Because guinea pigs are rodents, their teeth are open rooted, which means that they continue to grow right through life. They are born with teeth Ė except in some rare cases Ė and their health is very dependent on how well they grow and are looked after. If the babies have no teeth at birth this means that they have inherited a recessive gene from both parents and it is important that this pair are not allowed to breed again. The gene which causes the lack of teeth is linked to other problems and although the babies might live beyond babyhood they will not be strong and will not live to the usual span of around four years. If they do grow up, they should not be allowed to breed.
Broken teeth in guinea pigs
A broken tooth in any rodent also affects the tooth opposite as this tooth will have nothing to bite against and so will continue to grow. This will need attention, especially if the broken tooth is broken off to the gum. This tooth will grow again, but while it is doing so, its opposite number will possibly become deformed and may cause trouble later. The vet will be able to trim it for you, while waiting for the broken tooth to grow. Some guinea pig owners trim or file their animalsí teeth themselves, but this should be done only if you are super-confident and you have been trained by a vet. If you do it badly, this will have all kinds of knock-on effects for the guinea pig and you may end up with bad malocclusion problems, where the bites no longer match with the opposite tooth and the animal can quite literally starve to death.
If the teeth donít wear each other down properly, they can grow crooked or develop spurs which will cut the animalís mouth. It will stop it eating and this in turn will create all kinds of problems. A guinea pig is a very sensitive animal and if it needs lots of medical intervention it can make it very stressed, so it is by far the best idea to make sure that simple things like tooth care are attended to properly and in a timely fashion. If you notice your guinea pig is not eating properly or paws at its mouth, you should immediately examine its teeth. If it has a malocclusion, the root of the deformed tooth can grow back into its jaw and if this is an upper tooth it can pierce the nasal cavity or even the orbit of the eye. If you take any rodent to the vet, there will almost certainly be an x ray involved, to make sure this isnít happening.
Checking a guinea pigís teeth
Because they can be very nervous animals, it is a really good idea to get a guinea pig used to your looking in its mouth right from the time you get it home. Some people buy special instruments for opening its mouth, but if you approach it in a calm way, and do it frequently, the animal will soon get used to it and may even open its mouth for you. They are noisy animals for a rodent and so if it does not vocalise as much as usual, this can be a very early and easy sign to spot. If you give it hard things to chew, you will probably notice a change to the bite marks, or a lack of interest in the toy and this is another pointer. You don't necessarily need to actually put your finger in its mouth to find out there is a tooth problem. If there isnít a tooth problem, you may end up feeling really sorry that you put your finger in a guinea pigís mouth!
There are other issues apart from the toothless guinea pig mentioned above. Some genetic lines have a tendency to tooth problems and if it is possible to check, it is a good idea to make sure that your new guinea pigís parents both had no deformities or other issues to do with dentition. If you always buy from a reputable shop or dealer, or get your baby guinea pig from someone who is willing to let you meet the parents, this is probably the best way to avoid ending up with a pet who not only will cost you a lot in vet fees a few months down the road but which will also spend a lot of its life in pain and discomfort, which you obviously would want to avoid. Fortunately, perhaps, most tooth problems make themselves manifest quite early on in the animalís life, so you can prevent it being passed on to offspring by not breeding from that animal or any others you may have from the same parents.
Prevention of dental problems in guinea pigs
Guinea pigs must always have plenty of things to chew. Hay is a really important part of the diet, as the silica in the stems wears down the teeth really evenly. It is a simply job to keep an eye on a guinea pigís health Ė they are such affectionate, if slightly skittish, animals, so it is not a hardship to have a cuddle once a day and check that all is well.