Cats do not get the classic human-style caries. They do, however, show a high incidence of disease around the teeth, i.e. periodontal disease. The overview is that they are primarily genetically predisposed to it (it has a higher incidence in some breeds and may start at a very early age) but it involves a complex triad of bacteria, food deposits and the immune system.
Management involves dental cleaning, bacterial reduction with chlorhexidine gel application and diet alteration (to a more abrasive style i.e. chicken necks and wings or certain commercial varieties.)
Cats with significant periodontal disease often exhibit generalised ill health because of the large surface area within the mouth that is inflamed and exposed to infection.
Dental management may involve a pre- and post-operative antibiotic course. Examination, tartar removal and extraction is carried out under general anaesthesia.
Ongoing care by the owner may involve daily gum cleaning with chlorhexidine gel.
Extraction of diseased teeth in cats is sometimes quite a difficult procedure. The teeth are small and brittle and cannot be "pulled out" as they just shatter. The tooth is divided (using a dental drill) into 2 or 3 sections (each with a root) and the fine ligament joining each tooth to the bone is carefully cut to free each root from the bone.
Have a look at your cat's teeth - they should be like yours - free of tartar with a pink gingiva (gum), not an angry swollen red line where the gum touches the tooth. If you do a swollen red line here, your cat has gingivitis.