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Dogs can get periodontal disease, otherwise known as an infection in the gums around the teeth, just like humans do. A lifetime of regular tooth brushing and visits to the dentist help most of us avoid serious problems with our teeth, but our dogs aren't so lucky. Many pet owners don't brush their dog's teeth — and it's ok to use alternatives to teeth brushing such as plaque-removing dental treats — but brushing your dog's teeth everyday is one of the best things you can do for your dog's oral health.
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VCA Hospitals estimates that more than two-thirds of adult dogs have gum disease that starts out as plaque. You can make tooth brushing a regular part of your dog's daily care so they come to like it and expect it, and using a flavored enzymatic toothpaste makes it easy.
What is enzymatic toothpaste?
Many human toothpastes contain an artificial sweetener called xylitol which is toxic to dogs, so first of all, only use a toothpaste specifically formulated for canines on your dog. Enzymatic toothpaste is a toothpaste that contains enzymes — which are types of proteins — that interact with particles of food and bacteria in the mouth and work to break them down more quickly. This extra enzyme action can prevent food particles from settling on teeth, turning to tartar and then plaque, and causing gum disease.
Enzymatic toothpaste works in humans too. A 2017 study published in the journal Nature reported that using a toothpaste containing enzymes and proteins compared to a control toothpaste without those ingredients resulted in a significant increase in bacteria associated with gum health and a decrease in bacteria associated with periodontal disease. The study says, "the results demonstrate that a toothpaste containing enzymes and proteins can significantly shift the ecology of the oral microbiome [resulting in] a stronger association to health."
Best enzymatic toothpaste for dogs
Petrodex is an enzymatic toothpaste for dogs that tastes like poultry, a taste most dogs can't resist. Like many of the best enzymatic toothpastes, it doesn't foam up when you brush with it, so it's much easier to use, doesn't require a mouth rinse, and is safe to swallow. Virbac makes an enzymatic toothpaste that tastes like beef, and again, is safe to swallow.
If your dog is picky about flavors or would prefer something that tastes sweeter, the Virbac is also available in malt, poultry, seafood, and vanilla-mint flavors. Arm & Hammer makes an enzymatic toothpaste that tastes like the beef treats your dog loves but has a fresh minty smell you'll love.
Petsmile Professional dog toothpaste has the seal of approval from the Veterinary Oral Health Council. The toothpaste contains an ingredient called Calprox, which helps control tartar and plaque and freshen breath. This one is meant to be used only two to three times per week. Flavor options are chicken or "London broil" which your dog will surely think is a treat.
Are there any health concerns with enzymatic toothpaste?
The biggest health concern with dog enzymatic toothpaste is not using it according to directions. If the package says the product is safe to use daily, then that's ok, but some, like the Petsmile listed above, aren't meant to be used that often. Use a small, pea-sized amount. Becker Animal Hospital says that the success of enzymatic toothpaste is just about getting contact with the tooth, not actually how hard you brush. If your pet doesn't like having things in their mouth, try spreading a dollop of the enzymatic toothpaste on a chew toy.
How to brush a dog's teeth
For best results in brushing your pet's teeth, start slowly and at a time when they are relaxed and calm. Give them a tiny bit of the toothpaste to taste first, and make it fun by giving your pet lots of attention before and after the brushing. Start with your finger, then graduate to applying the enzymatic toothpaste on a soft finger toothbrush made especially for dogs like the Barkley's 360 Dog Fingerbrush Toothbrush. It's washable, reusable, soft, and flexible and the bristles clean your pet's teeth with a simple swipe.
Rub your finger or the brush over the outer surfaces of your dog's teeth in a gentle back-and-forth motion — hold them in your lap if they need extra support. Just focus on the outside surfaces of the teeth so they don't snap their jaws shut and accidentally bite you.
Enzymatic toothpastes for dogs contain enzymes that break down food debris and bacteria in the mouth, leading to cleaner teeth, less tartar and plaque, and fresher breath. Enzymatic toothpastes should also contain no ingredients that are harmful to dogs. Never use human toothpaste on a dog, because they often contain artificial sweetener ingredients such as xylitol that are harmful to your dog if swallowed.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
- VCA Hospitals: Brushing Your Dog's Teeth
- Pet Poison Helpline: Xylitol, Oh Help!
- Nature: A randomised clinical study to determine the effect of a toothpaste containing enzymes and proteins on plaque oral microbiome ecology
- Veterinary Oral Health Council: Home
- How to Brush Your Pet's Teeth: Virbac, Inc.