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Does Kibble Really Clean Your Dog's Teeth?

Updated on June 24, 2015

Does dry food clean dog teeth?

does kibble clean dog teeth?
does kibble clean dog teeth?

Dry kibble will help clean your dog's teeth... how many people have heard this statement either from a vet or a pet store owner? This information has been quite popular throughout the years, to an extent that it's become almost common knowledge. Sure, it sort of makes sense if you think about it, that dry, hard food must have some abrasive action on a dog's teeth to a certain extent, but how true is it that it can help clean a dog's teeth? If the statement would hold true, given the fact that most dogs are fed kibble, wouldn't dogs have less dental problems and wouldn't it be unlikely to find a kibble-fed dog with tooth and gum issues?

Instead, it turns out that statistics show a gloomy ordeal. According to Dr. René Carlson, president of the AVMA, by the age of two, it's estimated that 80 percent of dogs a have some form of periodontal disease. Eighty percent is sure a very high percentage especially considering that dogs are still very young at the age of two... and the issue is also surely quite extensive considering that in these days, according to Dr. Carlson, periodontal disease is the most common health problem veterinarians see in pets!

This article is therefore meant to show another side of the story. Looking beyond the idea that dry food cleans teeth reveals some interesting facts. Or course, this article is not a substitute for professional nutritional or veterinary advice, it's simply the product of my research on the topic. If you are looking for effective teeth cleaning products or advice, consult with your vet, holistic vet or veterinary specialist. Links and references can be verified by clicking on the hyperlinks to learn more. For a better understanding here are a few explanations of the terms used in this article.

Plaque: a white or pale yellow slimy biofilm coating the dog's tooth surfaces. It's made of a combination of food residue, saliva and bacteria. At this soft stage, plaque can be easily removed with a toothbrush before it calcifies and turns into tartar.

Tartar: also known as calculus, this is a form of hardened plaque found on the dog's teeth surface, along the gums and under the gums. Plaque turns into tartar when not removed in a timely manner and hardens when it mixes with calcium and salt found in a dog's saliva. Because of its rock-hard consistency, it's difficult to remove and often requires a veterinarian to scrape off under anesthesia using a scaler.

Periodontal disease: when tartar accumulates along the gum line or deep under the gums, it compromises the health of the gums causing them to swell, become inflamed, infected, easy to bleed and the dog may develop bad breath. Left untreated it could lead to receding gums, bone destruction and loss of teeth. Even worse, bacteria from tartar can enter the dog's bloodstream and infect important organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys.

Kibble is no better for your pet’s teeth than crunchy human food is for your teeth. It would never occur to you to eat a handful of peanut brittle to remove plaque and tartar from your teeth.

— Dr. Karen Becker

If kibble plays a role in the problem of plaque and tartar accumulation in dogs, what foods may work better? Canned food for sure isn't the answer. Many holistic vets advocate feeding a raw diet comprised of raw meaty bones for dental health. According to veterinarian Sara Chapman even ground raw diets prove beneficial, as unlike starchy kibble, they don't stick to a dog's teeth and they contain natural enzymes.

4 Good Reasons Why Kibble Doesn't Clean Dog Teeth

Kibble may appear like hard, crunchy food, but does it really clean teeth? Statistics show that a great quantity of dogs suffer periodontal disease from quite a young age, which makes the dry food statements of kibble cleaning teeth quite hard to believe. If kibble really cleans teeth, then why must dog owners brush their dog's teeth? If it really cleaned teeth, then why are so many dogs affected by tartar and periodontal disease starting at such a young age? Why are so many dogs in need of dental cleanings? Turns out, kibble not only doesn't clean teeth, but some of its ingredients may actually predispose dogs to periodontal disease! Let's see what the experts in the field say.

Wolfed Down and Gone...

Next time you feed your dog some kibble, watch him eat it. Do you hear any crunchy noises? Many dogs will just gulp that chow down like there's no tomorrow, so forget any dental benefits if those kibbles are swallowed instead of chewed! Add to that that the fact that many types of kibble are quite small, which further encourages a dog to gulp dry food down easily or barely chew it.

