Dog Dental Care – What’s in your dental care kit?

dogs-toothbrushThere is a huge array of products to put in your [tag-tec]dog dental care[/tag-tec] kit, and it’s easy to buy more than you need. What I’ve done today is summarize the different products available and when you could consider using them.

Dog dental care products are relatively inexpensive so it’s worth trying a few of them to see what you find the easiest to use and your dog is most comfortable with.

Here’s a summary of the products available:


There are four types of toothbrush – the most basic toothbrush you can buy looks similar to a standard human toothbrush, there is a double ended toothbrush, a triple bristle toothbrush and a finger toothbrush.
You can clean your dog’s teeth with dental sponges and dental pads too.

What you settle on using will be a combination of what you find easy to use, what your dog accepts and the size of his mouth and the condition of his gums.

Basic Toothbrush – this looks like a child’s toothbrush but has much softer bristles and is angled differently to better clean your dog’s teeth; these are important reasons for not buying a human toothbrush for your dog.

Double ended toothbrush – similar to the basic toothbrush but it tends to be longer and has bristles at either end; one end having a much smaller cluster of bristles than the other.
The idea is to use the large end for larger dogs and the smaller end for small dogs, though I use the smaller end for brushing the front teeth.

Triple bristle toothbrush – this is a basic toothbrush that has 3 sets of bristles that form a triangle. The idea is that the brush cleans the front, back and top of the teeth all in one go. You use this toothbrush by brushing with horizontal strokes, rather than the circular motion with other toothbrushes.

Finger toothbrush (also called finger cot brush) – this is like a rubber thimble that has bristles on one side of it. You just put the toothpaste on the bristles and rub your dog’s teeth.

Toothbrush or finger brush?
It comes down to personal preference, and what your dog is comfortable with.
I find a double ended toothbrush works well for me, but that’s because it’s what I’ve always used and as a consequence I find it easy to use.

I haven’t used a finger brush, but the people I know who do all have larger dogs – they say it’s easier to control the brushing with a finger cot and it takes less time to clean the teeth too.

People with small dogs tend to use a dual ended toothbrush because they find it easier to get it into their dogs mouth, and the closeness of the bristles really seems to clean the teeth well.

The best thing is to experiment, you’ll quickly find out what works best for you and your dog.

The benefit of using a toothbrush is the scrubbing action of the brush against the teeth to remove plaque – all of the brushes mentioned do this, though remember you don’t want to apply too much pressure when brushing otherwise you’ll damage your dog’s gums and wear down the enamel on his teeth.

Dental Sponge – this is a small soft sponge on the end of a handle, and is disposed of after use.

The disadvantage of the dental sponge is that it does not provide the scrubbing action of a toothbrush, and because of this, is less effective at removing plaque from the teeth.
However dental sponges do have two uses:

  1. they can be used when teaching your dog to have his teeth brushed. They are the softer alternative to the toothbrush and you can use them for a few days before progressing to a toothbrush; and
  2. for dogs that have swollen or painful gums, they can provide a pain free brushing alternative before you can start using a toothbrush again.

Dental Pads/Wipes – these are wipes that are saturated in a product (usually chlorhexidine) that is know to be effective in killing the germs that cause plaque to form. The idea of the pads is that you wipe your dogs teeth daily and this prevents tartar forming on your dogs teeth.

As with dental sponges, dental wipes do not provide the scrubbing action of the toothbrush but they are useful to use if your are starting to train your dog to have his teeth cleaned, your dog has painful gums, or you are traveling and want something that is quick and easy to use.

You can also use dental pads/wipes as a general wipe for the inside of your dog’s mouth as further measure to remove unwanted bacteria.


The most important thing to remember is that you should use a pet toothpaste, not a human one. Human toothpastes contain ingredients, such as baking soda, salt, detergents and products containing alcohol that can upset your dog’s stomach.

The toothpaste you choose should contain enzymes that inhibit the development of plaque. Most toothpastes are clearly labeled as ‘enzyme toothpastes’, but have a look at the list of ingredients to check – the ingredients ending in ‘ase’ are usually enzymes.

Pet toothpastes come in a variety flavors, so you can choose one that your dog likes the taste of – small sample tubes are usually available to buy so you can test them out.

To get the best use of your toothpaste make sure it is spread throughout the bristles, and not just squeezed onto the top of the bristles. If the toothpaste is dispersed throughout the bristles more of it will get brushed onto your dog’s teeth and gums.

Oral Gels and Oral Rinses

These have been developed both for dogs who absolutely hate having a toothbrush put in their mouth and for owners who really don’t want to clean their dog’s teeth with a toothbrush – using an oral gel or rinse is much easier than teaching your dog to let you brush his teeth!

With oral gels you spread the gel onto the gums which will cause your dog to salivate – as a result his teeth and gums will be covered with the gel which contains mild abrasives that breakdown the plaque on his teeth. Dental gels generally contain sodium hexametaphosphate, which is known to slow the rate plaque turns into tartar and has fewer side effects than chlorhexidine.

Oral cleansers can be applied as a mouth rinse, dabbed on with a dental sponge, applied with a toothbrush, or added to your dog’s food. They work by coating your dog’s teeth in a product – chlorhexidine – that kills the bacteria that causes plaque to form. Chlorhexidine is an ingredient commonly found in human mouth washes, and users can experience side effects such as staining of the teeth and tongue, and skin irritation.

You can alternate between brushing and using an oral cleanser or gel, though my personal preference is to find something that works and stick to it.

If you do use oral gels and cleansers, keep a watch for any side effects your dog may experience such as an upset stomach, skin irritation and teeth staining. If your dog does show any of these symptoms, or any other noticeable changes after you start using these products, I suggest you stop using them and discuss it with your vet.

Fresh breath tablets, sprays and strips

These products will sweeten your dog’s breath; however if you’ve adopted a regular dental care program I don’t think you should need to use these on a regular basis.

If your dog has ongoing bad breath, and you are keeping his teeth clean, then it may be the indication of another disease, and you should discuss this with your vet.

Water Additives

There are a number of products on the market that you can add to your dog’s water and they contain ingredients that will prevent the formation of plaque on his teeth.

This product is a good alternative for those dogs whose gums are so sore they cannot be rubbed or brushed. It is also a good compliment to brushing or using an oral cleanser/gel, but I wouldn’t rely on it as the first line of defence against gum disease.

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