Dental Destination
by Lindsey Wojcik
December 31, 2011
Creating an organized dental hygiene section with easy-to-use products can boost sales in the growing oral care category.



Arriving home from a long day of work and being greeted by a four-legged friend can often be the highlight of a stressful day. However, if Fido’s kisses come with smelly breath, it can be a major turn off for many owners and a sign of serious health issues.

Over the last five years, consumers have become more aware of dental issues beyond “doggie breath.” The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) estimates that 80 percent of dogs have some form of periodontal disease by the age of two. Kelly Ahlqvist, a representative at Zututh, a company dedicated to improving the oral hygiene of dogs, says that number is alarming. “Some dog owners may not realize it, but to keep their pets healthy, they really need to make oral hygiene a part of the dog’s daily grooming,” she says.  

Without a daily dental routine, more serious health issues can arise. Tooth decay and infection can lead to painful gums or difficulty in chewing. In some cases, it can even lead to problems with a dog’s heart, kidneys, and circulatory and immune systems. “It’s downhill from there,” says Susan Weiss, president at Ark Natural Pet Products. “Once there is any kind of damage to those organs, the animal’s life is severely compromised.”


Simplifying the Process
As consumers become more cognizant that good dental care can improve the overall health of their pets, the demand for easy-to-use oral care products has increased. The variety of products available range from toothbrushes, toothpastes, gels and sprays to dental chew toys and treats.

“If a consumer is utilizing just one product—if [they are] giving chews or just using the gel—it’s probably not going to solve the entire problem,” says Derrik Kassebaum, president of sales and marketing at Tropiclean. “It’s about utilizing all of them at some point in the pet’s life.”

However, adding a daily routine, especially brushing a dog’s teeth, can be a daunting task for pet owners. Kassebaum says most pet owners know they should be doing something to care for their pet’s teeth, but most will not follow through if the process isn’t simplified. “If they are fighting the dog to brush its teeth, they are not going to spend the time and energy to make that happen,” he says.

In response to the growing demand for effective, easy-to-use dental hygiene products, some manufacturers are expanding their lineups to include products that follow trends in human oral care.

Kassebaum says Tropiclean is moving away from traditional pet oral care products. Its Fresh Breath line features clean teeth gel for cats and dogs, mint foam, a water additive and fresh breath chews. “The consumer wants something that will reduce the dog’s repulsive breath, and if it takes care of that oral care, that’s a plus,” Kassebaum says.

While some pet owners may not realize it, flossing is just as important for pets as it for humans. With that in mind, Tropiclean plans to launch Liquid Floss spray for dogs along with the LiquidFloss Triflossball rope toy. The toy was designed with three strands to absorb the spray, massage the gums and floss the teeth. As the dog chews on it, the spray cleans the dog’s teeth, and removes plaque and tartar. “The Liquid Floss will help if the pet owner isn’t doing a great job brushing the dog’s teeth,” he says.

Benedent Corp., manufacturers of Triple Pet Products, also plans to launch a product that mirrors trends in human dental care—a whitening cloth. Jorge Zarur, marketing director for Triple Pet Products, explains the company’s new product—White On—is similar to whitening products humans use. It is a disposable finger-sized cleaning cloth that is soaked with an abrasive whitening mint gel. “The pet owner just rubs it on the pet’s teeth and it will immediately clean, whiten teeth and improve breath dramatically,” Zarur says. “It doesn’t get easier than that.”

Caring for pets with smaller mouths, like small dogs and cats, can be particularly challenging for pet owners. “Small dogs, in some cases, have more dental issues than large dogs,” Weiss says. “They have the same number of teeth crowded in a smaller area, and it’s much harder for a human to brush that animal’s teeth.”

As the popularity of small dog ownership grows, manufacturers are noticing an increasing demand for products that make maintaining a smaller mouth easier. Dental treats and chews, as well as smaller toothbrushes, have become popular products for small dogs. Ark Naturals recently launched a mini-size of its Breath-Less Brushless Toothpaste. The all-natural chew helps reduce dental decay, plaque and tartar while freshening the dog’s breath. “It’s the size of a Chiclet,” Weiss says. “It’s a great size for a lot of the little dogs.”

