Rabbit Dental Anatomy and Oral Health
Do you know how many teeth rabbits have? Do they have baby teeth that fall out like humans as they get older? Do you need to brush your rabbits’ teeth? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and so much more!
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Anatomy and Function of Rabbit Teeth: The Basics
Rabbits have a total of 28 teeth - 6 incisors, 10 premolars and 12 molars. There are no canine teeth in rabbits. They have 4 upper incisors, although two are much smaller and hidden behind the larger incisor teeth. The small incisor is called the Peg tooth. In heathy rabbits when the mouth is closed, the larger upper incisor will be in front and the small peg tooth in back of the lower incisor tooth obscuring most of the lower incisor from view. This formation allows the rabbit to grind and file down the incisors which is important since these teeth grow about 2mm each week!
Rabbits have continually growing teeth, termed elodont, that have no true roots. The crowns of the teeth are very long and extend below the gum line, termed hypsodont.
A rabbit’s upper jaw is wider than the lower jaw, and they can only open their mouths 20-25 degrees compared with rats that can open their mouths 40 degrees. This can make it difficult to fully evaluate all the teeth in the mouth.
Rabbits do have baby teeth! However, these teeth fall out before or shortly after birth.
How Rabbits Pick Up (Apprehend) Food and Chew
Rabbits will bite into their hay and veggies with the incisor teeth in a vertical bite motion. To chew the food, the rabbit will use the premolars and molars, often called ‘cheek teeth’, in a horizontal motion. This is important to keep the teeth filed down properly.
Hay and greens are the best food to encourage normal wearing of the cheek teeth. Carrots and pellets induce more vertical bite motions and don’t help file down the cheek teeth as well as foods that induce more chewing/horizontal mouth movements.
What can I do to keep my rabbit’s teeth healthy?
You don’t need to brush your rabbits’ teeth at home since they continually grow and replace the crown. This means the exposed crown isn’t around long enough to develop any significant calculus or plaque accumulation that brushing would help deter.
You do need to be sure you have the proper diet for your rabbit to help them keep their teeth healthy and filed down. Hay should be the main part of the diet and will help reduce points and overgrown cheek teeth. Be sure to read our article on Rabbit Nutrition for more information!
Causes of Dental Disease in Rabbits
Other than an improper diet, other causes of dental disease in rabbits include malocclusion (born with abnormal jaw position), trauma (attack by another animal, running into a wall, biting down on something too hard), and metabolic bone disease (abnormal calcium and phosphorus levels in the body leading to bone weakness and dental disease).
If your rabbit does develop overgrown teeth, it can lead to pain, difficulty picking up and chewing food, and trapping of the tongue between the points of the overgrown teeth. This can eventually make it too hard for your rabbit to eat on its own.
If you’re concerned your bunny has overgrown teeth, be sure to bring her to the vet immediately for a full evaluation. Your bunny may need to be sedated to fully examine the mouth and may need to undergo anesthesia to have the teeth filed down and obtain x-rays to see if there is anything else going on that’s leading to the overgrowth.
Oral Abscesses in Rabbits
Other than developing overgrown incisors and cheek teeth, rabbits can also develop abscesses at the base of the teeth. These commonly develop after a trauma and fracture of a tooth, but not always. Periapical abscesses lead to bone loss in the skull, and you may be able to feel a firm lump along the jaw line. Radiographs (x-rays) and a CT scan of the skull can help identify these abscesses, locate the affected tooth, and give an idea on how severely the jaw bone has been affected.
Treatment of these abscesses are intensive and require extraction of the affected tooth, removing any diseased bone around the tooth, and antibiotic treatment. Pain medications and assisted feedings help during the recovery process.
The abscesses are often left open through the skin in a procedure called marsupialization, to deter the abscess from recurring. The open abscess can be treated with antibiotics directly or antibiotic-impregnated beads can be instilled to help fight the infection.
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