Canine Dental Health: Veterinarians Answer Whether Chewing Promotes Dental health

Dogs love to chew. It gives them something to do, and it can keep them out of trouble. Or it can get them in trouble if you disagree with their choice of objects to chew on. Could chewing benefit dental health?

See what veterinarians answered.

Canine Dental Health: Veterinarians Answer Whether Chewing Promotes Dental health

Does chewing promote dental health? The answer of course is, it depends.

Why chewing should help oral health in theory:

Chewing encourages saliva flow. Saliva does inhibit plaque and oral germs a bit. Chewing exercises the periodontal ligaments that support the teeth improving the health of that structure. Chewing may disrupt plaque on the teeth which leads to improved periodontal health. Chewing is entertaining and a time waster. It gives pets something to do. Some chewing toys are puzzles to solve so mental stimulation is provided.

All of this appears positive so what can go wrong with chewing and dental health?

Dogs are often provided with inappropriate objects to chew on. They never should be given anything harder or nearly as hard as their teeth. Chewing means something is going to break or give. You do not want that to be the tooth. Broken teeth hurt and need either removal or root canals to remove the pain. The next time you are in a pet store, look at all the things sold for dogs to chew on and look at how many of them are harder than a tooth. A dog that voluntarily chews stones is an idiot, an owner that gives bones or antlers and so on is even more misguided. Dogs that chew objects they should not, should be trained to hand over that object and have it replaced with a safe chew object.

If you choose to give your dogs hard objects to chew, because it is natural or for some other reason, PLEASE ensure you have insurance or room on the credit card to pay for the oral surgery to correct the problem. When you are watching wildlife documentaries, focus your attention on the teeth of the lions, cheetahs, bears, and wolves like I do. It is amazing how many of these animals have broken teeth, and this leads to early mortality due to infection and reduced prey catching ability. Natural lifestyles do not mean desirable outcomes.

Tennis balls, cloth or fabric toys and the pets own fur when chewed on, act like sandpaper and wear the teeth down. This may or may not result in pain depending on the age of the teeth and rate of wear. We can, however, agree it is not desirable.

In conclusion, chewing should be good, but the dog or people can by choosing unwisely, actually cause dramatic damage to the structures of the oral cavity. Give at least three thoughts to what you are putting in your dog’s mouth before you actually do so.

—Dr. Rae Worden, DVM, Fergus Veterinary Hospital
Dr. Rae on Facebook and Twitter


There should be no doubt among animal owners about the importance of dental health in our pets. Just as periodontal disease is a significant health concern in humans, so too is it of paramount consequence in veterinary medicine. In fact, periodontal disease is the number one health problem in small animals. It’s also likely the most undertreated disease in these patients!

Periodontal disease is a progressive one. Initially, bacteria stick to the teeth in a biofilm layer called plaque. When plaque calcifies, we use the terms calculus or tartar. Plaque and tartar eventually extend beneath the gum line, secreting various toxins and metabolic products that create inflammation of the gingiva (gums) and periodontal tissues. With only gingival inflammation present, the disease is reversible. Once a bone loss has occurred, this damage is irreversible without regenerative surgery. Untreated, periodontal disease may have severe consequences including oral-nasal fistulas, abscess formation, osteomyelitis (bone inflammation & infection), and even oral cancers. Understandably, it’s imperative to be proactive about a pet’s dental health, heading off at the proverbial pass the onset of periodontal disease.

Traditionally, the promotion of dental health has involved two major facets: prophylactic dental cleanings and nutritional manipulations. Unquestionably, nutrition plays a pivotal role in dental health, so let’s look at two popular tactics for preventing periodontal disease. A long-held belief is dry food is better for dental health because the individual kibbles scrape plaque and tartar from the teeth. Unfortunately, dry food typically crumbles when bitten, thus providing minimal mechanical cleaning. Various companies have produced specific dental diets and treats designed for dental cleaning. When designed with the right shape, size, and structure, such diets and snacks can successfully remove plaque and tartar. One study compared a dental diet with a maintenance one. Beagles fed the dental diet had one third less plaque, and gingival inflammation compared to the Beagles fed the maintenance diet. Indeed, chewing these specially formulated dental treats and diets can help reduce the onset of periodontal disease.

What about chewing itself? Does the simple act of chewing – also called mastication – promote dental health? The answer is probably yes. We know thoroughly chewing food confers multiple benefits for humans, including absorption of more nutrients, increased exposure to saliva, and improved digestion. Indeed, chewing is the first step in digestion. Mastication breaks down food particles into smaller ones that are easier to digest. Special enzymes in saliva help break down foodstuffs and help wash away from teeth food particles so they are less likely to build up to form plaque and tartar. Furthermore, nutrients broken down through extensive chewing are more readily absorbed by the small intestine. Of course, specific muscles – called the muscles of mastication (i.e., temporalis, masseter, pterygoid, and a portion of the digastricus) – get a healthy “workout” during chewing, helping maintain muscle tone and mass. I can’t cite studies that have specifically investigated the benefits of chewing in dogs and cats. Yet given the documented digestion similarities between dogs, cats, and humans, I believe it’s fair to say our pets most likely reap the same (or at least similar) benefits of thorough mastication.

