How Does Dog Toothpaste Work? (And What to AVOID)

How does dog toothpaste work? Knowing the answer will help you to make the right choice when selecting toothpaste for your dog.

We’ll talk about how dog toothpaste works and how to know you’re using the perfect formula for your dog!

How Does Dog Toothpaste Work?

brushing a dog's teeth
Most types of dog toothpaste contain scrubbing ingredients that help wash away stains and plaque.

Dog toothpaste is specially formulated to be safe for your dog. It usually contains slightly abrasive ingredients to sweep away plaque and buff the teeth to a shine and ingredients that freshen your dog’s breath.

The toothpaste may also have antimicrobial ingredients that can help decrease the bacteria in your dog’s mouth that create that acid that eats away at the tooth enamel.

Studies show that even if you can’t get your dog to let you brush all his teeth, simply introducing some of the antimicrobial toothpaste into his mouth can start to improve oral hygiene.

So don’t be discouraged if it’s hard to brush your dog’s teeth. Start slow, be patient, and brush as many of his teeth as you can, as often as you can. Offer healthy chew treats as rewards for cooperation.

It’s important to buy only dog toothpaste because toothpaste formulated for people can be dangerous for your dog.

Read our related article, How Much Human Toothpaste is Bad for Dogs? Can human toothpaste harm your pet? Learn everything you need to know in this quick guide!

How Does Enzymatic Dog Toothpaste Work?

Enzymatic dog toothpastes typically have a combination of enzymes that help to loosen and remove food particles, plaque, and stains from your dog’s teeth.

Enzymes are often paired with mild abrasives to help scrub away the loosened plaque and particles to leave your dog’s teeth clean and polished.

This type of toothpaste is very effective and safe for your dog. They usually have a variety of flavors, including meats, which makes it easier to get your dog to cooperate and maybe even enjoy brushing.

Is It Important to Brush My Dog’s Teeth?

Dogs need their teeth brushed just like people do. Neglecting your dog’s oral hygiene leads to inflamed gums, infections, cavities, and abscessed teeth.

Vets recommend you brush your dog’s teeth at least once a week, but more often is even better. This keeps plaque from hardening into tartar that has to be scraped off by the veterinarian.

The most important thing to look for in a quality dog toothpaste is the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) seal of approval. This means that the toothpaste has been tested and proven safe for dogs. 

Read our related article, How Often Do Dogs Need Their Teeth Brushed? Find out in this quick guide!

Can I Brush My Dog’s Teeth With My Toothpaste?

dog holding toothbrush
Never use human toothpaste for your dog because it can be extremely dangerous for him to ingest.

No, you absolutely can’t share toothpaste with your dog. Your toothpaste has fluoride among other ingredients that can be very dangerous for your dog to ingest.

Don’t use non-fluoridated human toothpaste either. It can still contain ingredients like xylitol that would be deadly to your dog.

Some people recommend brushing your dog’s teeth with baking soda, salt, or other abrasive ingredients like diatomaceous earth.

While these things can certainly get rid of plaque and even scrape away tartar quite well, they can be too harsh for your dog’s teeth and gums and even cause long-term damage like grooves on tooth surfaces.

Dog toothpastes are available at most pet stores and online. Just make sure the one you choose doesn’t contain one of the dangerous ingredients we’ll list below.

What Should Dog Toothpastes Not Contain?

There are a few key ingredients that you’re used to seeing in your toothpaste and other hygiene products that are extremely dangerous for your dog.

Before buying, make sure these things aren’t in your dog’s toothpaste.

  • Fluoride: While fluoride is effective at preventing cavities in humans, it can be toxic to dogs if they ingest too much.
  • SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate): This ingredient is commonly found in human toothpaste and is used as a foaming agent, but it’s very irritating to a dog’s mouth.
  • Glycerin: This ingredient is used to give toothpaste a sweet flavor, but it can also coat the teeth and prevent them from being able to absorb minerals from their food. This can lead to dental problems down the road.
  • Xylitol: This sugar substitute is very dangerous for dogs, but is very popular in human dental toothpastes, rinses, and gums because it helps prevent cavities. Even a small amount can be deadly to your dog.

When buying dog toothpaste from a pet store or vet clinic it’s highly impossible that you’ll find any of these dangerous ingredients, but we always double-check for our peace of mind.

Read our related article on How to Make Dog Toothpaste at Home using safe and simple ingredients!

What Are the Different Types of Dog Toothpaste?

Dog holding a dog toothbrush
All of our experts say the top priority in dog dental care is brushing, ideally once a day.

Gel Toothpaste: This type of toothpaste is easy to apply and typically comes in a variety of flavors that dogs enjoy including fruit, peanut butter, and meat flavors.

Foam Toothpaste: This type of toothpaste is also easy to apply and usually comes in a pump dispenser in many flavors.

Powder Toothpaste: This type of toothpaste is mixed with water to create a paste. It’s less common than other types of dog toothpaste and can be harder to use but it is effective at removing plaque and tartar.

To use dog toothpaste, simply put some on a soft-bristled toothbrush and brush your dog’s teeth in a circular motion. Be sure to get into all the nooks and crannies, as well as the front and back of their teeth.

You can also use a finger toothbrush, which is a small, soft-bristled brush that fits over your finger. Toothpaste for dogs is available in a variety of flavors, so you can choose one that your dog will enjoy.

Many dog owners give their dogs breath freshening and tooth cleaning treats like Greenies to keep teeth extra clean in-between brushings.

Read our related article, How to Brush a Dog’s Teeth the RIGHT Way. Give your dog the best dental care with these tried and true tips!


Dog toothpaste is specially formulated to safely clean your dog’s teeth and gums. It usually contains enzymes that help break down plaque and tartar, as well as ingredients that freshen your dog’s breath.

While the overwhelming majority of dog toothpastes have safe ingredients, we always check before we buy so we can use the toothpaste on our dogs with confidence.

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Jesse Hopping, CCDT

Jesse is a natural-born dog-lover certified dog trainer (CCDT), dog foster, and former volunteer at Richmond SPCA and surrounding dog shelters for over 10 years. Her pack includes a Bernedoodle and 3 Boston Terriers. She’s sipping caramel coffee and watching her pack play in the sun when she’s not writing blogs. Jesse has her Certified Dog Trainer designation from CATCH Canine Trainers Academy since 2018 and and majored in English from the University of Virginia.

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