Ferrets have 30 baby and 34 adult teeth. All baby teeth should be in by three months and lost by nine months of age.
There are four main types of teeth. The six small upper and lower incisors located in the front that are used to gather food; four canines, also called fang or eye teeth used to puncture the food; three upper and lower premolars used to shear or cut food; and one upper and two lower molars used to grind up food.
Ferret dental problems are similar to dog and cat conditions. Fractured teeth occur commonly. The tooth can break from a fight or other trauma. At times only the enamel is chipped, which should be treated by allowing the veterinarian to sedate the ferret and grind down any rough edges. Other times the tooth fractures to expose the nerve. If there is nerve exposure, the treatment of choice is to remove the inflamed nerve to save the tooth. Metallic or acrylic is used to restore the tooth.
Ferrets even suffer from some orthodontic conditions. 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. Treatment consists of removing half or three quarters and sealing the pulp chamber with medication and acrylic bonding.
Periodontal disease is the most common condition in the ferret older than 6 years old. Periodontal disease can be decreased through cleaning every six months and daily tooth brushing. Special dog and cat tooth pastes appear to be safe to use in ferrets. Treatment of periodontal disease consists of extraction of loose teeth and frequent veterinary oral evaluation.
Ferrets are frequently presented to veterinarians to "trim" teeth in order to decrease damage from biting. However, the procedure of "trimming" canine teeth to make exotic animals (ferrets, primates, feral, and exotic cats) behave is barbaric and should not be tolerated by the veterinary community. In most cases, the consenting veterinarian simply cuts the tooth in half. Unfortunately this allows food and bacteria to travel down the open root canal system, eventually causing a deep infection in the bone. In addition to being painful, the infection can also spread to the heart, liver, and kidneys, causing harm. If your ferret's teeth have been trimmed in the past, a veterinarian familiar with dentistry should be consulted to x-ray the tooth roots and remove the infected nerve prior to sealing the canal if possible.
If the ferret owner has exhausted all other behavioral modification means to control biting, the canines' height can be reduced using a procedure called vital pulpotomy, where the root canal system is sealed, not allowing infection or discomfort.
Dr. Jan Bellows is a board-certified veterinary dentist. His office, Hometown Animal Hospital and Dental Clinic, is located at 17100 Royal Palm Boulevard in Weston, Florida. He can be reached for consultations at 954-349-5800.