teeth week

The Best Things for Cleaning Your Dog’s Teeth, According to Vets and Canine Experts

Photo: Time Life Pictures/The LIFE Picture Collection via

Very few dogs like having their teeth brushed, and some flat-out won’t tolerate it. But according to board-certified veterinary dentist John Lewis, periodontal disease and other dental issues are “far and away” the most common health problem for dogs. “You can imagine if we went ten years without brushing our teeth how bad things would get,” he says. “Dogs are no different.” Plaque and tartar can cause a whole host of health issues that, if left untreated, can lead to infection and pain that requires oral surgery and anesthesia. But Lewis says there are ways to introduce daily (or at least every other day) oral care, like giving your dog a treat after brushing “to make it a positive experience.” And if brushing isn’t an option, there are alternatives — including dental chews, cleansing wipes, and specially formulated kibble — that can help reduce the formation of bacteria, plaque, and tartar.

To find the best products for keeping your pup’s mouth fresh and tartar free, we talked to Lewis and seven other veterinarians and pet experts about the stuff they use. For starters, you should look for products with the Veterinary Oral Health Care (VOHC) seal of approval (the dog and cat equivalent of the ADA seal of approval), according to Dr. Jennifer Coates, who serves on the advisory board for Pup Life Today. “Products with the VOHC seal have been shown to actually slow the buildup of plaque and tartar on teeth,” she explains. Below, our experts’ favorite VOHC-approved products to keep your dog’s teeth sparkling.

Best overall toothbrush and toothpaste for dogs

All of our experts say the top priority in dog dental care is brushing, ideally once a day, and several say using an enzymatic toothpaste will enhance the effects of regular brushing. “Brushing a dog’s teeth using a soft-bristle toothbrush and a toothpaste designed for pets is by far the most effective form of dental preventative care,” explains Coates. The key, she says, is to use a toothbrush with extra-soft bristles so as not to startle your dog or cause it discomfort. Lewis agrees that the brush should be soft or extra soft and advises owners to start with just a little warm water on the toothbrush and then work their way up to using toothpaste. Samantha Schwab, a resident pet expert at Chewy (we spoke to her about dog grooming back in March) recommends this soft Virbac Pet Toothbrush because its size “allows you to get to those hard-to-reach places in the back of the mouth.”

To complement brushing with Virbac’s toothbrush, Dr. Emily Stein, a microbiologist and the creator of TEEF (an anti-bacterial water additive for dogs), says to “brush your dog’s teeth with enzymatic toothpaste,” which, according to the American Kennel Club, “contains enzymes that help reduce bacteria, which can lessen tartar buildup and improve bad breath.” Veterinary dentist MJ Redman says, “I use Virbac C.E.T. toothpaste. It’s my dogs’ favorite. I also like the Virbac toothbrush, which comes in different sizes for different-size dogs.”

Best less-expensive toothbrush for dogs

At his clinic specializing in veterinary dentistry and oral surgery, Lewis gives all his clients double-ended toothbrushes like these. “One end is smaller, I’d say about a half to a third of the size of the bigger end, so you’ve got some options there for small- and large-breed dogs.” He adds, “The bristles of the brush act like a broom and sweep away the plaque, not only from the surface of the crown but from the really important area underneath the gumline.”

Best finger toothbrush for dogs

Sara Ochoa, a small-animal and exotics veterinarian in East Texas and a consultant for DogLab, agrees that “every dog owner should have a dog toothbrush and dog toothpaste. There are different kinds of dog toothbrushes: the traditional ones, like people use, or finger toothbrushes.” If your dog won’t let you use a traditional toothbrush (or has a very small mouth), Dr. Rachel Barrack, a veterinarian and the founder of Animal Acupuncture, says that “an angled finger brush makes for easy access.” And Dr. Amanda Nascimento says that “finger brushes may work well for dogs under 28 pounds.” We wrote about this two-pack of finger brushes from Nylabone in the past, and they boast over 100 five-star reviews from pet owners on Amazon.

Best less-expensive toothpaste for dogs