Does Dry Food Clean Your Cat’s Teeth? A Dangerous Myth

Recently I’ve had people mentioning that dry cat food helps keep their cat’s teeth clean. I want to clear this myth up and say NO, dry cat food does NOT help keep a cat’s teeth clean. It never has, and never will.

You absolutely do not have to be a veterinarian to learn about this and to learn the truth. There are plenty of correct sources online that help to prove this. In fact, there has been very little research done in the first place on whether dry food helps to keep feline teeth clean.

So why put your faith in something that has so very little research done anyways? From scouring the web, it likes like there’s more research done on why dry food doesn’t work versus dental dry food.

Feline Dental Anatomy

The vets just tell you what they learn from other vets. Now, I’m not saying not to trust your veterinarian, DO so. But just recognize that this subject is highly misunderstood. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions.

First of all, to bring this to light, we have to understand how cats eat, what their teeth are for, and what studies have shown in the past.

How do Cats Eat in the First Place?

OK, obviously with their mouths. But cats do not actually crunch down on their food and chew it up like humans do. Why is that? Well, look at their teeth.

The upper and lower jaw have three pairs of tiny incisors (flatter, like our front teeth) and 3 longer pairs of canine teeth (the sharper ones for tearing up prey.) Behind the canine teeth in both upper and lower jaws are the premolars and molars, three pairs upper, and two pairs lower.

That isn’t a whole lot to chew up food compared to what humans have. This is just one reason why humans are successful omnivores- because the structure of our teeth allows us to chew plants.

Anyways, a feline’s mouth is simply not designed to chew up food– they can do so but it is not how they eat most of the time. A cat will either swallow most of the meat whole once they tear it off from the flesh of their prey, or almost swallow a smaller prey whole. That’s it.

This is a great article about how a cat’s teeth are designed, as well as a great explanation from Jean Hofve, a holistic feline veterinarian.

Does it make sense now? What do you think your cat is doing when they are eating dry food?

They are swallowing it WHOLE! They are not chewing at all, or just barely chewing it up. Pay attention the next time your cat is eating, I can’t make this up. The only time your cat’s teeth will make contact with the kibble is when they touch it with their tips of their teeth and that will be the “crunch” sound you may hear.

This opens up a can of worms of so many potential health problems, leading up to potential urinary tract issues and weight issues from not being able to break down food. It all comes full circle!

The Argument

So we now understand how cats eat, that is the first step. Let’s look at some arguments people will use in defending dry food and feline dental care.

A common catchphrase used is that the dry food will help to scrape tooth surfaces clean while the crunching will help to strengthen roots. There have even been certain brands that claim their large kibble will scrub tooth surfaces clean of plaque. Where can I find such magic food for myself, first of all?

They will then say that since the cat will swallow it whole (oh, so no crunch now? what gives?) that will result in less or no plaque build up, compared to wet food that sticks to a cat’s teeth. Well in theory, yes. That is true. But that’s not how it works.

Dr. Fraser Hale, a veterinary dental expert, summarized that the dry kibble will shatter before it has any “beneficial” effect. The kibble that does stay intact will still have little or no abrasive effect from chewing.

The truth is that even cats that stick to a dry diet will STILL have tartar and plaque build up. Cats, like humans, will have varying degrees of dental health and problems due to genetics.
Dr. Jean Hovfe explains:

“I saw beautiful and horrible mouths in cats eating wet food, dry food, raw food, and every possible combination. Many of my patients initially ate mostly or exclusively dry food; yet these cats had some most infected, decayed, foul-smelling mouths I saw.”

So there is no magic food to cure your cat’s dental problems. It is something you, the owner, will have to care for.

What Are Dental Problems in Cats?

Cats can have many of the same dental problems that humans, and I have talked about plaque and tartar buildup. Once that tartar starts building up, you get various levels of periodontal disease in cats. Felines are susceptible to gingivitis and as a result get stinky breath, loose teeth, bleeding gums and even destruction of the jaw.

The bacteria from the disease can also spread to your cat’s vital organs too, so it’s not something to be taken lightly and in the worst case scenario CAN become life threatening.

But have you noticed cats in the wild don’t have these problems? What’s the difference? Certainly the food. Obligate carnivores chew EVERYTHING, including feathers, hide, the bones the sinew from it. This is what keeps their teeth clean that we cannot provide. It is like us flossing and brushing our teeth basically.

I would not recommend giving your cat the bones from a chicken wing though, that is entirely different and something for another post.

How Can I Help Keep my Cat’s Teeth Clean?

A simple way is just to get them cleaned at least once a year by your veterinarian. Some cats are not easy to handle though and are required to be sedated, a scary thought.

There’s also toothpaste specifically for cats so you can brush your cat’s teeth with a toothbrush. Again, your cat may struggle so it could be a two-person job.

There are a lot of natural products for your cat’s dental care, without harmful alcohols and the need for anesthesia. Denta-Sure, by Natural Wonder Pets is one such product as all it is a spray. It comes in gel form as well if you still want to have full control over your cat’s teeth and to apply directly to the problem.

Cleaning your cat’s teeth shouldn’t be so hard!


Now, another disclaimer, I’m not saying wet food is the god send end all solution to stopping plaque and tartar build up in cats! Wet food is still honestly just as bad as any other food in terms of dental care. My goal was to dispel the myth that dry food is magical and can “scrape” off plaque from a cat’s tooth.

I am going to be honest. I have had my cat since I was ten years old (I am 26 now, writing this.) So at the time, I never would have thought about caring for Shadow’s teeth. My mother was his primary care taker and I grew into that role when I got older, since he was technically my cat.

I never thought about taking care of his teeth (or even knew that was a thing) until I started to research and feed my cat wet food. His canine teeth are OK, but a lot of his other teeth and molars are decayed and have rotted, and I will always regret not looking into it further until now.

Although I want to make a point that Shadow was on a dry food diet for most of his life, so clearly dry food didn’t help in his case.

Does anyone else have experience with your pet’s dental care? Do you know the situation of your cat’s teeth? We are all learning. Leave a comment below or leave any questions you may have!