Dental Disease & Malocclusion

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Dental Disease & Malocclusion

Post by Happy Hoppers on Wed Jun 18, 2008 8:42 pm

Dental Problems in Rabbits: Common, Yet Rarely Diagnosed
by Dana Krempels, Ph.D.

Even if your rabbit has perfectly aligned incisors (front teeth), it is wise for you to allow your rabbit-experienced veterinarian to do regular dental checkups as part of your bunny's wellness exam. Undetected dental problems in rabbits are a major cause of more serious illnesses which develop due to the pain and stress of sore teeth and jaw.

Rabbits are hypsodonts, meaning that their teeth grow continually, throughout life. In a normal rabbit, the teeth are aligned so that the wear against each other as the rabbit chews. This maintains even, relatively flat surfaces (with some sharp edges on top) on the molars and relatively short, chisel-shaped incisors. The incisors are used only for cutting the food into manageable pieces that can then be prehended by the lips and tongue. It is the molars that do the grinding of food into the fine bits that are then swallowed and sent on for further processing in the GI tract.

Dental malocclusion in rabbits is not uncommon, especially in the short-faced breeds which have been produced via generation upon generation of inbreeding. Unfortunately, there are no chew toys or hard foods that will solve this problem, since it is primarily the wearing of the teeth (incisors *and* molars) against each other during chewing that keeps them at their normal length and shape.

If the teeth do not line up correctly, incisors quickly overgrow and can become unmanageable "tusks" which either snaggle up out of the mouth or curl back into the mouth, making eating nearly impossible. Although some veterinarians will be willing to regularly trim the teeth, this is stressful for the rabbit. Also, clipping the teeth rather than filing or grinding them down can be dangerous, since micro-fractures of the tooth from clipping can travel below the gumline, inviting bacterial infection that can ultimately be life-threatening.

We have found that the best way to treat maloccluded incisors is to have them completely and permanently removed. This is a surgical procedure that must be done very carefully and patiently by your rabbit-experienced veterinarian, to ensure complete root removal. The rabbit will probably need to be on pain medication for a day or two after surgery (Banamine (flunixin) is excellent for rabbits), but once the patient has recovered, the only adjustment the rabbit "parent" needs to make is to cut up fresh food into bite-sized pieces. Pellets and hay can be handled as before, without problems.

Many rabbits who have maloccluded incisors, and even a great number who have perfectly occluded incisors still develop molar spurs. These are sharp points on the edges of the molars that result from uneven wear. These points can abrade the tongue and cheek, causing pain and irritation enough to stop the rabbit from eating. Left unattended, this stress can trigger a potentially life-threatening condition called ileus).

In some very extreme cases, we have seen molar spurs that have actually grown *into* the tongue or cheek, causing extreme pain. In one incidence, a molar spur had grown *over* the tongue, forming a "bridge" that prevented the rabbit from moving his tongue!

Molar spurs can be filed down by your veterinarian, who may use anything from a Dremel tool to a blunt-tipped diamond nail file. The rabbit is usually put under light anesthesia (e.g., isofluane gas), and the procedure rarely takes longer than a few minutes.

As a bunny ages, she sometimes gradually suffers bone loss, just as an elderly human does. When this happens, the molars may become just the slightest bit looser in their sockets, inviting uneven wear and other problems, sometimes extending to the roots. In some cases, molar roots in older rabbits can begin to extend farther into the maxilla (upper jaw) or mandible (lower jaw) than normal, and may impinge on the tear ducts, causing runny eyes. In other cases, "overgrown" molar roots may even puncture the sinuses or the eye orbit, allowing intrusion of mouth bacteria into areas meant to remain sterile. This, of course, could be the beginning of an abscess. If you have an elderly bunny with any signs of molar root problems, you are wise to allow your veterinarian do take a series of head radiographs to detect developing problems before they become serious.

If your bunny is showing any signs such as

# Drooling
# Runny eyes
# Eagerly going to food, but then acting unwilling to actually take it into the mouth
# Gradual (or sudden) change in dietary habits (e.g., refusing to eat pellets, but happy to eat hay--or the other way around!)
# Unusual eating habits, such as a willingness to eat only one or two food items, and rejecting other types.

then it's time to get him/her to a veterinarian who is very familiar with rabbit dental problems for an incisor and molar exam. If your bunny is one of those with dental problems you didn't know about, you'll be amazed at the relief he'll will get once his/her teeth are properly filed and in the right shape. Make a dental check up a regular part of your bunny's well-bun exam.

Click this link to read Ben's Story on incisor extraction:- http://www.bunnylu.org/dental.html
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