- There are 4 canines, also called “fang” or “eye” teeth, are quite large and are located at the front of the mouth on the top and bottom jaw. They are used to puncture and grip onto their prey.
- The upper third premolar and lower first molar are found near the back of the ferret’s mouth, and in front of the non-carnassial molars, are the carnassial (or sectoral) teeth. The purpose of these teeth is to shear through tissue and bone, much like scissors cut through paper. The non-carnassial molars at the rear of the mouth can be used to crush or grind up invertebrates.
- The 6 small Incisors are located on the front of the mouth, between the canines and they are used to help scrape meat off the bone, but it appears that ferrets can continue to eat food with little hindrance if these are lost or damaged.
Role of Teeth
Each of the ferret’s 34 teeth serve a specific purpose and allow for the efficient consumption of raw and whole prey foods. With that being said, it is very clear that these cute little guys’ teeth are built for flesh. Kibble on the other hand, increases the chance of teeth wear and grinds away ferret teeth at faster rates than in larger animals not simply because their teeth are smaller, but because they have proportionately less volume of dentine when compared to the teeth of larger carnivores.
Effect of Kibble on Ferret Teeth
Ferret teeth is not designed to chew kibble. Kibble does not cut like meat. When meat is compressed by opposing cutting teeth, it compacts and severs as the teeth scissor through the tissue. Some tissue is dragged back and forth on the teeth, but the friction is slight and the wear rate is low. Of great importance to the teeth is that the tissue compresses during eating, which imparts little impact to the tooth, and in some cases can even act as a shock absorber to dental tissues. However, when kibble is eaten, it doesn’t compress-it fractures and drags across the tops of the carnassials. Kibble is a hard substance, so ferrets chew it in a predictable manner on specific teeth. This makes tooth wear predictable. These teeth are simply not structurally designed to process a food as abrasive as kibble. These teeth are extremely small, and are designed for holding and ripping tissue, not crushing abrasive biscuits. They wear down very rapidly, and it is not unusual to find only the tops of the roots protruding from the recessed gums.There is zero evidence that consuming a kibble diet will keep the teeth of ferrets clean. In fact, the opposite was found to be true; most ferrets consuming kibble had as much dental tartar, or more, as those consuming a wet diet (wet cat food, chicken baby food, a/d, etc.). Pet ferrets consuming a natural diet, polecats, black-footed ferrets, and New Zealand feral ferrets had very little dental tartar.
Ferret dental problems are similar to dog and cat conditions. Fractured teeth and broken canines are quite common for ferrets. A tooth can break from a fight or other trauma. Ferrets, especially those confined to cages for long periods of time, are prone to biting cage wire in an attempt to escape. Over time, distinct wear patterns emerge that are distinguishable from dietary attrition. The notching on the canine indicated by the arrow significantly reduces the biomechanical strength of the tooth, increasing its likelihood of fracture. Sometimes only the enamel is chipped and if that is the case then it should be treated by a veterinarian who will sedate the ferret and file down any rough edges. If the tooth fractures and exposes the nerve, the treatment of choice is to remove the inflamed nerve in order to save the tooth.
Ferrets can also suffer from some orthodontic conditions. If one or both of the lower canines may abnormally point forward. this condition may cause the upper lip to become inflamed and cause excess dryness of the lower gum tissues. The treatment for this consists of removing half or three quarters of the tooth’s height and sealing the pulp chamber with medication and acrylic bonding.
Periodontal disease is the most common condition in the ferret older than six years. Periodontal disease can be decreased through cleaning every six months and daily tooth brushing. Some cat toothpastes appear to be safe to use in ferrets but please remember to check ingredients before using anything because some toothpastes can contain toxic or harmful ingredients to ferrets. The treatment of periodontal disease consists of extraction of loose teeth and frequent veterinary oral evaluations.