WALTHAM™ Oral Health research

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The oral health research group’s goal is to understand the mechanisms of oral disease in cats and dogs to enable the design of effective oral care solutions

Gum disease is one of the most common diseases in both cats and dogs. Incidence varies depending on the populations and breeds studied; in dogs the estimates range from 44-64% of all individuals [Butkovic et al., 2001, Hamp et al., 1984] and in cats from 72-98% [Lommer & Verstraete, 2001, Girard et al., 2009].

While human gum disease has been extensively studied, there is limited research into the condition in cats and dogs. To innovate and design effective oral care solutions for cats and dogs, the unique nature and specific mechanisms underlying their oral diseases need to be understood.

Human research has shown that bacteria growing on the surface of the teeth in a substance called plaque trigger gum disease. However, it is the body’s immune system which is responsible for the majority of symptoms. WALTHAM is investigating the role of bacteria in gum disease in cats and dogs through a number of different projects:

Research started by identifying all the different types of bacteria present in dogs’ mouths. Only 16% of bacteria found in human plaque were also found in dog plaque, indicating that plaque development is likely to be different in these two species [Dewhirst et al., 2012]. Using state of the art DNA sequencing methods we have begun to better understand which specific bacterial species are associated with healthy plaque and plaque from dogs with gum disease [Davis et al., 2013].  Further work has for the first time has elucidated the temporal dynamics of the canine oral microbiota. This has demonstrated that gum disease results from a sequence of events predominantly characterised by a reduction of previously abundant, health associated bacteria [Wallis et al., 2015]. WALTHAM has used a similar approach to identify the bacteria found in cat mouths and, just as was observed in dogs, these bacterial populations do not closely match those found in humans [Dewhirst et al., 2015; Harris et al., 2015].

Our studies suggest that, given the differences between human and cat/dog oral bacteria, it is important to test dental health interventions on relevant cat and dog bacteria, rather than on human-specific bacteria. A novel method to isolate and grow previously uncultivable bacterial species in the laboratory [Davis et al., 2014] has provided an archive of cat and dog specific bacteria; a vital resource to support in this area. This archive has also enabled WALTHAM to develop an understanding of how the bacteria in plaque interact as a community, and which bacterial species are the first to colonise dog teeth [Holcombe et al., 2014].

WALTHAM has also investigated the clinical manifestation of gum disease in some breeds of dogs and has shown that in the absence of an oral care regime, miniature schnauzers rapidly develop the disease. This also highlighted where in the mouth the disease is most likely to occur [Marshall et al., 2014].

Collectively we believe that this research will help drive the development of a new generation of cat and dog oral care interventions. The results have been widely published in scientific and veterinary journals, and shared at key international conferences. Our ultimate goal is to create a better world for pets by providing oral care solutions that work for both cats and dogs, as well as their owners.


Pioneering techniques for pet oral health research

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Being able to evaluate the quantity of plaque on the tooth surface is essential in determining the efficacy of oral hygiene products for plaque removal and is a vital first step in the route through to preventing gum disease. Several plaque quantification techniques have been developed for use in cats and dogs, but these are subjective (relying on human interpretation), and time consuming. To address these technological limitations WALTHAM has investigated the applicability of a technique originally developed for human research called Quantitative Light-induced Fluorescence (QLF™) to canine oral health research. This innovative technique uses a specialised camera imaging system to visualise plaque on teeth and the quantity of the visualised plaque is then assessed using computer software. WALTHAM™ research has demonstrated that the QLF technique is sensitive, repeatable and reproducible in the assessment of plaque deposition in dogs [Wallis et al., 2016]. In line with our caring science approach and the 3Rs guidelines for animal research (reduction, replacement, refinement), the sensitivity of the QLF technique means that fewer  animals are required for testing the efficacy of oral hygiene products compared to traditional plaque measurement techniques.

Oral Health References


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Publications in bold are WALTHAM publications.