So, pet parents, please don’t underestimate the importance of good dental healthcare in your dogs and cats. Speak with your family veterinarian about preventative strategies for periodontal disease. Board-certified veterinary dentists are also available to partner with you and your family veterinarian. Chewing, especially specifically formulated dental treats, may help reduce the formation of plaque and tartar and could truly reduce the incidence of major health issues in the future.

—Dr. Christopher Byers, DVM, CriticalCareDVM
Dr. Byers on Facebook and Twitter


Yes, chewing can promote dental health.  Mastication (chewing) helps to scrape food debris, plaque (bacterial deposits), and tartar (thickened plaque) from the tooth surface.  Yet, what a dog chews is also an important part of the equation.

If a dog chews a hard object like an animal bone/antler, nylon chew, stick, or rock, there will be more resistance provided by the chewed object and potentially a greater abrasive effect on the tooth.  Yet, such hard objects hold higher potential to create gingival (gum) and tooth trauma, such as gingivitis (gum inflammation), gingival laceration (tear), attrition (wearing down of tooth surfaces), or even a tooth fracture.

If dry dog food (kibble) is chewed then the kibble shatters when the tooth penetrates the piece of kibble and will not have an abrasive effect.   This fact negates the myth that kibble will clean your pet’s teeth (but for veterinary-prescribed dental diets).

If a dental chew or softened bully stick/rawhide is chewed, there is less resistance and abrasion as compared to harder options, but such softer options still will have an abrasive effect while being safer on the gums and teeth.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Dr. Patrick on Facebook and Twitter 


Does Chewing promote dental health?

The short answer is yes, but there’s a little more to it.

If your dog has smelly breath, it’s most likely caused by a buildup of plaque.  When left in place this plaque will mineralize to form calculus or tartar.  The bacteria involved work their way into deeper tissues around the teeth causing inflammation (gingivitis), pain, infection, and often loss of teeth.  Not only to the bacteria in plaque result in a painful, unhealthy mouth, but they can enter the bloodstream and affect other parts of the body including the heart and kidneys.  It’s really, really important to keep our dogs’ teeth clean and healthy.

The most effective way to look after your dog’s dental health is just like looking after your own. Frequent brushing (at least every second day but ideally daily), and professional scaling and polishing when necessary.  It’s important to realize that once periodontal disease is present, just cleaning the crowns of the teeth (the visible part above the gumline) is a waste of time.  Professional cleaning looks after the teeth below the gum and requires general anesthesia.

Chewing has the potential to be great for teeth and gums, but chewing some things can be dangerous.  For example, chewing cooked bones is a huge no-no.  They are hard and brittle and can splinter.  This can lead to mouth injuries and more commonly, injuries and blockages further down the gastrointestinal tract. Sharp ends can perforate intestines with catastrophic results. Never, ever feed a dog cooked bones.

Dry dog food has no benefit for cleaning the teeth over any other type of food unless it is specifically designed as a dental food.  These foods are physically designed to mechanically clean the teeth, and some also contain plaque or calculus control agents.

Chewing raw, meaty bones can be helpful in keeping teeth clean – as well as very enjoyable for some dogs. Potential downsides of feeding bones include painful, fractured teeth, constipation (or sometimes diarrhea), pancreatitis, and fragments stuck in the mouth.  My own dog has a sensitive stomach and cannot tolerate meaty bones.

Some safety guidelines in feeding bones to dogs include:

  • use large bones – we want the dog to chew them, NOT eat them. Chicken necks are generally a bad idea.
  • don’t have any cut surfaces – these are more likely to result in fractured teeth, and easy access to the bone marrow is more likely to lead to pancreatitis
  • always use raw bones – NEVER cooked bones
  • don’t feed bones frozen – they are more likely to break teeth.
  • supervise pets while they are chewing bones
  • throw away the bone when chewing is finished

—Dr. Jo BVSc (hons) BSc
Dr. Jo on Facebook and Twitter


Does chewing promote dental health?

It depends on what is being chewed. Look for products with the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) for products that have been reviewed and approved by veterinary dental specialists.

Dr. Shawn Finch, DVM, Gentle Doctor Animal Hospital
Dr. Shawn on Facebook and Twitter 


Chewing is an important component of oral health in dogs.  There are several details to be aware of:

Chewing is not a substitute for regular brushing. Professional cleanings followed by regular home care will establish good oral health.

Caution must be taken not to provide chewing substrates that are hard enough to crack a tooth.

Chewing substrates that can be reduced to a chunk that can be swallowed and obstruct the GI tract should be avoided.

Chews that are impregnated with antibacterial agents may help reduce periodontal disease.

Products made in China should be avoided.

—Dr. Keith Niesenbaum, VMD, New York, Crawford Dog and Cat Hospital
Dr. Keith on Facebook and on Twitter


Yes, chewing definitely promotes dental health. Brushing is the gold standard when it comes to preventing plaque but chewing is the next best thing. I recommend sticking with VOHC approved chews, like OraVet and Greenies. This products have been tested and approved by the VOHC council and are proven to help reduce tartar.

—Dr. Anna M. Coffin, DVM, Guthrie Pet Hospital
Dr. Anna on Facebook and Twitter

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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