Virtually all dry dog foods have an abrasive action on the teeth, so their labels may legally contain wording that the contents are able to “cleanse, freshen, or whiten” teeth. But some foods also meet standards for controlling plaque and tartar. Plaque is the soft, sticky film that builds up on the teeth and contains millions of bacteria. Tartar is hardened plaque that is more difficult to remove and contributes to gum disease that sets the stage for tooth decay.
To find out which foods have met standards for controlling plaque and tartar, go to the website of the Veterinary Oral Health Council, or VOHC, at vohc.org. The council doesn’t test foods itself but looks over studies, using a strict protocol for what serves as proof and what doesn’t. Currently there are seven foods listed and literally dozens of treats.
Note that no dog food may be said to prevent tooth decay. While controlling plaque and tartar that contribute to tooth decay is fair game for marketing purposes if research backs it up, a health claim for protection against the actual decay of teeth or for disease prevention would be out of legal bounds.