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WFRS Newsletters

February is Pet Dental Health Month

February 3, 2024 - Ferret Dental Care. Brought to you by your veterinarians at WFRS and the American Veterinary Medical Association

What is veterinary dentistry and who provides it?

Veterinary dentistry, like human dentistry, includes preventative care, cleaning, extraction, and repair of teeth. Ferrets can receive similar dental care to people, including root canals and other advanced procedures. Dental procedures are performed by a veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary dentist. In some areas, veterinary technicians are allowed to perform certain dental procedures under the supervision of a veterinarian.

Typical steps of a dental exam:

  • The veterinarian will examine the ferret's entire mouth to look for any abnormalities in the teeth, gums, tongue, or other tissues.
  • Radiographs (X-rays) may be needed to evaluate the health of the jawbone and tooth roots below the gum line.
  • Dental cleaning under anesthesia includes scaling that will remove dental plaque and tartar, followed by polishing.

Why does ferret dentistry require sedation/anesthesia?

Unlike people, your ferret doesn't understand the importance of dental care and the need to remain still, and might react by moving, trying to escape or even biting. Anesthesia makes it possible to perform the dental procedures with less stress and pain for your ferret. It also allows for a more thorough cleaning because your ferret isn't moving around and risking injury from the dental equipment. If X-rays are needed, better quality images are obtained when your ferret is still.

Most dental diseases occur below the gum line where you can't see it. Damage may already be occurring even though your ferret's teeth look healthy.

Regularly brushing your ferret's teeth is the single most effective action you can take to keep your ferret's teeth healthy and possibly prevent most of the common oral diseases. Daily brushing is best, but not always possible. Brushing several times a week can also be effective.

Although anesthesia will always have risks, it is safe overall, and the benefits of using it for dentistry far outweigh the risks. Most ferrets are on their feet within minutes of waking up and can usually go home the same day. Your veterinarian can explain the measures they take to keep your pet safe during anesthesia and recovery.

Cleaning with a scaler: Healthier gums, cleaner teeth.

What types of dental problems can a ferret have?

Some examples of dental problems that may require veterinary dentistry:

  • Extra teeth or retained baby teeth
  • Broken teeth and roots
  • Broken or fractured jaw
  • Abscesses or infected teeth
  • Periodontal disease
  • Palate defects such as cleft palate
  • Cysts or tumors in the mouth
  • Malocclusion or misalignment of teeth and bite

What are the signs of oral health problems in a ferret?

Your ferret’s teeth should be checked at least once a year by your veterinarian for early signs of a problem and to keep your ferret’s mouth healthy. Although many signs of dental problems are obvious, nonspecific signs such as irritability and behavioral changes also can result from oral diseases. If you observe any of the following signs, contact your veterinarian. Always use caution when evaluating your ferret’s mouth because a ferret in pain may bite.

  • Bad breath
  • Reduced appetite
  • Broken or loose teeth
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar
  • Abnormal chewing, drooling or dropping food from the mouth
  • Swelling in the areas surrounding the mouth

What is periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease is the most common dental condition in dogs, cats, and ferrets. By the time your pet is 3 years old, he or she will very likely already have early evidence of periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease is an inflammatory condition of the structures that surround and support the teeth. Early detection and treatment are critical because advanced periodontal disease can cause severe problems and pain for your ferret. Periodontal disease doesn’t just impact your ferret’s mouth; other health problems associated with periodontal disease include kidney, liver and heart muscle changes.

Periodontal disease starts with plaque that hardens into tartar. Tartar above the gum line can often easily be seen and removed, but the plaque and tartar below the gum line are damaging and set the stage for infection and damage to the jawbone and tissues that connect the tooth and jawbone. Periodontal disease is graded on a scale of 0 (normal) to 4 (severe).

Stage 1 periodontal disease, gingivitis:
There is visible tartar build up on the teeth and slight swelling and redness of the gums.

Stage 2 and 3 gingival and periodontal disease:
The gums are more swollen in stage 2, and there can be mild loss of bone around the tooth roots, which is only visible on X-rays.

Stage 3 looks similar to stage 2 on the surface, but X-rays show more severe bone loss.

Stage 4 periodontal disease:
Stage 4 is very serious, with severe tartar accumulation, receded gum lines, tooth damage and decay, and bone loss.

Is there anything I can do at home for my ferret's oral health?

With patience and positive reinforcement training, most ferrets will accept brushing. There are many products on the market that claim to improve dental health, but not all of them are effective. Talk with your veterinarian about any dental products, treats, dental specific diets, and home brushing activities you are considering for your pet.

For more resources:

American Veterinary Medical Association
American Veterinary Dental College
American Animal Hospital Association