Daily tooth brushing and professional dental cleanings on an as-needed basis are the best ways to prevent the formation of periodontal disease in dogs, but diet can play an important role. This is especially true when daily tooth brushing is not possible, either because of a dog’s temperament or an owner’s inability to brush regularly.
I commonly hear owners say that one of the reasons that they feed their dogs dry food versus canned food is that they think kibble will help keep their dog’s teeth clean. Scientifically speaking, the effects of “regular” dry food (i.e., diets not specifically designed to promote oral health) appear to be somewhat mixed.
Studies from the 1930s, '40s, and '60s showed that dogs who ate dry food had better oral health than did those who ate canned. On the other hand, a large study from 1996 looked at 1,350 client owned dogs in North America and found “few apparent differences” between dogs that ate dry food only versus “other than dry food only” eaters with regards to their levels of dental tartar, gingivitis, and periodontal bone loss.
This 1996 study held sway when I completed veterinary school 15 years ago, but more recent research adds an interesting twist to the debate. A study published in 2007 looked at the effects of the size of the kibble in 40 beagles and found that increasing the kibble size by 50% resulted in a 42% decrease in the accumulation of dental tartar. Also, several recent studies have shown that adding a daily dental chew to the diets of dogs fed “regular” dry dog food results in better oral hygiene than does the dry food alone.
Many food manufacturers make special dental diets as well, but if these are not an appropriate option for your dog it is good to know that “regular” dry food in the form of large kibbles and/or a daily dental chew can help keep your dog’s mouth healthier than it would be otherwise. The Veterinary Oral Health Council’s website is a good place to find foods, chews, and other products that have been undergone testing to ensure they truly do help to reduce the build-up of dental plaque and/or tartar.
But keep in mind that no food — dry, canned, homemade, prescription, or over the counter — will eliminate the need for regular dental evaluations and cleanings performed by a veterinarian. After all, we brush our teeth twice a day and still see our dentists twice a year … or at least we should.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Correlation of diet, other chewing activities and periodontal disease in North American client-owned dogs. Harvey CE, Shofer FS, Laster L. J Vet Dent. 1996 Sep;13(3):101-5
Effect of pellet food size and polyphosphates in preventing calculus accumulation in dogs. Hennet P, Servet E, Soulard Y, Biourge V. J Vet Dent. 2007 Dec;24(4):236-9.
Effectiveness of a vegetable dental chew on periodontal disease parameters in toy breed dogs. Clarke DE, Kelman M, Perkins N. J Vet Dent. 2011 Winter;28(4):230-5.
Oral health benefits of a daily dental chew in dogs. Quest BW. J Vet Dent. 2013 Summer;30(2):84-7.
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