Pic: Rabbits with dental disease will often choose to eat soft food instead of grass or hay.
Dental disease is initially suspected when a rabbit is displaying appropriate signs. These include reduced appetite, changes in food preferences and increased salivation.
An examination can help confirm the suspicion of dental disease. Abnormalities such as facial swellings, overgrown incisors or horizontal ridges on the incisors can be detected at this point.
However, the oral cavity of the rabbit is very narrow and rabbits are unable to open their mouths wide. This makes examination of the cheek teeth very difficult in a conscious rabbit. A full dental examination therefore requires a general anaesthetic. This allows the mouth to be fully opened and the large cheeks to be moved to aside to allow visualisation of the cheek teeth.
Pic: Normal incisors (top) and incisor malocclusion (bottom). (Photos courtesy of Frances Harcourt-Brown www.harcourt-brown.com.uk).
The cheek teeth are examined for overgrowth, changes in orientation and malocclusion. The mouth is checked for any ulcers or cuts from abnormal teeth.
Spurs on the cheek teeth can be removed at this point using a dental burr. Examination under GA allows the section of the tooth that projects into the oral cavity to be examined. However, unlike cats and dogs, the majority of the crown of the rabbit’s tooth is actually embedded in the bones of the jaw. This section of the tooth also needs to be examined to allow full assessment of dental disease. This requires dental radiographs. These can be taken whilst the rabbit is under anaesthetic and will allow us to assess the full extent of dental disease
Pic: Spurs on the cheek teeth causing trauma to the mouth (photos courtesy of Frances Harcourt-Brown www.harcourt-brown.co.uk).
Left are two radiographs of the skull taken from two different rabbits during dental examination at Milton Keynes Veterinary Group. These radiographs show the long section of the crowns of the teeth embedded in the bones of the skull. This part of the crown is called the ‘reserve crown’ and is not visible during examination of the mouth. Rabbit 1 (top) does not have any evidence of dental disease. Rabbit 2 (bottom), however, has advanced dental disease. Many teeth are missing or have stopped growing. There are associated long term changes in the skull. These radiographs helped us to rule out dental disease in the rabbit 1, and to decide how to manage the dental disease in the rabbit 2.
Pic: Rabbit 1 (top) – normal dentition.
Pic: Rabbit 2 (bottom) – advanced dental disease.
Rabbits with dental disease will usually require repeat dental procedures under general anaesthetic. During these procedures, the crowns of the affected teeth are shortened to prevent trauma to the mouth and allow the rabbit to eat as normal. Many rabbits will also benefit from dietary modification to increase their calcium and fibre intake. Sometimes, we will recommend procedures such as removal of incisors or cheek teeth. Some cheek teeth can have their growth arrested by ‘pulpectomy.’ These procedures can prevent or reduce the frequency of recurrent dental procedures. These procedures are recommended if appropriate to the particular case.
Other Health Problems associated with Dental Disease
Rabbits with dental disease will often develop other problems as a result of their ongoing dental disease. These include:
- Infection in the nasolacrimal duct (called Dacrocystitis)
- Facial dermatitis
- Facial abscesses
- Gastric stasis