Dental disease is a common disorder in ferrets. It can result from poor dental hygiene, infections, trauma, and malocclusion. Proper dental care can help prevent and control some of these conditions.
Plaque and tartar
Plaque: Unless ferrets are given sugar-containing treats, they rarely get cavities. They are much more prone to gum disease and excess plaque build-up on the teeth. Food particles and bacteria collect along the gumline forming plaque.
Tartar: If plaque is not removed, minerals in the saliva combine with the plaque and form tartar (or calculus) which adheres strongly to the teeth. Plaque starts to mineralize 3-5 days after it forms. The tartar is irritating to the gums and causes an inflammation called gingivitis. This can be seen as reddening of the gums adjacent to the teeth. It also causes bad breath. At this point it is necessary to remove the tartar with special instruments called scalers, and then polish the teeth.
Periodontal Disease: If the tartar is not removed, it builds up under the gums. It separates the gums from the teeth to form "pockets" and encourages even more bacterial growth. At this point the damage is irreversible, and called "periodontal" disease. It can be very painful and can lead to loose teeth, abscesses, and bone loss or infection. As bacterial growth continues to increase, the bacteria may enter the bloodstream. This can cause infection of the heart valves (endocarditis), liver, and kidneys. If treated by your veterinarian with special instruments and procedures, periodontal disease can be slowed or stopped, but the damage it has done is irreversible.
Ferrets who chew or gnaw on hard surfaces can wear down or fracture the tips of their canine teeth. If the pulp of the tooth is not exposed, the condition is not painful. If the pulp is exposed, treatment is necessary. Options include surgical removal of the tooth or a root canal restoration.
Congenital dental problems
Some ferrets have congenital tooth problems. This can occur in ferrets who are born with short noses ('pug' faces). In these ferrets, the teeth are not aligned correctly (a condition called 'malocclusion') because there is not enough room in their mouths for the normal number of teeth. Most commonly, the lower canine teeth stick out. The protruding teeth press against the lips, causing a sore spot. See 'Brachycephaly' in Congenital Problems and Genetic Defects.
Occasionally, even ferrets that have normal noses have canine teeth that grow at unusual angles. When selecting a pet, avoid kits that have these problems.