While not all exotic pets have problems with their teeth, many, including rabbits, do and rabbit teeth can be downright problematic sometimes. Rabbits have the type of teeth that grow continuously throughout their life so these teeth may periodically require tooth trims if they are not naturally worn down. Rabbit teeth are also prone to other problems such as abscesses so it is important to be familiar with your bunny's mouth.
Normal Rabbit Teeth
Herbivores such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and horses have long teeth that continuously grow (and that often require tooth trims). These ever-growing teeth are called hypsondontal. Hypsodontal teeth have crowns that extend a great length beyond the gums therefore hypsodontal teeth are unusually long when compared to other types of teeth such as brachydontal teeth (which are what humans, dogs, and cats have). The natural grinding action that chewing does causes the teeth to stay at an ideal length in normal herbivores but many pets need to have their teeth manually cut on a regular basis due to a number of health, environmental, and genetic factors.
Rabbits have 28 permanent teeth and all of these teeth will grow in length throughout your rabbit's life. The incisors (front teeth) are typically the most obviously seen teeth but rabbits also have molars that can cause issues.
Overgrown Rabbit Teeth
While any of your rabbit's teeth can get too long, the incisors are the easiest to identify when they become overgrown. They will usually grow so long that they begin to curve and stick out between your rabbit's lips. Here they can become stuck on things (such as cage bars), or worse yet, grow into the gums or roof of the rabbit's mouth. The molars, or teeth in the back of the mouth, can also reach excessive lengths. These are difficult to observe without the use of a speculum (an instrument your veterinarian may use) to look in the back of the mouth, but exotic pets with overgrown molars will commonly hypersalivate (excessive drooling) and have difficulty chewing and swallowing. You can watch for drooling and problems eating in your rabbit to help make sure their molars are not overgrown.
Rabbit 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 clippers to cut the tooth like you would a toenail. This method is not the preferred way to trim teeth. There is a high risk of cracking or splitting the tooth 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 used to trim rabbit incisors is by using a handheld rotary tool, like the Dremel, or a dental bur to slice the excess tooth off. This method does require a bit more skill and sometimes requires anesthesia or sedation to hold a fractious pet still, but can be easily performed by a trained person at your veterinarian's office. This method causes no trauma to the tooth or nerve when cut. The only concerns are for trauma to the gums or lips if the cutting tool accidentally grazes them, or if the tooth is trimmed too short. Many exotic pet hospitals will perform these tooth trims inexpensively but your rabbit may need to be sedated to have it performed safely and properly.
Rabbit Molar Tooth Trims
Trimming rabbit molars can be more difficult than trimming their incisors. Molars are not as easily identified as being overgrown so your rabbit is usually already being seen by a veterinarian when their overgrown molars are noticed during an oral exam. After the veterinarian confirms that the molars are too long, your rabbit will need to be sedated in order to have their teeth cut down. Sometimes a dental bur is used to grind them and sometimes a special tooth file is utilized. Dental radiographs (x-rays) may be recommended to see if the overgrown teeth require extraction in case they are diseased.
Owners of herbivores and other exotic pets with hypsodontal teeth must be aware of the possible complications regarding their pet's teeth. Without the proper attention, overgrown teeth can cause serious trauma, anorexia (lack of appetite), and even death from the inability to chew and swallow. Thankfully overgrown teeth are easily managed with regular tooth trims and chewing on appropriate woods, hay, and toys.