Not all exotics have problems with their teeth, but chinchilla teeth can be downright problematic. Chinchillas, like some other exotic pets, have the type of teeth that grow continuously throughout their lives. These teeth may periodically require tooth trims if your chinchilla doesn't wear them down himself.
Herbivores such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas have long teeth that continuously grow, often requiring tooth trims. These teeth are called hypsodont teeth. Hypsodont teeth have crowns (the part of the teeth you can see) that extend a great length beyond the gums. Hypsodont teeth are unusually long when compared to the teeth of dogs, cats, or humans. The natural grinding action of chewing on toys, hay, and other food items causes the teeth to stay at an ideal length in normal herbivores, but many need to have their teeth manually cut on a regular basis due to a number of health and genetic factors.
Overgrown Chinchilla Teeth
The incisors, or front teeth, of your chinchilla, are the easiest to identify when they become overgrown. They will usually grow so long that they begin to curve and stick out between the lips. Once they get too long, they can become stuck on things, or worse, grow into the gums or roof of your chinchilla's mouth. The molars, or teeth in the back of the mouth, can also reach excessive lengths. Molars are difficult to observe without the use of a speculum to look in the back of the mouth, but chinchillas with overgrown molars will commonly hypersalivate and have difficulty chewing and swallowing.
Incisor Tooth Trims
If done correctly, tooth trims are not painful. There are two common methods used to trim incisors. The first is by using regular dog nail trimmers to cut the teeth like you would a toenail but this method is not the preferred way to trim teeth. There is a high risk of cracking or splitting the teeth because of the force needed to use the clippers. This method can cause pain if the tooth is split up to the nerve or is trimmed too short.
The second method is by using a handheld rotary tool, like the Dremel, with a cut-off wheel to slice off the excess tooth. This method causes no trauma to the tooth. The only concerns are for trauma to the gums or lips if the wheel accidentally grazes them, or if the tooth is trimmed too short. Many exotic pet hospitals will perform these tooth trims inexpensively with a technician or a doctor but it should be done with anesthesia.
Molar Tooth Trims
Trimming molars can be more difficult than trimming incisors. Molars are not as easily identified as being overgrown, so the pet is usually already being seen by a veterinarian by this point. After the veterinarian confirms that the molars are too long, he will recommend anesthesia to properly trim and file the teeth. With your chinchilla temporarily incapacitated, a dental bur and handheld dental files are used. This is the ideal method of trimming molars, but owners may have financial constraints that restrict them from anesthetizing or sedating their exotic pets.
Owners of chinchillas and other exotic pets with hypsodont teeth must be aware of the possible complications regarding their pet's teeth. Without proper attention, overgrown teeth can cause serious trauma, anorexia, and even death from the inability to chew and swallow. Thankfully the problem of overgrown teeth can be managed with regular tooth trims or solved by extracting the problem tooth or teeth. If you need help with your chinchilla's teeth, give your local exotics vet a call.