by reducing biofilm accumulation. Since bacteria create bad breath and tartar build-up, enzymes reduce tartar build-up and bad breath.
Natural toothpaste is easy to make at home. It’s safe for dogs — you just need to make sure the ingredients you’re using are safe. Homemade dog toothpaste is cheaper and allows you to control and customize the ingredients, taste, and flavor for your dog. Try out one of our four recipes to get started, which use household ingredients such as baking soda, olive oil, or parsley.
How to choose the perfect doggie toothbrush
There are two types of dog toothbrushes: handled brushes and finger brushes.
Finger brushes. These are small brushes that fit over your finger. For big dogs, finger brushes can keep you in control as they allow closer contact with your canine. For smaller dogs, a small handled brush or finger brush may fit their teeth better.
Long-handled brushes. These are most similar to human toothbrushes, though there are some varieties. Double-ended toothbrushes have two ends with different sizes that are perfect for reaching incisors and molars. Double-headed dog toothbrushes clean both sides of your dog’s teeth at the same time. Long-handled brushes can make it easier to reach the furthest teeth, which is handy for larger dogs.
We recommend trying different types of brushes to find what works best for you and your canine companion. The size and breed of your dog doesn’t matter as much as their preferences.
Regardless, you will need to reach the back of your dog’s jaw, so you need to select a brush that reaches all their teeth. We don’t recommend human toothbrushes because they are shaped for human teeth, not canine, and the bristles are too hard. A soft-bristled brush is a must, especially as harder bristles can be uncomfortable with gum disease. Whatever toothbrush you select should have soft enough bristles to give your dog an efficient, yet gentle tooth brushing experience.
What do veterinarians recommend? How often should I brush my dog’s teeth?
Vets recommend brushing dog teeth daily. If that’s not possible for your schedule, try weekly brushings. Regular brushings ensure your dog’s teeth stay fresh looking and smelling, and help prevent costly veterinarian bills.
Just like how humans need regular, yearly check-ins at the dentist, veterinarians recommend yearly cleanings for dogs. Veterinarians may take x-rays to examine the health of your dog’s jaw and tooth roots below the gumline that can’t be observed otherwise. Vets will do something called scaling, a process that removes dental plaque and tartar that naturally builds up over time.
How do I make homemade dog toothpaste — and is it safe for pets?
If you’re looking for a more eco-friendly and economical approach, we’ve got you covered. Making toothpaste at home is perfectly safe — assuming you use the ingredients we recommend. Try one of our four easy-to-make homemade recipes.
Is it really worth it to brush your dog’s teeth?
Brushing your dog’s teeth daily is an essential part of responsible dog ownership. It doesn’t just help good oral health: it prevents problems that lead to expensive animal hospital trips.
Dental disease can cause chronic, life-changing pain in pets, according to the American Animal Hospital Association. The AAHA reports that years of plaque, tartar, and bacteria build-up can lead to infections and diseased teeth.
Can I use dental chews instead of brushing my dog’s teeth?
Dog dental chews can be used in addition to daily brushings. While supplementing daily brushings with health products like dental chews or dental water additives can make a big difference in your dog’s dental health, they should never be used as a replacement for brushings. Brushing only takes 30 seconds, the length of one television commercial. We strongly believe that pet owners should brush their dog’s teeth every day!
Dental water additives are liquids that can be added to your dog’s water to clean and freshen their mouths. These are not replacements for daily toothbrushing, but are helpful for fighting plaque and reducing tartar. Many dental water additives have ingredients like zinc chloride and citric acid that fight bad breath or sodium citrate that prevents bacterial buildup.
🚩 We do not recommend “brushless” toothpaste. It’s basically a dental treat, and we firmly believe manually brushing your dog’s teeth every single day is a big part of being a responsible pet parent.