Hamsters and their teeth
Hamsters do not have dental issues very often, but if they do, they need the care of a veterinarian. Prevention is often the best way to handle dental issues with your pet.
Malocclusion is a condition when a hamster’s incisor teeth are overgrown or are misaligned, resulting in having teeth that do not meet or align properly. This condition can be hereditary, or it can be the result of trauma, infection or an improper diet. (Feeding a hamster a steady diet of soft foods will result in this condition – he needs foods hard enough to wear his teeth down.) It is difficult to detect this condition in young hamsters, so even with a visual inspection before you purchase a hamster, the condition could manifest later in life. The teeth can appear normal when young, then become misaligned as the hamster matures.
Hamsters with this condition are, eventually, not able to eat. They suffer weight loss and die of starvation if not treated. Aside from weight loss, look for threads of saliva around the mouth (sometimes wiped with the front paws) – a symptom usually referred to as slobbers. If you notice these symptoms, you can check the teeth by pulling back the lips.
This condition is easily treated by a qualified veterinarian. There are two types of treatment generally used. The first is to clip the teeth while the hamster is awake. This procedure does not always produce favorable long-term results, and can also cause other problems to occur. An incisor can split or break, leaving jagged edges. If the break goes to the gum line, it will cause pain and possibly allow bacteria to enter, possibly resulting in a painful abscess. Jagged edges on the teeth can injure the hamster’s mouth and lips, possibly allowing bacteria to enter, and certainly causing discomfort and pain.
The second, and preferred, method is to use a high-speed drill. Using a drill leaves a smooth surface and avoids the issues sometimes caused with clipping. Most veterinarians currently use this method.
The best cure for dental issues is a healthy dose of prevention. Make sure your hamster has food that is appropriate for hamsters. This will include pellets that are hard enough to wear down the enamel of his teeth.
Chew toys (specially made for hamsters) can also be used. These are usually made of wood and other materials that are safe for hamsters to chew. (Do not use just any type of wood you find for your hamster. Certain types of wood can be bad for your hamsters health. Pieces of wood you find around the house or outside may contain chemicals, parasites, insects or nails, or they might splinter and possibly cause injury if ingested. Hamster toys are specifically made to avoid these issues.)
Periodic visual inspection of your hamster’s mouth can catch problems early and provide the best chance of successful treatment. If you have any concerns, it is best to err on the side of caution and consult your veterinarian.