According to Cornell University's Cat Watch Newsletter, "50 to 90% of adult cats are affected by periodontal disease to some degree or another" (Dental). Several factors go into the formation of tartar and plaque, but the good news is that it is preventable.
One of the biggest influencers is diet. You often hear that kibble diets help keep teeth clean when the cat chews on the kibble. This is not often the case. In fact, a cat's physical ability to chew is minimal. If you look inside a cat's mouth, you'll see that "each upper and lower jaw has three pairs of incisors and a pair of elongated and laterally compressed canine teeth. The function of the incisors is for grooming and tearing prey, whereas the canines are adapted for grasping and killing. Behind the canines are the premolars and molars. The cat has three pairs of upper and two pairs of lower premolars and one pair of upper and one pair of lower molars. The back molars are flat and provide shearing action for cutting food into small pieces before swallowing. These few molars provide VERY LIMITED ability to masticate food. Cats swallow bites of food with little or no chewing" (Kelsey). If you have ever seen the throw up of a cat on a kibble diet, you will see the pieces come up in the same form that they went in because cats swallow food whole; they don't - can't - chew food as humans do.
Furthermore, cats do not have the enzymes to break down carbohydrates. "Because they evolved eating a diet with almost no carbohydrates, they have only one enzyme system capable of handling them. This is quite different from humans and dogs, both having multiple enzyme systems that digest carbohydrates." We all know that carbohydrates breakdown into sugars - another substance the cat's body was not designed to eat. Then, bacteria feed on these sugars and produce acid, which, ultimately, causes tooth decay.
Feeding kibble does double damage to your cat's teeth. Cats are not able to chew it, so it provides no cleansing benefit. In addition, it is made with ingredients that the cat's body is not designed to process; therefore, it has no natural defenses against them.
That being said, ditching the kibble and switching to ground raw food is not enough to keep your cat's teeth clean throughout its lifetime.
Some cats naturally have proper pH levels in their saliva and maintain cleaner teeth with little to no plaque build-up. Others don’t quite have the ideal pH so they can be more prone to build up, the associated bad breath, and later dental woes. Cats need to be able to rip and shred meat from bones to keep their teeth clean, as that is what their teeth were designed to do. Chicken drumsticks, pieces of Cornish hen, or whole quail, pieces of rabbit are delicious and healthy; plus, they act as natural “toothbrushes” for cats. The act of shearing the meat from the bone cleans any debris from the teeth, and crunching up the bones can remove any stubborn plaque. By feeding meaty bones once a week or more, you allow the cat's teeth to work correctly. As long as the bones are raw, they are safe and can be swallowed and safely digested. This is the easiest way to keep dental hygiene in check, and the cats enjoy the treat.
There are a few products you can add to your cat's diet that will aide its body in doing its job more efficiently. Using a probiotic will help the body keep its natural antibodies balanced, and using a digestive enzyme will keep enzyme levels working at full force. For both the probiotic and the digestive enzyme, we chose to use Dr. Mercola's products because the ingredients all come from bioavailable sources - meaning the cat's body will absorb their nutrients instead of passing the product through unused. Additionally, adding Oratene to the drinking water helps maintain good dental hygiene without the use of toothpaste or toothbrush. Oratane is made with natural ingredients which softens the plaque. It is then worn away faster during normal ripping and shearing the meat off from the bone when you offer your cat its meaty bones meal. You want to remember to use probiotics, digestive enzymes, and Oratane in conjunction with feeding meaty bones. If you leave out the meaty bones, you are missing the essential step. It is the act of ripping and shredding the meat off the bone that cleans the teeth. These products help that process happen more efficiently.
If you decide not to use the method of feeding meaty bones, there is a line of products by Healthy Mouth that is backed by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. They have dental spray, gel, water additive and of course, toothbrushes; however, only the spray and the gel have been endorsed by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. If you are not able to work meaty bones into your cat's diet on a weekly - or more - basis, then you may want to use one of the products from Healthy Mouth to keep your cat's teeth clean. It may be that you want to have the teeth cleaned professionally first, then start with the product of your choice.
"Dental Sprays for Cats." Cat Watch. September 2019. Vol. 23 No.9.
Gates, Margaret. "The Benefits of Raw Food for Cats." Feline Nutrition Foundation. 23 April 2019. https://feline-nutrition.org/nutrition/the-benefits-of-a-raw-diet-for-your-cat
Kelsey, Anita. "6 Reasons Why Dry Food Does Not Clean Your Cat's Teeth." Cat Behaviorist. 2017. http://www.catbehaviourist.com/blog/6-reasons-dry-food-clean-cats-teeth/