Elongated molars- Dental disease in rabbits

Rabbit’s teeth continuously grow; because of this they require a diet high in naturally abrasive and high fibre foods. Grass, hay and other natural plants contain these essential elements. These natural materials are made up of in part silicate phytoliths, lignin and cellulose; the abrasive nature of these components help to wear down the teeth. Rabbits who do not receive the correct diet have an increased risk of developing dental malocclusion.

Elongated molars, or root elongation is a form of dental disease. The position, shape and/or structure of the teeth changes so that the normal position of both the upper and lower jaw is altered. Resulting in a misalignment of the teeth and a change in the direction that the teeth grow. Because of the change dental surgery can not restore the teeth to how they were, prior to the dental disease.

The root of the molars grow into the upper and lower jaw. The last two teeth of the upper jaw can push into the orbit of the rabbit’s eye. This causes extreme pain and a watering of the eye. Another condition that can manifest from root elongation is a blockage of the tear ducts. This can lead to bacterial infections.

Elongated roots also increase the chance of your rabbit developing facial abscesses.

Symptoms

  • Stop eating because the pain is so severe.
  • Cuts in the mouth.
  • Ulcers in the mouth.
  • Dribbling around the mouth.
  • Dropping food.
  • Reduction in grooming.
  • Watering/ running eyes.
  • Pus from the eyes.
  • Inflammation around the eyes.
  • Hard lumps around the upper and lower jaw resulting from bone deposition.
  • Facial abscesses.
  • Messy bottom.
  • Uneaten caecotrophs.

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Causes

  • Poor diet lacking in grass and hay. This is the most common cause of dental disease.
  • Trauma to the jaw resulting in an ineffective grinding motion, possibly due to misalignment.
  • Hereditary defects usually linked to rabbits that have been bred to have shortened jaws such as Dwarf Lops and Netherlands Dwarfs.
  • Diets low in calcium and vitamin D.

Diagnosis

Elongated molars are not visible to the naked eye and will require examination from a rabbit savvy vet. Both for evidence of dental disease as well as assessing the formation of any abscesses as a result of dental disease. X-rays will identify the severity of the root elongation.

Treatment

  • Pain management may be required.
  • Antibiotics if infection/ abscesses are present.
  • Treatment of any abscesses.
  • Tear duct flushing may be required if a blockage is present.
  • Syringe feeding and hydration therapy will be required if GI stasis has developed.
  • Trimming of the molars under anaesthetic when the condition becomes advanced. The regularity of trimming will be dependent on rate of growth and severity of the dental disease.
  • Molar extraction could be an option, however, it is not advisable due to the extreme risks, particularly in older rabbits. If it is advised by your vet, the operation should be carried out by a rabbit specialist as there is a risk of the jaw breaking during the procedure.

The treatment will depend on the severity of the root elongation and any secondary conditions as a result. Eventually with advanced dental disease the teeth will stop growing due to the destruction of the germinal layer at the root of the tooth and the fusion of the teeth into the jaw bone. The crown may break away leaving the rabbit with a stump that is then used to chew food.

Prevention

  • This best prevention is without doubt feeding your rabbit a diet full of naturally abrasive materials such as hay and grass. For more information on what you should be feeding your rabbit follow this link.
  • Access to natural sunlight for vitamin D.

For more information on dental health follow this link.

Resources used: Second Edition Textbook of Rabbit Medicine/ Rabbit Medicine and Surgery for Veterinary Nurses.

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