Note: This examination of dog dental health is the first in a series of articles on dog longevity. Our follow-up pieces will include a deep dive into the healthiest diet for dogs, the best longevity-promoting exercise for dogs, and a comparison of the best dog longevity products, among others.
This series of articles on dog longevity is, as Tolkien famously said of his almost 500,000-word Lord of the Rings trilogy, a tale that “grew in the telling.”
After publishing our article on cat longevity back in November of 2023, we received a lot of comments asking us when we would do a similar piece, but for dogs.
Seeing as both Rachel and I are dog owners and wanted to know this information for ourselves, we planned a larger, three-article series to really cover the topic.
But as I delved into the subject, I found there was just so much to learn, and so to spare you having to read multiple 7,000 word articles on every little aspect of dog longevity, from dog dental cleaning, to dog exercise, to how neutering impacts dog health, we decided to break it up further.
But fear not!
If you’re not a dog owner and couldn’t care less about making mangy mutts live longer, we’ll still be publishing weekly articles on human longevity, alongside this dog series.
That means for the next few weeks you’ll be seeing two articles from Longevity Advice each week, rather than the usual one.
To kick this series off I took a look at a seemingly minor, and often-overlooked aspect of dog health: their teeth.
I wanted to know:
- Is dog oral care important for their health and longevity?
- What are the best ways to clean your dog’s teeth?
- Do dog teeth-cleaning treats actually do anything?
Read on to find out!
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Table of Contents
Dog dental health
We tend to think about dog dental health (if we think about it at all) as a minor aspect of keeping our dogs healthy and alive. Give ’em a bone and a dental chew every now-and-then and they’ll probably be fine.
But actually, research indicates that the health of your dog’s mouth and teeth can impact hugely important things like their organ health, cardiovascular disease risk, and even mortality.
For instance, a 2019 epidemiological study concluded:
“[A] statistically significant association was obtained between [periodontal disease (PD)] and cardiac disease. Results show that PD can have a significant adverse impact on animals’ health, being related with systemic consequences, which may increase morbidity and mortality rates of these animals.”
Bad bacteria in your dog’s mouth can cause infections, inflammation, and even (according to one 2021 study) cognitive dysfunction.
A 2009 study which found an association between periodontal disease and “cardiovascular-related conditions, such as endocarditis and cardiomyopathy,” concluded by saying, “Canine health may be improved if veterinarians and pet owners place a higher priority on routine dental care.”
And as dogs get older, their tooth health gets worse.
But what exactly is the best dental routine to prevent periodontal disease in dogs and dog cavities?
According to a 2022 review of the subject:
“Bacterial dental plaque control is the main key to manage this disease. The removal of dental plaque and the inhibition of its formation can be achieved by a combination of dental hygiene homecare procedures including toothbrushing and the application of several oral products, specific diet, the use of chew toys and regular professional periodontal procedures.”
So let’s look at the major ways to control dog teeth plaque.
Canine teeth brushing
Toothbrushing for dogs seems to be one of the most effective ways (as in humans) to prevent plaque formation. I’m just going to quote from that 2022 review extensively because it’s so good:
“Toothbrushing is the most effective method for daily plaque control through the mechanical disruption of the dental plaque, being considered the gold standard method for [periodontal disease (PD)] control. This procedure should be performed prior to PD establishment. Animals must be trained to accept brushing after the eruption of the permanent dentition, using positive reinforcement. Some reports recommend a brushing technique with a soft-bristled nylon toothbrush, applying circular movements with the toothbrush held at a 45–60 angle to the tooth and used in a coronally directed [upward from the gum to the crown of the tooth] stroke. Ultrasonic toothbrushes may be used if the dog is trained to accept them.
