Water Additives: Are They REALLY As Effective As Brushing?

by Cate Burnette, RVT

With Pet Dental Health Month just ending, many pet owners are probably wondering just what exactly they need to do to keep their dog’s teeth and gums healthy from one yearly veterinary cleaning to the next. Traditionally, vets have suggested regular, at-home brushing to help prevent plaque and calculus, reduce the chance of infection, and keep your pooch’s breath fresh. With the advent of new water additives and at-home oral rinses in the pet marketplace, we wanted to take a look at some of those products and see what ingredients are in them, and if they are as effective as the friction caused brushing.

What are water additives and how do they work?

Water additives and at-home dental rinses are a relatively new development in pet dental health. Marketed to veterinarians and pet parents as a tool to prevent dental problems in dogs, the additives are supposed to be dropped into your dog’s drinking water on a daily basis and are billed as a safe, healthy alternative to regular tooth brushing. Dental rinses are essentially the same product formulated into a liquid gel that can be squirted on the teeth after meal times.

Several of the additives say that the chemical ingredients used to manufacture them break down the carbohydrate molecules that help to form the plaque on your dog’s teeth. Other additives claim they use particular chemicals and natural ingredients to reduce bad breath, kill microbes, and prevent calculus. However, using a water additive is similar to us using a mouth wash. It’s a nice addition to our dental routine, but we certainly wouldn’t replace brushing with mouth wash. The same goes for our canine companions. Nothing is going to be as efficient as the friction on the tooth from the brush.

What are some of the ingredients in water additives?

Ingredients in water additives include such organics as a mixture of mutanase and dextranase enzymes to break down filmy plaque on teeth, zinc gluconate, a mineral zinc salt used as an anti-bacterial agent, cetylpyridinium chloride, a chemical antiseptic found in some pesticides, and chlorhexidine gluconate, another chemical antiseptic.

The use of chlorhexidine gluconate in at-home dental rinses is particularly troubling to some veterinarians because the chemical is contraindicated for use near the eyes, ears, and mouth of animal patients, yet the manufacturers of products containing this chemical offer it as an alternative to regular in-home brushing. The most common side effects associated with chlorhexidine gluconate oral rinses include an actual increase in calculus formation, stomatitis (an inflammation of the mucosal lining of the mouth and gums), and an inflammation of the salivary glands.

Additionally, products containing chlorhexidine have been associated with a high incidence of deafness in cats and thus are not recommended for felines or internal use in humans.

Some products also contain xylitol, a canine antibiotic known to cause stomach upset in some dogs.

Does home brushing still work?

Most veterinarians still recommend daily tooth brushing to help prevent dental disease in your pet, even if you choose to use a water additive or oral rinse. Even the manufacturers of these products suggest that daily brushing is essential for good oral hygiene and that their additives and rinses be used in conjunction with regular vet checkups and at-home brushing.

For those pet parents that want that something extra to help keep doggy breath fresh and teeth clean and white, there are all-natural, organic dental wipes and probiotic sprays on the market that reduce plaque and tartar, freshen breath, and use human grade ingredients safe for people, puppies, and other pets. Additionally, all-natural toothpastes combined with a special doggy brush allow you to reach all the surfaces of your dog’s teeth while disinfecting the whole mouth. These toothpastes are also formulated with human grade ingredients making them safe for your dog’s digestive system.

For those pet parents wanting to keep chemicals and additives away from their sensitive pups, brushing with a naturalc paste still seems the best way to prevent canine dental disease.

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1 Comment

  1. My geriatric dog is VERY mouth sensitive. He hates sprays and won’t let me in his mouth, (He wore braces as a pup…..) He is too old for a regular dental (20 yoa; anesthesia not recommended), He gets a once a month therapeutic injection of a dental anti-biotic. I am casting around for something effective to help him on a daily basis. **Of the liquids to be added to the water, can you recommend the most effective one in your judgement.** He is in good health, according to his latest work-up, and within normal range on all counts.


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