Updated: Feb 21
With approximately 88% of dogs and 70% of cats showing signs of dental disease by three years old, it’s no wonder pet parents are interested in making sure their pet stays firmly on the other side of those statistics. After all, our pet’s teeth can “feed” into the rest of their overall health.
To keep their teeth pearly white, pet parents often reach for foods that promise easy, no-fuss plaque prevention, like kibble. But the truth behind kibble’s teeth-cleaning powers is often overstated and can, in most cases, actually make your pet’s dental health even worse.
Let’s break down two of the most common myths we hear about kibble’s supposed teeth-cleaning powers and why dental health should be one of your priorities when it comes to maintaining your pet’s overall well-being.
Myth #1: “Kibble Scrapes Teeth Clean”
If you don’t look at it too closely, this theory might stand up. Abrasion to clean teeth? Seems reasonable. But when we look at this with the same critical eye—or rather, feel—of how we eat and care for our teeth, we can see how this theory might fall apart.
Take cereal, for example. It’s made with some similar ingredients (like carbs) as kibble and goes through the same high-heat extrusion process. Have you ever finished a bowl of cereal and thought your teeth felt perfectly clean with no fuzzy after-feel?
We’re betting you haven’t.
Kibble isn’t an effective method of scraping teeth clean because of the way it, you know, explodes into hundreds of tiny particles that get stuck along the gum lines. Furthermore, the individual kibbles are often too small to scrape away any plaque build-up. If your pet has ever thrown up after a meal (looking at you, cat pet parents), you might see full, un-chewed kibbles in the leftover mess—it often doesn’t even get broken down!
And if your pet does chew their kibble? It might remove a bit of plaque from their teeth, but dry pet food won’t tackle the problem areas around their gum line. Plus, it comes with a host of other problematic ingredients that don’t make it worth what little benefits it might offer for cleaner teeth.
Myth #2: “Kibble Has Ingredients That Prevent Plaque”
Some companies tout the fact that they make their kibble with ingredients that help prevent plaque from building up. Good luck with them telling you outright what those ingredients are, though!
Even if these ingredients are beneficial to preventing plaque, it’s an uphill battle. All kibble has some amount—usually quite a bit—of starches and carbohydrates, which break down into sugars.
Remember when you were told as a kid that sugar rots your teeth? We’re sorry to say that’s not an urban myth from your youth. It’s true, and it also applies to your dog or cat’s teeth!
Once the carbohydrates in kibble break down into sugar, it reacts with the bacteria in the plaque on their teeth and produces an acid that can dissolve the enamel, leading to cavities. If you’re not actively brushing your pet’s teeth after every meal, you’ll be allowing more plaque to build up—which will harden into tartar that has to be removed by your vet—and the cycle continues, getting worse every time.
While you could (and should) be brushing your pet’s teeth frequently to combat this, you’ll essentially be making more work for yourself without any real benefit to your pet. Sure, you may be keeping plaque from building up, but you’ll also be resigning yourself to all the detrimental aspects of kibble on the rest of your pet’s overall health too.
Why It Matters
Keeping your pet’s teeth clean is important for more reasons than just saving you from stinky pet breath.
The thing about periodontal disease is that it develops gradually, with some issues not becoming clearly apparent until it’s too late, especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for! If you’re not regularly checking in on your pet’s dental health, it can be easy to miss some early warning signs.
As plaque—the fuzzy film on teeth that can be brushed away—continues to build up, it hardens into a yellow-brown covering called tartar which can only be scraped away by a professional, just like when we visit the dentist. However, if tartar is left for too long, it can spread to under the gumline and cause gingivitis, which is when the gumline becomes swollen, irritated, and potentially bleeding. Then, if gingivitis is left too long, that’s when periodontitis comes in: a serious infection that weakens the supportive structure of teeth and can result in tooth loss.
But wait, it gets worse! Once your pet’s gums start bleeding, it becomes an open highway for bacteria to spread from their mouth all around their body. Periodontal disease is closely associated with cardiopulmonary disease, neurological decline, and risk of cancers. All from not caring for their teeth properly!
Scraping Away Bad Dental Practices
Brushing your pet’s teeth is by far the most reliable way to care for your pet’s teeth and thereby their overall health. However, you can save yourself some stress by feeding foods that actually help clean teeth (like raw meaty bones, aka nature’s toothbrush), promoting a preventative oral microbiome (like a raw diet!), and avoiding foods with excessive amounts of starches and carbs that accelerate the progress of periodontal disease. Remember, when it comes to maintaining your pet’s health, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!