A picture of a dog's teeth with the plaque visible


Oral Health

Digital technique to detect pets' dental plaque

Waltham scientists have optimised a digital technique used in human medicine to measure the amount of plaque on dogs’ and cats’ teeth, which will help develop better dental products for pets.

Most dogs and cats will suffer from gum disease during their lives. Although reversible in the early stages, the consequences as it progresses are significant. Without veterinary intervention, pain and tooth loss are inevitable.

As with so many conditions, prevention is better than cure. When it comes to gum disease, there are different ways in which pet owners can support a healthy mouth. The gold standard for care is tooth brushing. To download a free guide on how to brush your pet’s teeth, click here. However, the proportion of owners that do this is small due to a variety of reasons, such as time and pet compliance.

To provide additional support for healthy mouths, there are a number of dental chews available. However, identifying which products are most effective when in a store can be confusing. To help, the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) award their seal of approval to dental solutions that limit the accumulation of plaque and calculus on pets’ teeth.

Seal of approval

To be able to display the VOHC seal of approval on packaging, the product must be shown to be effective at restricting the formation of plaque and calculus. This is essential for preventing the development of gum disease. In order to determine if a chew is effective, the VOHC have pre-set requirements for conducting a trial in animals. This covers the format of the study, as well as the methods by which tooth deposits are measured in the pets’ mouths

Currently, plaque is recorded by specially trained people. As with any subjective scoring method, accuracy is variable between scorers, but also between animals. The process also takes time to mark results for each tooth and surface.

Digital Scoring

Scientists at WALTHAM have been working to optimise a technique already used in human research called Quantitative Light-induced Fluorescence (QLFTM) for pets. The imaging method involves shining blue light on the teeth and then a digital photo is taken. The bacteria in plaque naturally fluoresce when lit and this is then captured in the image. Modified computer software can then be used to quantify the extent of plaque coverage on the teeth of cats or dogs. The improved accuracy of this objective digital method compared to the current manual scoring technique have been published in peer-reviewed journals.

VOHC endorsement

This newly modified QLF protocol for pets has now been endorsed by the VOHC and the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC). This means that trials for dental product efficacy can now utilise this rapid and accurate method. “Using QLF to quantify the extent of plaque coverage on teeth in pets is a great step forward” explained Dr Corrin Wallis, lead scientist at WALTHAM. “The greater accuracy means that fewer pets are needed in efficacy studies. The brief time it takes to obtain an image of the teeth also means that the process is up to three times faster.”

Find out more about the research in “shining a light on pet dental health”.