What are Cheek Teeth Problems?
Normal rabbit teeth are aligned and allow for a natural grinding down of those teeth during eating. A rabbit’s teeth continue to grow throughout its life, and when the teeth become misaligned, overgrowth can occur, causing pain, and in some cases can cause a rabbit to stop eating. While it can be treated if caught early enough, if left to become too overgrown, these molars can dig into and cut the cheek and tongue of the rabbit. This overgrowth can also result in infections, abscesses, abnormal root growth, misalignment of the jaw, severe bone destruction as roots grow into the jaw and nasal cavities, and fractures in the teeth themselves. Dental problems can discourage eating, causing life threatening issues for the rabbit.
Cheek teeth are premolars and molars, and are used for grinding food into a mash to be swallowed and digested. Most tooth problems in rabbits can be attributed to malocclusion, or the overgrowth of teeth, and abscesses in the teeth and mouth tissues.
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Symptoms of Cheek Teeth Problems in Rabbits
Symptoms of a dental issue include:
- Matted fur on mouth, chin, chest and front legs due to excess salivation
- Change in eating habits
- Decreased appetite
- Inability to eat food, rabbit is hungry but cannot actually eat
- Grinding teeth
- Increase in drinking
- Weight loss
- Watery eyes
- Signs of pain, such as depression, lethargy, and a hunched position
- Visible swellings on face or in mouth
- Asymmetrical alignment in face, or a bulging eye
- Lumps under chin
- Decrease in grooming
- Excessively long teeth, often forming sharp spurs
- Nose discharge
- Noticeable overgrown incisors or cheek teeth
- Feces caked around anus
Malocclusion occurs when the teeth are misaligned and therefore cannot be ground down naturally. Overgrown teeth can grow sharp points, or spurs, that can cause pain as they grow in the cheek, tongue, and jaw. Abscesses and infections can occur, and can be secondary conditions resulting from malocclusion. These can be in the tooth itself, in the root, or in the face and cheek.
Causes of Cheek Teeth Problems in Rabbits
Causes of teeth issues in rabbits are:
- A genetic predisposition for misaligned teeth. Dwarf and lop breeds are more likely to develop this condition
- Misalignment of teeth
- Inadequate amounts of rough and fibrous foods in the diet
- Dental disease
- Tooth trauma, such as tooth fractures
- Ingestion of high levels of fluoride
- Deficient ingestion of folic acid
Diagnosis of Cheek Teeth Problems in Rabbits
When signs are evident of a dental issue, or eating has become difficult, a veterinary visit needs to be scheduled immediately. A veterinarian will check the rabbit’s oral cavity with an auroscope to determine the cause of the pain, if any abscesses or infections are visible, and the state of the teeth, including overgrowth. An X-ray of the skull may be ordered to accurately diagnose the extent of the issue. Sometimes dental issues can be found in routine exams.
Signs and symptoms of changing eating habits, teeth and dental issues, and face and jaw swelling will all contribute to a prognosis of the kind of dental issue affecting the rabbit, be that of an abscess, overgrown incisors and cheek teeth, or severe root issues that may involve the jaw or nasal cavities. Based on the severity of the dental problems, the veterinarian will then assess how useful any treatments will be in regards to keeping the pain down and allowing the rabbit to continue eating.
Treatment of Cheek Teeth Problems in Rabbits
If caught early, elongated teeth can be corrected by a diet change and a procedure called sequential coronal reduction. Trimming and filing of overgrown molars and spurs can be performed every 3-12 months on an outpatient basis by a veterinarian, requiring anesthesia. After trimming, rabbits generally return to normal eating habits within 1-2 days. Trimming the cheek teeth is an ongoing, lifelong process, and needs to become a routine. Facial abscesses are difficult to completely eradicate, as they are very difficult to remove, and it is often hard to get enough antibiotics into the abscess to heal it.
Tooth abscesses, overgrown roots, advanced dental disease, and cases wherein the bone has had considerable trauma and destruction, generally require surgery, sometimes with follow-up appointments. Antibiotics are often used, and can be prescribed during the duration of the rabbit’s life to prevent reoccurrence. In very severe cases, especially when the condition prevents the animals from eating or the pain cannot be controlled, euthanasia may be recommended.
Recovery of Cheek Teeth Problems in Rabbits
After severe dental work, if a rabbit cannot eat, it may be syringe fed until it can. Soft foods can be administered as well until normal eating habits can be resumed.
Ensure your rabbit is fed a proper diet to encourage healthy jaw movements, alignment, and normal teeth wear. This entails an increased amount of fibrous foods with silicates, such as hay and grasses. Avoid soft foods, vegetables and pellets. Providing a straw mat or basket allows extra opportunities for a rabbit to chew enough fibrous material to encourage natural wear on teeth. Monitor the rabbit for signs of reoccurrence, and take quick action if they appear. Do not breed animals with cheek teeth issues to further prevent this debilitating condition.