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Rabbits & Chinchillas Home > Pet Info > Rabbits & Chinchillas
Normal Chinchilla teeth

Chinchillas have incisor or front teeth and larger cheek teeth. Chinchillas use their incisors for cutting food and cheek teeth for grinding food before it is swallowed.

Chinchilla teeth grow continuously throughout a chinchilla’s life. In the wild chinchillas eat hard abrasive foods. Plant leaves have crystals of silica (sand) within them and will have hard dust on the surfaces. This means that the growing teeth are continually worn down by the natural diet and it is essential for the chinchilla’s teeth to grow! They are more like our finger nails than our teeth.

Causes of tooth problems

Feeding chinchillas the wrong type of food is a common cause of tooth problems. Wild chinchillas graze on low quality grasses which are abrasive, wearing down the teeth as they grow. Pet chinchillas need continual access to fresh hay throughout their lives, so that they too can chew and wear down their teeth.

Other causes of dental disease include genetics (if the chinchilla is born with misaligned teeth), or trauma (for example, if the chinchilla is involved in an accident). In rabbits work has been done to show that problems with calcium levels in the diet and vitamin D can contribute to similar dental disease but it is not known if this applies to chinchillas also.

Signs of tooth problems

Typical signs of dental problems include one or more of the following:

  • Salivation which causes wet matted fur on the neck or near the mouth
  • Reduced appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Unkempt coat, matted fur with dead hair in clumps.
  • Dropping or spitting out food from the mouth
  • Discharge from the eyes or nose
  • Reduction in quantity, or size, of droppings.
  • Lumps on the face
  • Rubbing of the face
How teeth cause problems..... Pain!

If the cheek teeth are not worn down properly they can form sharp spikes on the edges. The spikes can cut into the chinchilla’s cheek or tongue and cause an ulcer. Ulcers are very sore and your chinchilla will stop eating because of the pain. Pain will also stop the chinchilla swallowing, causing salivation.

If the tooth does not wear properly it will elongate but the tooth opposite may stop it growing up further. Instead the tooth root may be pushed backwards, into the skull and jaw. Upper cheek teeth can grow into the nasal sinuses, causing respiratory infections, or towards the eyes, causing discharge and eye problems. Lower teeth can grow towards the jaw, causing bone thinning and abscesses. This is very painful.

As the teeth are forced to grow in the wrong directions, the grinding surfaces can become more irregular, causing a wave like surface. Food can become trapped between the gums and teeth or between teeth. Infection can spread down into the bone and soft tissue. This can cause painful abscesses and damage or infection of the jaw bones.

Prevention of problems

It is really important to feed your chinchilla the correct diet from a young age. Your chinchilla must always have access to plenty of fresh hay. By chewing the hay, he will wear down his teeth and help keep them healthy. Hay contains a large amount of calcium, which will help your chinchilla grow healthy bones to support his teeth. Hay also helps his digestion. Hay should make up the large majority of your chinchilla’s diet with a small amount of plain extruded grass pellets.

Once problems develop it is best to get treatment as soon as possible. If the problems are not treated they will get worse and result in more damage to the teeth and bones. By treating the problems before they become too severe we can reduce the changes and manage the problems. However it is often not possible to prevent future problems.

What to do if problems arise
If you do notice your chinchilla having any signs of dental problems seek veterinary treatment immediately.  Delaying can cause the problem to get worse, even life-threatening. 

It is necessary to anaesthetize chinchillas to perform a thorough examination of the mouth. If dental problems are present, X-rays may be required to assess the tooth roots which are hidden in bone. They cannot be seen on a dental examination. After the examination your vet will remove any sharp points, shorten elongated teeth, and may extract teeth if necessary.

Once dental problems have been diagnosed, it is important to keep having regular examinations to maintain dental health, because dental problems always come back.

Problems will come back

The teeth will continue to grow even though they are damaged and the chinchilla is weak. The teeth will still grow in the wrong direction and the problem is very likely to come back over time. Misaligned incisors or cheek teeth may require dental treatment every 3-6 weeks, depending on the patient.

Good nutrition is very important for chinchillas with dental problems, because they are often in a weakened state. Oxbow Critical Care is a balanced food for chinchillas based on timothy hay which can be used during recovery periods when the mouth is painful. Pain medications or antibiotics may be needed in some patients.

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