A Matter of Texture

And for those dogs who really chew their kibble, the dental benefits are minimal. Indeed, when chewed, the dry food easily shatters in small pieces before the tooth penetrates them, and these small pieces are readily swallowed. To be effective in cleaning teeth, dogs need to chew for a longer time, targeting specific areas and the food must be of a certain texture. Kibble fails to scrape down the lower parts of the teeth or near the gums, which are the most problematic areas, reports holistic veterinarian Dr. Jean.

According to veterinarian Karen Becker, expecting kibble to clean a dog's teeth is like expecting peanut brittle to remove plaque and tartar from your teeth! Kibble being promoted for its teeth cleaning properties is a myth and the idea that it keeps your dog's teeth clean is just plain silly!

A Matter or Size

We talked about how dogs wolf down their kibble, and this is often because kibble is quite small and easy to swallow. There's kibble and kibble though. Bigger kibble may provide more dental benefits, so what if the kibble was made of a larger size? According to a study published in 2007 by Hennet P, et al, when 40 beagles were fed a kibble that was 50 percent larger in diameter, there was a 42% decrease in tartar accumulation. Some of my boarding clients feed their dogs Hill's T/D, and for those not familiar with this food meant to clean teeth, those kibbles are huge! Too bad that despite the size, the ingredient list isn't impressive, which brings us to the next, factor.

A Matter of Ingredients

To make matters even worse, kibble is often a source of starches and refined carbohydrates, which are known for promoting the buildup of tartar and plaque. According to the Whole Dog Journal, food labeled as "grain free" contain some type of carbs under the form or potato, sweet potatoes, tapioca, or peas. When a dog chews on kibble, the easily shattered parts tend to stick between the teeth, and the problem with carbohydrates sticking to a dog's teeth is that they metabolize into sugar which feeds bacteria and leads to plaque, tartar and periodontal disease. This is why you should brush your dog's teeth, so you can remove those food particles and the soft plaque.

To get an idea of the extent of the problem, you can see pictures reflecting a quite dramatic transformation after raw-fed dogs were fed kibble for only 17 days. Visit this article in Dogs Naturally Magazine.

The Bottom Line

There are not many recent studies on the effect of dry food on teeth other than the 2007 one mentioned above. A 1996 study was quite a disappointment considering this statement: "There were few apparent differences seen in dogs fed dry food only compared with those fed other than dry food only." And a later 2002 study showed that dogs fed dental foods showed a 39 percent reduction of plaque and a 36 percent reduction in gingivitis. These statistics aren't very impressive and nothing is said though about the ability of removing tartar or plaque and tartar from problematic areas, which given the above factors, is quite understandable why.

So does kibble clean teeth? While statistics show it does reduce some plaque, it's also true that there are no studies that show that kibble is a significant cause of dental disease, ut overall, there's little to be excited about. At the most, it appears that dry food may help remove a little bit of plaque found on the rear teeth as the dog chews, but it's a far cry from removing the plaque and rock-hard tartar that's found at the base of the gums and under the gum line,where dogs need cleaned the most. The bottom line is that no dog food is really capable of eliminating the need for brushing a dog's teeth and cannot be used a substitute for veterinary dental cleanings. After all, even in us humans, despite religiously brushing our teeth, we still require routine check-ups and professional cleanings--and the same seem to apply to our four-legged companions.....

Disclaimer: this article is a product of my research on the topic and not to be used as a substitute for professional nutritional or veterinary advice. By reading my article you accept this disclaimer.

Alexadry© all rights reserved, do not copy

In general, the texture of your pet's food does not make a dramatic difference in tartar and calculus build up. What does make a difference, is brushing your pets teeth daily and chewing on specially formulated chew toys or treats.

— Donna Solomon, DVM


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    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 

      5 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      Excellent information a really well written and informative Hub.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Alexa, this was a great hub article on canine dental care and dry dog food. It's well executed with excellent thought-out points and useful to all dog owners. Voted up!


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