Are Dental Chews Enough of a Replacement for Dog Tooth Brushing?

  • Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.

Two weeks ago, I brought home a squirmy little puppy named Rudy. Rudy is a short, long, little mix breed dog. She has a few adult teeth and lots of tiny sharp puppy teeth. Like every new puppy parent, I want to keep Rudy healthy for a long long time, and that definitely includes good dental care.

After all, dental health can impact a dog’s overall health, including the health of their heart and digestive organs. Those of us who like doggy kisses know that plaque and tartar buildup can give even the cutest pooch bad breath.

What’s the best way to keep Rudy’s teeth clean and healthy? Many vets recommend that adult dogs have their teeth cleaned by a professional once a year. In between cleanings, tooth brushing and dental treats can do a lot of good. too.

To be honest, I’ve never enjoyed brushing my pets’ teeth, mostly because they don’t enjoy it much, either. Putting my best foot forward, and following my vet’s advice, I’m training Rudy to accept a toothbrush and some meaty flavor toothpaste. Will dental chews help in my quest to have a fresh-mouthed pup?

How Do Dental Chews Work?

Most dental chews work by scraping the surface of a dog’s teeth to remove plaque and tartar. As the maker of tooth-cleaning Greenies treats explains, “As a dog chews the treat, its chewy texture allows the teeth to sink in for maximum tooth contact causing a mechanical scraping and scrubbing of the tooth surface.”

Some dental chews also contain anti-plaque compounds or enzymes. These active ingredients reduce plaque in one of two ways. The anti-plaque compound delmopinol makes plaque less sticky, reducing the ability of plaque cells to attach to the tooth surface. Enzyme cleaners are believed to degrade plaque cells in other ways before plaque binds to the tooth surface.

Are All Dental Chews the Same?

No. Dental chews vary in ingredients and flavors, and some are harder or chewier than others. Dental chews also vary in how well they remove plaque and tartar. A quick Internet search reveals a few dozen dental treats available online. How to choose the right one?

Fortunately, the Veterinary Oral Health Council tests the effectiveness of dental treats, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and special dental health kibble. VOHC gives its seal of approval to those treats that are shown to reduce plaque and tartar buildup.

To receive the VOHC Seal of Approval chews that work with friction alone, which includes nearly all the dental chews on the market, must reduce plaque or tartar by 15%. If chews contain a chemical anti-plaque agent, they must reduce plaque or tartar by 20%.

Dog toothpaste must meet a similar requirement: they must reduce plaque buildup by 15% without the help of a brush or other device that mechanically removes plaque. In other words, VOHC approved toothpaste can be smeared on teeth without brushing. Using the product with a brush will improve the results.

So, Are Dental Treats as Good as Brushing?

Almost, according to VOHC. Dental treats reduce tartar and plaque by 15-20%. Tooth brushing with an approved toothpaste and brush can reduce tartar and plaque by as much as 25-30% if done frequently (2-3 times/week) and thoroughly.

Buy the Right Size Treat for Your Dog

Dental treats come in multiple sizes. I like to give my 12-pound puppy a big dental chew because it lasts a long time. But large dogs should not be given small treats, because swallowing them unchewed can cause intestinal problems.

Dental Chews recommended by the Veterinary Oral Health Council

The tasty dental treats listed below have earned the VOHC Seal of Approval. The complete list of approved products in available on the Veterinary Oral Health Council website.

I love the playful shapes that Whimzees offers, including hedgehogs, alligators, and more. These treats have always been a favorite of my dogs for an after-vet indulgence.

Greenies are familiar as one of the first dental treats on the market. There are now many flavors of Greenies, including Pumpkin Spice, and formulas that include breath freshening enhancements and grain-free recipes.

Checkups are popular dental treats that boast a 25% reduction in plaque and a 62% reduction in tartar. These treats use the dog’s own chewing power to scrape clean the surface of teeth.

These vegan dental chews are durable tooth-scrapers composed of cornstarch with tasty flavors mixed in.

Milk-Bone Brushing Chews earned the VOHC Seal of Approval by doing exactly what they say: cleaning plaque off teeth and keeping breath smelling better in the process.

Minties treats mix in breath-freshening mint and other ingredients to give your dog that breath-mint feel while scraping plaque away.

OraVet Dental Hygiene Chews are advertised as the only dog chews that contain Delmopinol technology. Sounds fancy, but what it is? Delmopinol is a compound that prevents plaque from attaching to the surface of teeth and to binding together with other plaque particles to form tartar. It’s used in some mouthwashes for people, too. When you add a new ingredient to your dog’s diet, it’s a good idea to keep a close watch on how their belly responds.

DentaLife chews combine a dense, chewy structure with natural ingredients like honey to improve dogs’ breath while cleaning teeth.

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