Water additives have also gained popularity and are especially helpful in maintaining cats’ teeth. Feline dental issues are just as serious as the issues dogs face. The AVMA estimates that 70 percent of cats have some form of periodontal disease by the age of two.

Ark Naturals offers a Breath-Less Plaque Zapper that can be added to a cat’s water bowl to freshen a cat’s breath. “It’s such a cat-friendly product because cats, by nature, use their tongues in a very gentle lapping way,” Weiss says. “But if the cat doesn’t drink a lot of water, it can also be added to the cat’s food, and it will work just as well.”

Triple Pet Products also offers a water additive for cats. The all-natural Cat Safe Oral Solution utilizes Yucca as its main ingredient to help eliminate plaque and tartar build-up. “It promotes better digestion which improves the breath of the pet dramatically,” Zarur says.

Kassebaum notes, however, that pet owners who are cannot groom their cats will not be able to administer dental care. “The cat needs to be trained to allow the owner to use oral products,” he says.    

Tropiclean is doing its part to help ease the process for cat owners. It recently launched gel that is administered through an applicator and reduces plaque and tartar, while killing germs that cause bad breath.


Back to Basics
While some manufacturers have expanded beyond traditional dental hygiene products, Zututh has worked to make the traditional toothbrush more efficient. “Dog owners are looking for a product that will make maintaining their dog’s oral hygiene easy and effective,” Ahlqvist says. “Zututh makes brushing a dog’s teeth easier, faster and more effective.”

Zututh’s toothbrush has two-tandem brushes in a “Z” shape, allowing more teeth to be cleaned at once, which reduces brushing time. The handle is also wider for an easier grip. The company plans to expand its toothbrush line to include a handle that can be used with detachable heads and an electronic toothbrush.

“We realize that brushing a dog’s teeth can be very difficult,” Ahlqvist says. “The upper back molars are difficult to clean and tend to have the most tartar build up. Zututh has been angled for those hard-to-reach areas.”


Create a Sparkling Section
Since many pet owners know so little about their pets’ dental care needs, retailers have an important role to play in getting them up to speed.

“Retailers needs to educate themselves on why they are selling the products they carry and what is the best fit for the customer,” Weiss says. “It’s not one size fits all. If that retailer doesn’t put that energy in before a customer walks into the store, they are not going to be seen as an information source.”

Store employees can help drive sales by directing customers to the right product. Staff members should also know when products like toothbrushes need to be replaced and should inform customers at the time of purchase. “If customers know they need to brush their pet’s teeth at least three times a week, that should not only keep the pet’s teeth healthy, but also keep the money flowing in the category,” Zarur says.

Consumers should be aware that while purchasing these products can help them save money on veterinarian costs, the products should not replace annual cleanings. “Let consumers know that the products should be purchased in conjunction with taking the animal to the vet,” Kassebaum says.  “The pet should go [to the vet] every year to be checked, just like we go to the dentist every year.”

Independent retailers have an opportunity to create a specialized section in the store for dental care. Resetting the store or moving product around can help generate more sales for the category. If retailers are unable to reset their stores, using endcaps or tiered tables to promote the category, along with signage and instructional literature, can be very effective.

Retailers should work with companies whose main focus is oral care. Choosing products with QR codes (an embedded barcode consumers can scan with their mobile devices to decode) can also be beneficial in educating customers, Kassebaum says, because the information will be delivered directly to their fingertips. “Create a section and destination for that pet owner,” he says. “It’s got to be simplified for consumers, so you’re not giving them too many offerings.”

Pet specialty stores have the opportunity to reach customers on a more personal level than larger stores. “Put up a bulletin board in the store with photos of pets who have used products the store sells and show customers the results,” Weiss suggests. “By positioning the dental section in the front of the store and being proactive, retailers can certainly engage their customers.”