Commercial dog diets are now available in most supermarkets, pet shops, online and in veterinary surgeries. They are classed as a complete food containing all the necessary ingredients to be the sole food for a dog. However, there is a great variation in the contents and nutritional value. Veterinary – or “Prescription” – diets are aimed towards helping manage conditions. They should be used as per the instructions from your veterinary practice. One of the most interesting is the “Dental diet” – so how does it work?

Periodontal disease is commonly seen in adult dogs, often discovered in a routine appointment for vaccinations, and accounts for a large amount of tooth loss. It involves inflammation (swelling) and redness of the gums and can cause halitosis (bad breath). Periodontal disease is caused by the buildup of plaque. After eating, bacteria in the mouth will cause plaque to build up on teeth, showing a need for control regularly. The control of plaque through various methods affects the amount of periodontal disease and these methods include; toothbrushing, gels, water additives, chews and diets. In this article we’ll focus on dental diets, other methods can be discussed with your Veterinary surgeon in more detail. 

Dental Diets

Dental diets work by helping to alter the plaque build up, cleanse tooth surfaces and stimulate saliva flow. They come in a range of brands and flavours. 

Formulated to clean?

The consistency of food can affect plaque buildup on teeth directly, but many foods may claim to do so without actually having the correct data to back them up. It has often been said that soft food diets can actually cause more plaque build up, and thus periodontal disease, due to the way the food accumulates around the tooth during eating, allowing a surface for plaque to stick to. 

However, this has not been proven to be true. Some pets fed exclusively soft foods may have better teeth than those fed solely dry diets, as it comes down to more than just composition; but a dental specific diet is different to a traditional dry food. When a dog bites down on a standard dry diet the kibble breaks up which in turn does not help with physical cleaning of the tooth. 

In a specifically designed dental diet, when the tooth comes into contact with the kibble it remains intact, causing a physical abrasive-type cleaning action. 

A dental diet should always allow maximum contact with the tooth and increase chewing. Dry diets require more chewing and therefore more saliva is produced when eating which in turn helps to remove residues within the mouth. The shape of the kibble is therefore important in comparison to the size of the tooth to allow this cleaning action. This is why many manufacturers produce different forms of the diet (with different kibble sizes) for different-sized dogs.

Fibre also helps in conjunction with the right shape kibble to aid this cleansing mechanism. Fibre in general means more chewing and so more contact time with the tooth preventing build up of plaque. However, the specific type of fibre and amount within dental diets helps to promote this further. 

Other benefits

Some dental diets also contain a binding agent that attaches to calcium and prevents plaque building up.

Products that are approved for helping prevent plaque accumulation will carry the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) seal of acceptance to prove they are suitable and have undergone assessment. These are the only dental diets that have been proven to be effective, although others may contain the words dental on them. VOHC approved dental diets for dogs currently (November 2022) include:

  • Canagan Dental for Dogs
  • Eukanuba Adult Maintenance Diet for Dogs
  • Hills HealthyAdvantage™ Oral Care for Dogs
  • Hills Prescription Diet Canine t/d®   (Tooth Diet)
  • Iams Chunk Dental Defense Diet for Dogs
  • Hills Science Diet Oral Care
  • Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets DH (Dental Health) Canine Formula
  • Royal Canin® Veterinary Care Nutrition™ Canine Dental

The importance of a complete diet

Dental diets are a complete food and have a number of other characteristics making them a suitable food for an adult dog in the long term, as they contain all the necessary nutritional components at the levels required. Some companies manufacture a smaller size kibble for small breed dogs to get the most benefit of the mechanical cleansing action. It is often more appealing to small breeds to have smaller food too. 

So, how effective are they?

If used as the sole food for a dog, dental diets can be highly effective in preventing plaque build up, maintaining healthy gums and oral hygiene. Some manufacturers claim the dental diet reduces tartar build up by up to 99%. 

It is still important, though, to take your dog for annual vet visits, alongside daily toothbrushing if possible, to give the dogs the best chance of having good oral care. Please speak to your vets for further information.