Other than birds and turtles, our other companions typically have teeth. And teeth get problems no matter what animal they grow in. Some type of animals have more dental issues than others.
For example, ferrets can break their teeth; they have issues with periodontal disease and lots of calculus (what you may have heard as tartar) which can allow bacteria to get between the teeth and bone and cause infection.
Small herbivores due to their easy life and commonly available ‘bad’ foods can get overly grown and abnormal teeth especially of the back teeth that you can’t see very well. During this changing process, they can shift and change the skull and jawbone, and infections and abscesses are often a complication of dental disease. Since abscesses are best treated surgically, the complexity of the skull can make it problematic to identify exactly what is wrong and find best way to approach the altered anatomy.
CT scans are very helpful in this regard, but can be costly and difficult to get done for nontraditional pets. The next best option- is high detail radiography of the skull and teeth. This can be done by “extraoral” views or “intraoral” views. Extraoral is when the xray beam is shot directly through the head onto a sensor on the outside of the head. Intraoral is when the xray beam goes partway through the jaw to register on a sensor that is placed in the mouth. For most of us, going to the dentist means getting xrays of our teeth so we are familiar with the intraoral approach- where we bite down on a little film or sensor and the little xray machines aims on it. This is similar to what is done for our patients, adapted of course to the small size, different anatomy, and with herbivores, a mouth that doesn’t open very wide (versus carnivores, whose jaws open wider in comparison).
We need to use the highest resolution as possible because our patients are so small. We have recently started using a dental digital radiographic unit called the CR7 in our dental work. This shows detail five times the resolution of our regular digital radiographic unit and has sensor plates of various sizes as well as some shaped to get the best view for lower rabbit jaws.
Here is an image of a normal rabbit jaw on the rabbit plate. In this choice of views, we can see the most rear molar very well. It’s on the top of the X-ray.
In fact there is so much detail we can see a slight disruption in the tooth growth of the front tooth (it’s on the bottom). This detail can really help track down issues.
Here is a view of a rabbit’s upper respiratory system as well as a view of the upper row of teeth. In this case, the rabbit had had several abscesses already due to infected roots of teeth, and after removing the roots and flushing out the abscesses they healed up. However, another abscess developed and we needed to see whether there was another infected root that would make us need to take out a tooth. In this rabbit’s case, we are not seeing an infected tooth and the infection seems to come from an infected bone on the outer part of his head, probably secondary to his previous abscesses. This intraoral view shows us a clear picture of how affected (or not affected) the tooth roots are and helps plan our surgery beforehand.
In addition to the radiology views of the teeth and head, we can also get more detail on small parts of the body than typical radiography. Here are views of a mouse.
It is a pleasure to more easily see what we need to do to treat our patients with the CR7. If your exotic animal has a problem that has been hard to track down, perhaps radiology can give further details. During your animal’s examination we can discuss how this kind of imaging will be useful.