Chinchillas are very prone to dental disease. Malocclusion and overgrown teeth are common issues many chinchilla owners manage with regular tooth trimmings with their exotics vet (find one near you). But sometimes some tooth issues can't be managed quite as easily.
What is Dental Lysis?
Dental lysis, also referred to as interdental lysis, or odontoclastic tooth resorption, is a breakdown of the teeth. Similar to conditions that horses and cats get, this resorptive tooth disease is still a bit of a mystery to the pet and scientific worlds and affects the cheek teeth of chinchillas.
Despite the research that has been done, no one knows for sure what causes tooth resorption (dental lysis) but we do know that it is an effect of chronic periodontal inflammation (inflammation around the teeth) from malocclusion. Chinchilla teeth are naturally allowed some movement due to the unique anatomy of their mouths (their teeth are not directly connected to the periodontal ligament that typically holds them in their places). Therefore when the teeth aren't lined up correctly from malocclusion they tend to move even more than usual and inflammation results. This inflammation can eventually cause the lysis to occur (breakdown of the teeth) and then ankylosis (fusing of the tooth to the jaw). In addition to the fragile nature of the tooth from the lytic lesions, the tooth is now impossible to extract from the jaw due to the ankylosis.
How is Dental Lysis Diagnosed?
Chinchillas are often presented to the vet with a decrease in appetite and stool production, and even slobbering and grinding of teeth (bruxism). These symptoms are usually a result of ileus (gastrointestinal stasis) but the ileus can be a result of a tooth issue such as dental lysis. The only way to know if your chinchilla has lytic lesions on his teeth is to take a radiograph (x-ray) or get an MRI. Since an MRI will cost you close to $2,000, radiographs are typically the diagnostic tool of choice for chinchilla owners and their checkbooks. It is recommend to obtain several radiographic views of the entire skull of your chinchilla to properly diagnose him with dental lysis and make sure there aren't any supposedly healthy teeth that are also already experiencing resorption.
How is Dental Lysis Treated?
Most vets will reach for antibiotics when treating tooth issues due to the assumption that there is an infection but dental lysis is not an infection. There is no medication that will fix this condition but anti-inflammatory and pain drugs such as meloxicam and buprenorphine will definitely help with the pain control and inflammation of the areas surrounding the teeth.
Unfortunately, this disease often affects more than one tooth resulting in a chinchilla that is in chronic discomfort or pain and won't/can't eat. Your vet may recommend euthanasia when your chinchilla is no longer happy.
Why Can't the Teeth Just Be Pulled?
These teeth become very soft and nearly impossible to extract. There is a high risk for breaking the jaw while attempting extraction and the likelihood that it will solve the problem of pain and your chinchilla not eating is slim to none. More than one tooth is typically affected and if inflammation from malocclusion has already caused a tooth to go bad already it will continue to happen to other cheek teeth. The pain and stress of oral surgery is just too much for a sick chinchilla to handle.
Then How Can Dental Lysis Be Prevented?
Unfortunately it cannot. Since we don't know exactly what causes it we cannot stop it from happening. The best we can do is manage malocclusion by getting regular tooth trims (chinchilla teeth grow 5-6.5 mm a year) and offer the "Chinchilla Teeth Diet." Once your chinchilla starts having issues with his teeth get them radiographed. Sometimes you can get rid of a problem tooth before multiple teeth are affected or see if there is another reason for the issues such as an abscess, tumor, or something else.