For the veterinary team: Making the most of dental health (Sponsored by Iams)


Strategies for addressing the large population of pets with dental disease that go unnoticed by their owners.

In 2011, more than 1,000 dog and cat owners participated in an online survey about their awareness of and behavior toward pet oral care.1 The results revealed that only 20% of the owners of pets older than 3 years felt that their pets had dental disease. Unfortunately, these survey results do not correlate with the report recently released by Banfield, The Pet Hospital,2 in which more than 2.1 million dogs and 450,000 cats were evaluated by veterinary professionals. In that report, about 70% of dogs from 3 to 10 years old and 60% of cats from 3 to 10 years old were found to have dental tartar (calculus). Based on these findings and other similar studies, it is evident that there is a large population of pets with dental disease not recognized by their owners.

Nutrition and dental health

A rational approach to diminishing the chance of a dog or cat developing periodontal disease is to decrease the accumulation of plaque and tartar. The gold standard for plaque control is daily tooth brushing, but sadly, only a small percentage of pet owners brush their pet's teeth. Fortunately, there are other proven approaches to controlling plaque and tartar formation, including mechanical and non-mechanical management through diets and treats.

Tartar Accumulation (click to enlarge)

When daily tooth brushing is not possible, other mechanical means can be used to brush plaque from the tooth surface. Examples of such products include certain pet foods, flexible rubber chew toys, soluble dental chews, and rawhide products. With some of these products, the efficacy is limited because only the teeth in contact with the product — primarily the chewing teeth — will benefit from the brushing action.

Non-mechanical management of tartar accumulation includes compounds or natural ingredients that decrease the formation of plaque, the adhesion of plaque on the tooth surface, and the formation of tartar. One such compound is sodium hexametaphosphate (SHMP), which has demonstrated dental benefits by reducing tartar formation when applied to the outside of kibble (see sidebar: Sodium hexametaphosphate: Effective tartar-reducing agent). The benefit extends to all teeth, not just those used for chewing and grinding. Some dental health products combine mechanical and non-mechanical management. This combination would appear to be the best of both worlds, brushing plaque from tooth surfaces and decreasing the mineralization of plaque into tartar.

Sodium hexametaphosphate: Effective tartar-reducing agent (click to enlarge)

Canine study support

SHMP efficacy in reducing tartar accumulation

Three studies have been conducted using Eukanuba® adult foods to test the effectiveness of the SHMP technology in reducing tartar accumulation.3 The studies were of a crossover design and were conducted using the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) protocol.4 All studies were conducted on adult dogs with normal dentition. In each study, dogs were stratified into two groups with foods randomly assigned to each group.

All dogs received a dental cleaning at the start of the study and were then assigned to a control diet group or a group fed a diet with an SHMP coating. At the end of 28 days, the dogs were evaluated for tartar, their teeth were cleaned, and they were switched to the opposite diet. At the end of the second 28 days, the dogs were evaluated for tartar accumulation again.

Meta-analysis of the clinical studies shows that the food coated with SHMP significantly reduced the rate of tartar buildup by up to 80% in 28 days (p < 0.05) when compared with a food that did not have a coating of SHMP. Average reduction in tartar accumulation was 47%.


The high occurrence of dental health problems in the general pet population warrants an e. ort to increase awareness and develop effective dental care strategies. Optimal pet oral care requires a partnership between the veterinarian and the pet owner. Dentistry should be incorporated into the overall preventive health care program starting with the puppy or kitten. Clients play an important role in performing daily activities that promote oral health, including daily plaque and tartar control and dietary choices. Nutrition can provide dental benefits as shown in canine studies with SHMP-coated kibble. In some homes, feeding a pet food with proven oral health benefits may be the only step taken to reduce the accumulation of plaque and tartar.


1. Data on file. Client dental survey. Trone Inc., Jan 2011.

2. Banfield Pet Hospital® State of Pet Health 2012 Report. Available at:

3. Johnson RB, et al. Dietary technology for inhibition of calculus formation in companion animals. Recent Advances in Dental Health Management. Presented at 8th World Veterinary Dental Congress. The Iams Company: Dayton, Ohio, 2003;23-25.

4. Veterinary Oral Health Council. Protocols and submissions. Available at:

5. Data on file. P&G Pet Care, 2012.

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