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“A dogs’ mouth is the portal to their body and good dental hygiene is key to their physical wellbeing, explains Sarah Machell, DVM, a lead veterinarian with Vetster. “Having healthy teeth and gums is one of the most important ways to help your dog avoid hidden infection and pain.” Regular toothbrushing with a toothpaste specifically made for dogs is one of the most important things you can do to keep your furbaby’s mouth—and entire body—healthy.
Read on for our top toothpaste picks.
One of the major differences between human toothpaste and one made for dogs is that the former is not made to be swallowed. “Our pets aren’t good at following the directions, ‘rinse and spit!’” explains Dr. Machell. All joking aside, this is problematic as “there are many components of human toothpaste that can be irritating and cause stomach upset if consumed.” Dog toothpaste on the other hand is safe to consume and this Virbac variety is free of foaming agents and is totally safe for dogs to eat. This made in the U.S.A. brand offers a tasty chicken flavor that gets dogs excited when it’s time to brush. One word of caution: it’s brown and can potentially stain white fur, so you’ll want to wipe off any excess from your dog’s muzzle.
“Fundamentally, toothpaste provides added friction when brushing, improving the ability of your brushing action to grab smaller, deeper plaque,” explains Dr. Machell. “Additionally, several types of pet toothpaste contain added ingredients that add lasting benefits to the oral health environment to reduce plaque formation between brushings.” This Vet’s Best toothpaste contains a blend of soothing aloe, baking soda, and enzymes to effectively clean plaque and tartar plus neem oil and grapefruit seed extract for a breath-freshening formula. You can use this toothpaste with your finger, with a finger brush, or a regular dog toothbrush and get equally good results.
“Brushing should start at the gumline working gently towards the tip of the tooth,” Dr. Machell says. “The most significant amount of dental plaque and tartar develops on the surface of the tooth that rests against the inside of the cheek, so concentrate your efforts there.” This clear gel contains enzymes that literally dissolve bacteria while encouraging the good bacteria in your pup’s mouth to flourish. With regular use, this toothpaste will help restore the natural protective abilities of your pet’s saliva. It’s free of alcohol, chlorine compounds, and xylitol—the last is an ingredient Dr. Machell says may be toxic to dogs and should always be avoided.
Made from organic coconut oil, sweet potato, cinnamon, and mint, this 100 percent USDA organic, non-toxic toothpaste is safe for even people to use—those who dared to sample it confirm that it does indeed taste great. Fans of natural products will also appreciate that it has no xylitol, chemicals, pesticides, GMOs, glutens, fluoride, or synthetics. The food-grade ingredients not only help to fight bacteria to reduce the risk of tooth decay in dogs of all ages, but they also freshen your pup’s breath and whiten their chompers. Dr. Machell notes that the most common challenge when it comes to brushing your dog’s teeth is remembering to do so; with a toothpaste that’s this fresh and tasty smelling, that won’t be a problem.
Regardless of what flavor you choose, you’ll want one with a label that touts enzymatic activity. Why? “It can have some added benefits of ongoing action after the brushing has been completed,” explains Dr. Machell. This one from Sentry offers a veterinary strength enzymatic formula using hydrogen peroxide to control plaque and tartar. It has a tasty chicken flavor that most dogs go crazy for. While you should aim to use no more than a pea-size drop, Dr. Machell says you don’t need to worry if you use too much as dog toothpaste is made to be swallowed.
“One of the keys to brushing your dog’s teeth is to start early when they are young to establish a daily routine and ensure positive rewards during the process, then building on these good habits right from the start,” advises Dr. Machell. This kit from Nylabone has everything you need to get started including a puppy finger brush and toothbrush, plus a tube of puppy toothpaste in the original tartar control variety that features the brand’s proprietary Denta-C that's scientifically proven to help reduce plaque and tartar that bacteria love to call home. It helps to freshen their breath, too. All the products are made in the U.S.A.
If your pup is adverse to having a toothbrush in their mouth, you can still get them sparkling clean by using a brushless variety of toothpaste. With this one, all you have to do is put two drops in their mouth (one on either side of their jaw) and let the gel go to work. It’s infused with spearmint, green tea, chlorophyll, and more to naturally clean their teeth of bacteria build-up. “One big hurdle many pet owners struggle with is the idea that the pet’s mouth must be held open during brushing,” says Dr. Machall. “Thankfully, when the focus is on the outside surface of the tooth, that is really not necessary.”
Best for Bad Breath: Arm & Hammer Dental Fresh Breath Enzymatic Dog Toothpaste, Vanilla-Ginger Flavor
When it comes to flavor, the best one is the one your dog can’t resist. “So many dogs are motivated by food—choose a flavor that your dog loves, and it works to enhance the positive reward in the process,” Dr. Machall says. This vanilla-ginger not only tastes delicious, it has the added benefit of freshening your pup’s breath; the included baking soda also helps to deodorize their teeth and gums. It contains additional enzymes to help break up tartar, which reduces the amount of bacteria in your pup’s mouth, which only prevents tooth decay, and helps prevent bad breath.