The frequency of toothbrushing in dogs will influence the effectiveness in retarding dental plaque and calculus accumulation, and consequently, in reducing the severity of pre-existing gingivitis. According to Harvey (2015), brushing daily or every other day produces statistically significant improved results in dogs when compared with brushing weekly or every other week. Therefore, it is recommended that this procedure is performed daily. Additionally, in a 6 month randomized clinical trial, Allan and collaborators (2019) observed that daily toothbrushing is three times more efficient in dental plaque control when compared to the use of dental chews or specific dental diets, reinforcing toothbrushing as an optimal method for PD prevention.”
- Brush your dog’s teeth daily with a tasty, dog-safe toothpaste.
- Use a soft-bristled nylon toothbrush or an ultrasonic toothbrush.
- Hold the brush at a 45–60 degree angle to the tooth and brush upwards from the gums.
Dog teeth cleaning treats
There seems to be some limited evidence of canine dental treats positively impacting dog tooth health, though to a lesser degree than daily brushing.
For instance, a 2021 study comparing three different dog dental chews (Hill’s Prescription Diet Dental Care Chews, Greenies dental treats, and Veggiedent Fresh chews) found that all three were “efficacious to reduce plaque and calculus formation and the gingival bleeding compared to control.”
A 2021 study of 12 beagles found that dog tooth chews “may aid in reducing periodontal disease risk in dogs by beneficially shifting the microbiota inhabiting plaque and saliva of a dog’s oral cavity.”
There are some additional potential dental dog water additives, like Aquadent’s pomegranate extract in water, that can help your dog’s teeth, but there’s honestly so many of them that I’ll refer you to sections three and four of that 2022 review I keep citing, as that article has a comprehensive list.
One water additive for dogs’ teeth that has been tested, but which I would personally avoid as a dog owner, is xylitol. While in small doses xylitol may help your pup’s dental health, in large doses it can cause liver failure and even death in dogs. I’m just not willing to risk it with my dog, especially with so many other canine dental care options out there.
All that said, dried biscuit treats, even if advertised as “promoting clean teeth,” don’t seem to work according to a 2005 review.
So according to the research, the best chews for dogs’ teeth might be:
But, as the 2022 review noted, “It is important to highlight that chew toys or other dental treats do not replace daily toothbrushing, which is the gold standard procedure for periodontal disease prevention.”
Dental bones for dogs
Dogs can sometimes use bones and dental chew toys to mechanically remove plaque from their teeth.
That study claimed, “Bones were highly effective for DC [dental calculus/tartar] removal and gingival inflammation reduction.”
The study authors even went so far as to add: “Specific pieces of bone should be used for oral home care programs because they shortly remove almost 90% of DC, allowing longer intervals between periodontal cleaning procedures.”
That said, this is all dependent on your individual dog as well, since hard bones and chew toys can cause some dogs to chip their teeth.
Dog oral care: my plan for Kipling
Unfortunately, we didn’t start Kipling out early getting used to daily toothbrushing, so the few times I’ve attempted to brush his teeth while researching and writing this article haven’t gone great. I intend to keep at it though, and have been rewarding him with a tasty dog teeth cleaning treat every time he lets me get a couple of his teeth with the dog toothbrush I bought.
Once he’s trained to let me brush his teeth my planned dog dental health regimen for him is:
- Once daily toothbrushing, either right after breakfast or right before bed.
- 2-3 times weekly dog dental chews, like Greenies or Veggident.
- Monthly-to-quarterly purchases of bones. Kipling loves chewing on big bones, and he doesn’t chip his teeth on them so we’re not worried about buying the harder bones which, according to the 2020 study, may cause fewer gingival lesions than soft bones.
Remember to sign up via email to be notified when the next articles in our dog longevity series go live, and let us know what burning dog longevity questions you have, so we can be sure to answer them in the next few weeks!
I’m the co-founder of Longevity Advice and have been passionate about radical life extension ever since I was a teenager. Formerly I was a content marketing director in the B2B software space. I’m also a sci-fi novelist, wargame rules writer, and enthusiast for cooking things in bacon fat. My sister once called me “King of the Nerds” and it’s a title I’ve been trying to live up to ever since.