Many thanks to local veterinarian Nadia F. Conti, DVM, who wrote in to point out that I had unknowingly helped to perpetuate at least one misconception about canine dental care. We think it is worth it to print her letter in its entirety, and we are very happy to have been corrected by someone who knows. Dr. Conti writes:
Love your column — any article that supports the wellbeing of our pets is great. However, there are a few things I want to point out from a veterinary perspective.
You said, "Use dry food (kibble), not wet. When dogs eat kibble, the chomping, crushing action on the hard pellets naturally abrades plaque and tartar off the teeth. Wet food, on the other hand, not only does not provide this cleaning factor, but also can stick to teeth, actually accelerating decay. So give wet food on occasion as a treat, but on a daily basis, if possible, feed your dog a high-quality dry food from a reputable manufacturer."
The fact that dry food is better than wet food to reduce plaque and periodontal disease is a common fallacy and one that needs to be addressed. While foods such as Hill's Science Diet t/d have been formulated and documented to control tartar and plaque (clean) by its specially designed matrix, your standard dry dog food is unable to do this. Carnivores' sharp pointed teeth are designed to grasp, kill, and gulp food down, and the few flat-surfaced molar teeth they possess (none are present in cats) are designed to crush and grind. From a evolutionary standpoint, dog and cat teeth were largely designed to eat "wet" food (i.e. flesh from their prey) and the idea of it accelerating decay is a misconception.
You said, "Speaking of treats, you may have suspected that those oral-care focused doggie treats were nothing but a marketing ploy, but we have it from Dr. Michael Tuder, owner and director of four animal hospitals on the East Coast, that they do work. Snacks like Greenies or Natural Balance … microscopically rub against the teeth and remove debris. So compared with expensive veterinary procedures down the road, the price of dental dog treats is justified for loving dog owners."
Dental chews are a great idea, however I suggest that the ones chosen have a Veterinary Oral Health Concil (VOHC) Seal of Acceptance. This council of independent veterinary dentists receives voluntary data submitted by the companies that demonstrate the required dental efficacy - reducing the formation of plaque and tartar - and then awards the product the seal. The VOHC has a website that all can access to get a list of these products and other useful information: http://www.vohc.org/
Of course, despite our best efforts (brushing, water additives, dental chews, nutritious foods) dental disease can occur and that is why a yearly veterinary check up is important to assess the condition of teeth, and schedule a cleaning if necessary. Again, thanks for the good work of shedding light on this important topic and others.
Cheers to you,
Nadia F. Conti, DVM
Scarborough Animal Hospital