Improving veterinary dentistry: The purpose of the Veterinary Oral Health Council and veterinary specialists (Sponsored by Greenies)

Improving veterinary dentistry: The purpose of the Veterinary Oral Health Council and veterinary specialists (Sponsored by Greenies)

Recently, a group of veterinary dental specialists, most of them members of the Veterinary Oral Health Council® (VOHC), came together to discuss the role of the VOHC for both the veterinarian and the consumer. The VOHC's stated purpose is to "recognize products that meet preset standards of plaque and calculus (tartar) retardation in dogs and cats. Products are awarded the VOHC Seal of Acceptance after a review of data from trials conducted according to VOHC protocols." The VOHC seal is the pet product equivalent to the Amercian Dental Association (ADA) seal. The VOHC strives to maintain the highest credibility among the veterinary community and to help prevent the most common dental disease in dogs and cats — periodontal disease. To further this effort, these specialists were given the opportunity to discuss their views on various types of dental products offered by the pet industry today as well as on areas for improvement in both dental product selection and veterinary dentistry as a whole.

The VOHC's objective

Bradley Quest, DVM, Product Development Veterinarian for the GREENIES® brand and The Nutro Company.
Dr. Bradley Quest (Moderator): Welcome, and thank you for participating in this roundtable discussion. Many practicing veterinarians are unaware of the function of the Veterinary Oral Health Council and what its seal of acceptance means to them. What is the purpose oftheVOHC?

Colin Harvey, BVSC, FRCVS, DACVS, DAVDC, Director of the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) and Professor of Surgery and Dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Colin Harvey: The VOHC started in the mid-1980s when a company marketing treats approached the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS) and requested its endorsement. The AVDS board of directors decided they did not have the information needed to make an endorsement. After that, there were several informal meetings of industry representatives and the veterinary dental community. It became clear that having a formal way to recognize effective products was necessary, and companies with products for which research had been conducted proving their effectiveness wanted a way to differentiate their product from the rest of the noise in the marketplace. That is where the VOHC comes in. It is an attempt to provide an independent method using a preset standard as a way of ensuring that veterinarians and the public can find out which of those products have reached that high standard. The council consists of nine members, and the current members are all diplomates of the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC). Council members are selected by the board of the AVDC, based on their interest in oral hygiene, and specifically veterinarians who have a background in product testing or in the science of evaluating techniques or other areas within veterinary dentistry. They must be willing to be clear that a claim either is or is not supported by the data. Typically, council members serve for five to six years.

Dr. Quest: What does a VOHC seal on a product mean?

Laura LeVan, DVM, DAVDC, Owner of Veterinary Dental Education Center, Concord, Mass., and VOHC member.
Dr. Laura LeVan: The seal means that the company has submitted its science to the independent council of VOHC, and the VOHC has determined that the product meets the claims. As a veterinarian, I can then pass this knowledge on to the public and fellow veterinarians.

James Anthony, DVM, MRCVS, DAVDC, DEVDC, Associate Professor and Head of Dentistry and Oral Surgery at the University of Saskatchewan Western College of Veterinary Medicine, and VOHC member.
Dr. James Anthony: The whole idea is to compare apples with apples and not apples with oranges. The point is to reduce confusion so that owners can evaluate whether a particular product is appropriate for their pet. The standards are strict, but VOHC helps companies address issues so that their products can meet the standards. Companies obviously want to have a level playing field, where all products are evaluated using the same set of criteria.

Dr. Quest: Why wouldn't all companies with dental products want to carry the VOHC seal on their products?

Dr. Harvey: There are some obvious gaps in the VOHC list. For products that are used infrequently or in less volume, like dentifrices, gels, or toothbrushes, it may be hard to justify the cost of testing to demonstrate that the VOHC standard has been met. The VOHC would love to list that kind of product to enlarge the range of products that carry the seal. The VOHC and the AVDC consider teeth brushing a gold standard of dental care, but there is no brush or dentifrice on the accepted list at this time. A gel for dogs and cats is now on the list, as is a water additive product, which represents a big step. Another reason why some companies may not pursue approval is that the VOHC system has a preset standard, and the consumer sees the same seal whether a product meets that standard by just a little bit or exceeds the standard greatly.

Dr. Quest: Do the veterinary colleges educate students to recommend mainly products that carry a VOHC seal?

Dr. Anthony: Those of us in academic institutions have to be open-minded and aware of everything, but we should always base decisions on solid research. Just because a product doesn't have the VOHC seal doesn't necessarily mean it is bad. What the seal does say is that this product has met certain criteria that we know means that it is effective. The VOHC reviews the research critically and makes sure the criteria are met.