Not all exotics have problems with their teeth but guinea pig teeth can cause problems. Guinea pigs, like some other exotic pets, have the type of teeth that grow continuously throughout their lives. These teeth may periodically require tooth trims if your cavy doesn't wear them down himself.
Herbivores such as rabbits, chinchillas, and guinea pigs have long teeth that continously grow, often requiring tooth trims. These teeth are called hypsodontal teeth. Hypsodont teeth have crowns (the part of the teeth you can see) that extend a great length beyond the gums, therefore hypsodontal teeth are unusually long when compared to the teeth of dogs, cats, or humans. The natural grinding action of chewing on toys, hay and other food items, causes the teeth to stay at an ideal length in normal herbivores, but many need to have their teeth manually cut on a regular basis due to a number of health and genetic factors.
The incisors, or front teeth, of your cavy are the easiest to identify when they become overgrown. They will usually grow so long that they begin to curve and stick out between the lips. Once they get too long they can become stuck on things, or worse yet, grow into the gums or roof of your guinea pig's mouth. The molars, or teeth in the back of the mouth, can also reach excessive lengths. Molars are difficult to observe without the use of a speculum to look in the back of the mouth, but guinea pigs with overgrown molars will commonly hypersalivate and have difficulty chewing and swallowing.
Incisor Tooth Trims
If done correctly, tooth trims are not painful. There are two common methods used to trim incisors. The first is by using regular dog nail trimmers to cut the teeth like you would a toenail but this method is not the preferred way to trim teeth. There is a high risk of cracking or splitting the teeth because of the force needed to use the clippers. This method can cause pain if the tooth is split up to the nerve or is trimmed too short. The second method is by using a handheld rotary tool, like the Dremel, with a cut-off wheel to slice off the excess tooth. This method does require a bit more skill and sometimes requires anesthesia or sedation to hold a fractious pet still, but it can be easily performed by a trained person. This method causes no trauma to the tooth. The only concerns are for trauma to the gums or lips of your cavy if the wheel accidentally grazes them, or if the tooth is trimmed too short. Many exotic pet hospitals will perform these tooth trims inexpensively with a technician or a doctor.
Molar Tooth Trims
Trimming molars can be more difficult than trimming incisors. Molars are not as easily identified as being overgrown, so the pet is usually already being seen by a veterinarian by this point. After the veterinarian confirms that your guinea pig's molars are too long, they may be able to trim them with the pet awake using a surgical instrument designed for bone or tooth removal called a rongeur (interestingly enough, the word rongeur is French for rodent) or a tooth specific instrument. If your guinea pig allows them, and the veterinarian can grasp the correct tooth, the overgrown portion is simply snipped off. There is a possibility for trauma, but unlike dog nail clippers, rongeurs are much sharper and don't usually cause any damage. If the trimming is too complex or the pet is too fractious, anesthesia or sedation can be administered to perform the trim. With your cavy temporarily incapacitated, the molars can be trimmed and filed down to an appropriate length. This is the ideal method of trimming molars, but owners may have financial constraints that restrict them from anesthetizing or sedating their exotic pets.
Owners of guinea pigs and other exotic pets with hypsodontal teeth must be aware of the possible complications regarding their pet's teeth. Without the proper attention, overgrown teeth can cause serious trauma, anorexia, and even death from the inability to chew and swallow. Thankfully the problem of overgrown teeth is easily controlled with regular tooth trims and proper chewing behaviors. But if you need help with your guinea pig's teeth give your local exotics vet a call.