Pet Dental Diets, Treats & Antiseptics

Dental diets, dental treats and chewing exercise:  There is no solid research that supports many of the dental health claims made by many manufacturers of diets, treats and chew objects for pets.  The masticatory forces on food can create frictional forces that are physically able to prevent accumulation of plaque, and even remove it. Where this beneficial effect occurs is at the incisal or cusp areas of the teeth. These same forces, however, are less effective at the gingival margin where the plaque and calculus accumulations are most important. Therefore, the natural cleaning forces of mastication, and the food type, are limited to the regions of the tooth that are at less risk for periodontal disease.

It is important to remember the evolutionary function of carnivores…they are meat eaters.  The function of carnivore oral behavior is to grasp, pull and hold prey. This is followed by cutting and tearing meat before crushing and gulping. Carnivore teeth are not designed to chew bones or other objects harder than the teeth.  Fractured teeth are a problem of epidemic proportions in our domestic canine population. Starving wild animals may elect to chew bones, however, they also can break their teeth which places them at a survival disadvantage (survival of the fittest). Dental treats and chew objects should be considered as only part of preventative dental health care. In conjunction with daily tooth brushing, dental diets and regular professional cleanings, toys and treats can play an important part of oral health care maintenance.

Strictly avoid bones (cooked or uncooked), cow hoofs, pig ears, hard & thick rawhides, plastic or nylon bones, plastic bottles, any antlers and large ice cubes. Tennis balls and other objects with abrasive surfaces should also be avoided as these have a sandpaper like effect on tooth structure that damages the tooth and may expose the pulp.  The flatter, softer rawhide chews have been shown to be safe and effective in reducing the rate of plaque accumulation.  C.E.T. Hextra rawhide chews contain chlorhexidine which enhances their effectiveness.  Kong toys are of a firm rubber design, come in a variety of shapes & sizes and some allow you to place cheese or peanut butter inside to improve acceptance. For cats, C.E.T. Oral Hygiene Chews for cats contain products that help provide antibacterial effects in the mouth.

Take note: you must always monitor your pet when they are chewing on anything.  Verify they’re not gagging, trying to ingest too much at one time or attempting to eat an inedible product. Please refer to Animal Dentistry & Oral Surgery’s article on Safe and Appropriate chew objects.  Using products with the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of acceptance is recommended as these products have successfully met strict pre-set requirements for veterinary dental efficacy and safety.

Dental chew objects do not replace toothbrushing. They are generally inadequate in removing plaque in most pets and entirely inadequate in controlling plaque in areas of already established periodontal disease (pocketing).

How do pet dental friendly diets work and which ones are available?  History proves that improved nutrition is a major reason pets live longer and lead healthier lives. From a nutritional standpoint with pet foods, it is a wise decision to purchase the best food you can afford.  Dry foods are considered a little better than canned foods because they have some abrasive activity which helps remove plaque from the crowns of the teeth.  Soft foods will generally result in greater plaque accumulation than hard diets. Hard diets are less likely than canned foods to become packed between teeth and in the gingival crevices.  However, even on the harder diets, plaque and calculus does accumulate and periodontal disease is evident. Several commercial foods have received the respected VOHC seal of approval for demonstrating product effectiveness and safety. Dental diets can effectively reduce some plaque and calculus accumulation, but do not eliminate it. Hill’s prescription diet Canine and Feline t/d® and Science Diet Oral Care® are both balanced nutritionally and have a good “mesh type” effect.  Dietary fibers are arranged more parallel than many of the dry foods, and the kibble is larger, forcing the teeth to penetrate the kibble rather than shattering it, thus providing additional abrasive action to help keep the teeth cleaner above the gum line.  Eukanuba Dental Defense Diet, Friskies Dental Diet and Royal Canin Diets contain a chemical coating (polyphosphates) on their kibble. This chemical is activated in the mouth and safely delays calculus (tarter) build-up.  It is important to understand that dental diets have limited effectiveness and do not replace the need for tooth brushing and professional cleanings. This is especially important to appreciate for those pets that already have PD.

Pet Drinking Water Additives: There is relatively little scientific research to support the claims made by many manufacturers of water additives and oral sprays for adequate plaque control.  Where the desire is to make “evidence based” recommendations, the evidence for support of these products is low.  There are serious health risks associated with some of these products that are actually available over the counter.  Some of the sweeteners (Xylitol) used are known toxins for animals. It is recommended that additives only be used with your veterinarians’ direction. Oral bacteria produce gases which account for the halitosis (bad breath) associated with gum disease.  Various products are designed to reduce this oral odor, however, they may be doing nothing towards actually eliminating the bacteria (cause of the problem). Healthy Mouth® Anti-plaque Water Additive is the only VOHC approved water additive.

Oral Antiseptic Products: These are chemical plaque control products.  The only ones in this category worth mentioning are those containing 0.12% Chlorhexidine gluconate (CHX). CHX products are excellent for patients with established periodontal disease. CHX is the gold standard oral antiseptic and there is nothing close to comparing with it. CHX products are generally prescription products that should only be used under the direction of a veterinarian.  Antiseptic solutions are designed for twice a day usage and the gold standard ingredient is 0.12% Chlorhexidine gluconate. The rinse is applied by squirting a small amount inside the cheek on either side of the mouth. CHX is inactivated by organic matter.  Although CHX can stain the teeth, the staining is usually of the plaque and calculus, and is removable.  This is the most effective antibacterial (also antiviral) agent that can be utilized in the mouth and it works by binding to the teeth and other oral tissues. It is slowly released into the oral cavity over a 12 hour period.  Chlorhexidine rinses are also good for cats, however, some tolerate the flavor & others do not.

For the best results, use the chemical plaque control (CHX rinsing) to augment the effect of mechanical plaque removal (toothbrushing).

Several products contain zinc ascorbate. This has antiseptic properties, but also benefits gingival health by promoting collagen formation and epithelialization of ulcerated tissues.  Maxiguard™ oral formula (Addison Biological Laboratory) is an example of this type of product. It can also beneficial after oral surgery for its antimicrobial and healing promoting effects.