How to clean dog teeth without brushing?

Brushing your pet’s teeth is a challenge. And while it’s the most effective form of dental disease prevention, it isn’t always a viable option. Either our lives get busy and our pet’s teeth are forgotten, or the pet is impossible with having its mouth handled, no matter how much you’ve worked up to it.

That’s why there is a Plan B for pets! If you are unable to brush, then at least you can do the next best thing by choosing from a variety of products that aid in oral health. But here’s the conundrum: With all the different products out there claiming they do wonders for our pets’ teeth, how do we know which one(s) to choose? Here we will go through what you should look for.

  1. VOHC seal: The Veterinary Oral Health Council is a group of scientists, veterinary dentists, and statisticians not affiliated with any company that reviews research on a product and determines if it truly does what the manufacturer claims and makes a statistically significant improvement of at least 20% (of either plaque, bad breath, or tartar). The product is then awarded with the VOHC seal, which is displayed on the package, and describes what the product is effective against. This is great for us!! When we see the seal, we can rest assured that what we are purchasing for our pet is going to benefit their teeth and be worth the money. Submitting a product to the VOHC is not mandatory, and costs quite a bit of money, so having the VOHC seal shows a big commitment from the company towards dental health!
    NOTE: A product with a VOHC seal for PLAQUE is better than for TARTAR. Plaque is the precursor for tartar, and if you can prevent the plaque, you can prevent the tartar. You can see a list of products available at
  2. Research: Not all products with supportive research will carry the VOHC seal. That means we need to do our own research and deduce whether the studies done are valid. Was there a control group? Were there an adequate number of subjects? Was the study performed on the species the product is meant for? Was the same product/formulation used? Was the researcher employed by the company? Was research even done? If a company can’t show you research, you shouldn’t assume that the product is effective or safe.

Here are a few of the common ingredients used in dental products:

Chlorhexidine (CHX) – used in oral rinses (DentaChlor, CET Oral Rinse). It is the gold standard for rinses! It inhibits plaque development and is a broad spectrum antibacterial, antifungal, and has activity against some enveloped viruses.  It binds to oral tissues and the teeth, and is slowly released at antiseptic levels for up to twelve hours. All studies done on CHX used chlorhexidine gluconate, in the 0.12% to 0.2% concentration. The acetate version is less soluble, so it is unknown if it is as effective. Some oral rinses use CHX as a preservative less than 0.12% and don’t work at a therapeutic level.

Zinc Ascorbate – shown to significantly reduce plaque, gingivitis, and anaerobic periodontal pathogens when used as an oral antiseptic. Together with taurine and vitamin C it is antibacterial, can chelate sulphur compounds, and oxidize volatile fatty acids. These bacterial products increase bad breath and permeability of tissues to bacterial toxins. Maxiguard incorporates these ingredients.

Hexametaphosphate (HMP) – interferes with the calcification of plaque, preventing tartar accumulation. It also softens existing tartar to make it more susceptible to sloughing off. It has only been confirmed effective as a coating on treats/chews, not as an internal ingredient. Tartar Shield utilizes this ingredient.

Papain – combined with several other ingredients to create antibacterial activity against plaque bacteria. It also provides a bit of a barrier by preventing bacteria from sticking to the teeth. Also, antioxidants cause damage to pathogens and increase the pets’ immune response. Healthymouth utilizes this technology, and has the VOHC seal for plaque!

Acid based products – weak acids disrupt the biolayer (bacteria/plaque) on the teeth by perforating it and exposing periodontal pathogens to the immune system. It is the focus of new research in periodontal disease. Dentacetic is a product utilizing this.

Xylitol – a sugar alcohol that is absorbed by bacteria and kills the organism. While this ingredient is safe to use in cats, it’s a RED FLAG when it comes to dogs. They are susceptible to toxicity, resulting in potentially lethal hypoglycaemia. Avoid using products with xylitol in them for dogs! Breathalyzer and CET AquaDent are products that contain xylitol.

Promote Chewing

This may seem obvious, but chewing is an important part of dental health. When cats and dogs chew, they stimulate salivary flow, and exercise the periodontal ligaments which hold the tooth within the socket. Blood-flow to the tissues is also stimulated. Any product that encourages chewing is beneficial, but make sure to avoid hard products that could break teeth. Antlers and long bones are especially bad for this. There is no such thing as a safe chew toy/treat for every pet. No matter the claims made, there can always be a risk, but the benefit is definitely there. Always supervise your pet with chews, as they have the potential for a choking hazard if gobbled down too quickly.

Together we can keep our pets healthy through basic preventative care. If you have any questions please contact your veterinarian.