Furry brown and white dog chewing on a dental stick in the grass.

Are Dental Chews Good for Dogs?: A Closer Look

Are Dental Chews Good for Dogs?: A Closer Look

Since the late 1990s, dental chews have been wildly popular among dog owners. These chewy treats often come with the large promise of taking care of a dog’s dental health without regular teeth brushing.

This, unfortunately, is a misconception. Dog dental chews alone can’t ensure your dog’s oral health.

Studies show they can help specifically with periodontal disease, but that’s just a small part of your dog’s overall oral health. In this article, we’ll explore dental chews, their benefits, limitations, and safe alternatives.

What Are Dental Chews?

Dental chews are treats designed to clean dogs’ teeth and massage their gums to help reduce tartar and plaque build-up. These treats are often marketed to freshen dogs’ breath and maintain tooth, gum, and overall oral health.

There are a variety of dental chews available on the market. They come in all shapes and sizes, from sticks and round bite-size pieces to the more recognizable Greenies in the shape of toothbrushes. Textures of dental treats can range from chewy rawhide and bone textures to crunchy biscuit-like textures.

Typically, it’s recommended to choose a dental treat that matches your pup’s size, personal preferences, and personality. An aggressive chewer, for example, might have the best experience with a firmer dental chew that gives them a little more chewing time.

Are Dental Chews Safe for Your Dog?

Though dental chews can seem like a saving grace for a pet parent, they aren’t all created equal in terms of effectiveness. It’s important to choose the right chews or dental treats for your dog based on safety and effectiveness but still recognize you’ll need to brush your dog’s teeth.

Depending on your dog’s size and eating habits, some dental treats may be better than others.

There are also products that can be too hard for some dogs and may fracture their teeth. So, when you’re browsing for new dental treats, consider your dog’s unique qualities. A good dental chew will be highly digestible, not prone to splintering, and not harsh on teeth.

Additionally, look for the VOHC seal on products. This seal is from the American Veterinary Dental College (ADVDC) and means the food, treat, or supplement is on their list of approved products for dog dental health.

Overall, the thing to keep in mind is that dental treats or supplements alone are not a substitute for teeth brushing. They can mechanically remove debris, but that is just one step in maintaining your dog’s oral hygiene.

Why Dental Chews Shouldn’t Replace Teeth Brushing

The recommendation from veterinarians is daily teeth brushing. As noted, giving your dog dental chews can work as a first step, but you should also incorporate regular brushing in the routine. This is because dental chews can’t fully prevent the process of plaque formation and its hardening into tartar.

Plaque is a gummy substance that can form on teeth within a few hours after your dog eats. After 24 hours, plaque becomes tartar, which a professional will have to remove with a professional dental tool. Vets recommend a minimum of once daily brushing, but twice daily is better (just like for people).

Limited Cleaning Effectiveness

Dental chews primarily clean the chewing surfaces and are less effective against plaque and tartar near the gum line. That’s why dental chews and supplements like water additives are not sufficient for regular oral upkeep.

Variability in Quality

As noted above, there is a wide range of quality among dental chews and supplements. Some can even harm your dog if they are too hard or have splinter potential. So be sure to choose products based on research and advice from your veterinarian.

Inadequate for Dental Diseases

Another important aspect to consider is the presence of dental disease in your dog. Dental chews are not a cure for existing dental diseases and shouldn’t replace professional dental care. If you’re concerned your pup has a dental or gum disease, make an appointment with your trusted veterinarian.

Missing the Mechanical Act of Brushing

Finally, there isn’t any treat or supplement that can match the effectiveness of mechanical tooth brushing. As difficult a habit as it can be to establish — and get your dog on board with — daily toothbrushing is a must to keep up with plaque development.

Potential Dangers Associated With Dental Chews for Dogs

Not all dental chews pose health dangers, but some of them do, which is why pet owners should exercise caution. Some potential dangers include teeth fracturing, splintering/choking, esophageal lacerations, intestinal blockage, and treats sticking to your dog’s upper palate.

Teeth Fracturing

Dental chews and treats come in all shapes, sizes, and textures. Hard dental treats have a higher risk of causing fractures in dogs’ teeth, especially dogs with weaker teeth.


There are potential risks associated with chews that can break into sharp pieces, posing choking hazards. Cow hooves and animal antlers have been called out as some of the biggest offenders for splintering, but it can also occur with pig ears, nylabones, and bully sticks.

Esophageal Lacerations

Secondary to splintering, esophageal lacerations can be a risk if a dog swallows a large or sharp piece of a treat. Consider sitting with your dog as they eat a particularly hard or large treat, or even break it into smaller, more manageable pieces to chew.

Intestinal Blockage

There is a potential danger if smaller dog breeds swallow large pieces of a treat without properly chewing it. This can sometimes lead to intestinal blockages. Ideally, choose a dental chew for your pup that aligns with their size.

Stuck in the Upper Palate

A final danger to consider when it comes to dental chews is the risk of certain shapes of chews getting lodged in a dog’s upper palate. This can cause discomfort and even injure your dog’s mouth.

How To Maintain Your Dog’s Dental Health

If the potential risks associated with dental chews have you reconsidering using them, know that there are other ways to maintain your dog’s oral wellness. These include regular brushing, dental check-ups, and a healthy diet.

Regular Teeth Brushing

There are a ton of options for dog-specific toothpaste and brushes for daily dental care. The real hurdle for some pet parents, though, is just getting their pup used to brushing. Starting slow and using tasty toothpaste are two tips to get started.

Dental Check-Ups

We recommend regular professional dental check-ups to prevent and treat dental issues. For most dogs, a true dental cleaning by a professional will require sedation or anesthesia. However, you can also read more about non-anesthetic dental cleaning.

Healthy Diet

A balanced diet plays a major role in maintaining a dog’s dental health. Consider including foods that promote good oral hygiene, such as coconut oil, kelp, parsley, and fennel.

The Best Alternatives for Dental Chews

There are other products available that can serve as alternatives for pet owners who like dental chews or treats but want to avoid the risks.

Teeth Brushing

Regular teeth brushing is the most effective method for dental care . So pick a toothpaste flavor your dog loves, and start establishing a new dental care routine that they may even look forward to in the future.

Water Dissolvable Products

As an alternative to dental chews, you can try water-dissolvable dental products to help freshen a dog’s breath. These products can be a safer and more effective alternative to traditional chews.

The Honest Kitchen’s Ocean Chews

Another product we love are our Honest Kitchen Ocean Chews , which are a natural alternative to dental chews and rawhide. The product has one ingredient: either dehydrated codfish skins or dehydrated wolffish skins, which can support dental health and provide omega-3 fatty acids.

Choose The Honest Kitchen To Boost Your Pet’s Health

Beyond dental chews, there are many strategies you can tap into, both at home and with your veterinarian, to maintain your dog’s oral hygiene. Clean teeth are an essential piece of a dog’s overall health, so reducing plaque, preventing tartar build-up, and providing healthy and balanced dog food is vital.

The Honest Kitchen is committed to providing healthy, safe, and effective alternatives for pet dental careExplore all dog food and treats from The Honest Kitchen, including kibble alternatives and more. 

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