Oral care is often overlooked but is an extremely important part of a dog’s health care plan. So much of a dog’s overall health is tied to the health of his or her teeth and gums.

Therefore, choosing the best dental chew is essential in your dog’s oral health care prevention plan. Dental chews should be combined with regular dental checkups with your veterinarian, brushing your dog’s teeth as often as possible, and professional dental prophylaxis treatments as needed. This approach will keep your dog’s teeth and gums healthy long-term.

Periodontal Disease in Dogs

Oral health in dogs refers to the health of the teeth, gums, tongue, and structures inside the mouth cavity. As owners, we prefer our canine companions to have clean teeth and fresh breath, but oral health is much more than that. 

It is a fact that greater than 2/3 of all adult dogs seen in veterinary practices have some degree of periodontal disease (disease of the gums and teeth). Due to the high number of affected dogs, periodontal disease is the number one most common medical issue seen in small animal veterinary practices.   

Consequences of Periodontal Disease

Dogs suffering from periodontal disease have a serious health problem. These dogs have oral infections, weight loss, broken and lost teeth, and even organ failure. There is a biofilm layer of bacteria contained in dental tartar that accumulates over the dog’s teeth. From this layer, bacteria enter the bloodstream from the mouth. These bacteria circulating in the blood may lead to heart valve disease, liver damage, and kidney failure. 

Every dog should have a once-yearly dental exam with your veterinarian. A professional dental prophylaxis and cleaning should be performed as often as necessary. Your veterinarian can guide you as to when these will be needed.

A complete professional dental prophylaxis and cleaning will be performed under general anesthesia. The entire oral cavity will be evaluated. During a dental prophylaxis and cleaning procedure, x-rays will be taken to evaluate the roots of the teeth and the bony structures under the gums. All of the teeth will be thoroughly examined, and the gums will be probed to determine if any gingivitis is present. The veterinary technician will examine the dog’s mouth, lips, tongue, hard and soft palate, and throat.  If there are any masses or other suspicious lesions present, a biopsy should be performed. Ultrasonic scaling will be used to remove the tartar from the teeth. This is the same procedure performed on humans by dental hygienists.

If any teeth are loose or have disease or infection in the bony structures, they may need to be extracted. The veterinarian will perform any necessary extractions, and the dog will likely have stitches in his or her mouth following this procedure. These stitches will dissolve on their own and will not need to be removed. Possibly the most critical part of the procedure is the polishing. When all of the teeth are clean and all issues have been addressed, the teeth will be polished to eliminate any microscopic scratches on the surfaces. This step is vital to prevent tartar from quickly reaccumulating.

Maintaining Those Pearly Whites

After a dog has had a professional dental prophylaxis and cleaning, many owners have questions about how to keep their dog’s teeth clean for as long as possible.

Brushing

Daily brushing is a great way to keep a dog’s teeth clean and shiny. Unfortunately, plaque (the slimy, sticky substance on teeth that we can brush away) hardens into tartar in about 12 hours. This is why your dentist encourages you to brush twice daily. While it is likely unrealistic for most dog owners to brush their dog’s teeth every 12 hours, brushing as often as possible is still helpful.

If you are going to brush your dog’s teeth, make sure to always use a toothpaste specifically made for dogs. Toothpaste made for humans contains fluoride, and dogs cannot spit it out the way humans do.

Chews

Most dogs instinctively enjoy chewing. This makes using chews that also clean the teeth an excellent way to improve your dog’s oral health—while also making your dog happy!

There are many dog dental chews on the market. With little to no regulation or oversight of the industry, though, product manufacturers are free to claim whatever they wish without backing it up with research. Not all dental chews found online or in pet stores effectively clean the teeth, even if they claim to be. 

Veterinary Oral Health Council

Luckily, there is a way for pet owners to have confidence when choosing a dog dental chew. The best way to ensure efficacy and safety is to look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s (VOHC) Seal of Approval.  

Products with this Seal have submitted research to the VOHC. This process requires that the manufacturer conducts research that proves their product’s efficacy in reducing plaque and tartar and reducing the severity of the periodontal disease. VOHC has strict requirements to pass for a product to earn their Seal of Approval. The Council requires that the submitted research on the product uses objective measurements of effectiveness. VOHC puts their Seal of Approval on dental foods, treats, and chews. The product must reduce plaque or tartar by at least 10% throughout the study submitted to earn the Seal. 

Many products on the VOHC’s approved list far surpass the minimum requirements for tartar reduction.

How Effective Are Dental Chews?

Chewing appropriate dental treats has been shown to be essential to dogs’ oral health. Research has proven that dogs given effective dental chew treats have significantly less tartar build-up than dogs not given dental chews. To add extra tartar fighting power, dental chews that have added enzymes such as polyphosphate can be doubly effective. These enzymes work in addition to the mechanical action of the chew to enzymatically break down the tartar and remove it from the tooth.

Final Thoughts

Oral care is not just important for a dog’s mouth. Ensuring that a dog’s teeth and gums are healthy is vital to keeping the whole dog healthy and avoiding serious health problems such as heart and organ failure. Every dog should see their veterinarian at least once a year for a dental checkup. Professional dental prophylaxis and cleanings should be performed as necessary.

Dental chew treats are an excellent way to keep the dog’s teeth clean and healthy in between cleanings. Choosing a dog dental chew that carries the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Seal of Approval is essential. As always, pet parents should consult their veterinarian with any questions or concerns about their dog’s health.