Rodents such as rats, hamsters, gerbils, and mice are chewers and gnawers. In the wild, these rodents feed on hard-shelled nuts, tough grasses, leaves, and bark that wear down their front teeth (incisors) and cheek teeth (premolars and molars). As a result, rodents have teeth that grown continuously to replace the portion that wears away with chewing.
Dental problems are very common in captive rodents. It is often linked to a diet rich in seeds as these often do not provide enough protein and minerals for healthy bone growth. Dental disease can develop for a variety of other reasons. For example, some rodents may be born with abnormally shaped teeth that simply don't line up for proper grinding. Injuries to the mouth, skull, or jaw bone may cause the teeth to grow at odd angles. Tumors may also start to deform the shape of the teeth.
Some rodents require such frequent teeth filing that extraction of the abnormal teeth is a better option. Occasionally a rodent may need all four front teeth (incisors) extracted because they grow in at such abnormal angles and require filing every few weeks. Extraction of an incisor is a delicate procedure and a rodent requires lots of special attention afterward until its mouth heals. Fortunately, most rodents do quite well without any incisors. Some rodents have had all their cheek teeth removed and do well.
The single most important thing you can do is to feed a good quality pellet designed for your particular pet, such as Oxbow's Healthy Handfuls for hamsters or Regal Rat for rats. Do not use food that have seeds, dried fruit, and dried cereals many rodents will only eat the treats! You can offer a few seed treats on special occasions, such as when you are training your pet or when your pet is out playing with you, but make sure that healthy pellets are the main portion of its diet.
Bring your pet in for regular physical exams performed by a veterinarian. We'll check the length and condition of its teeth. If your pet has ongoing problems, we recommend a check every 4 months so that we can tackle problems before they impact its health. If we find that the teeth are overgrown, we will set up an appointment to file its teeth under general anesthesia and administer other treatments that may be needed.
If your pet drools, has stained or matted fur on its chin and jaw, a loss of appetite, only wants to eat its favorite foods, or has a change in the quantity or consistency of its feces, it may have dental problems. If you are at all concerned that your pet may be developing dental disease please make an appointment for an exam!