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Grooming Part 4: Teeth

Dental hygiene is just as important in ferrets as it is in humans. Keeping your ferret's teeth clean will help prevent the onset of gum disease and other medical conditions later in life. Some ferrets ...

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Dental hygiene is just as important in ferrets as it is in humans. Keeping your ferret's teeth clean will help prevent the onset of gum disease and other medical conditions later in life. Some ferrets are more prone to gum and teeth problems due to heredity. Poor diet can also predispose your ferret to dental problems as well.
Feeding a proper diet is a very important part of keeping the teeth and gums healthy and strong. A high quality diet ferret(or kitten) kibble containing the necessary nutrients is a must. Dry kibble is preferable over wet, canned food. Canned food tends to lead to excessive plaque and tartar buildup. And it tends to build up much quicker than if you were feeding a hard kibble. The crunchiness of the hard kibble seems to help work some of the plaque and tartar off of the teeth as the ferret chews. The chewing of the crunchy kibble also helps keep their jaw muscles strong and satifies their "chewing" need.
Starting a regimen of regular teeth cleanings will help remove plaque and tartar(or at least remove the plaque before it becomes tartar which is much more difficult to remove from the teeth). Getting your ferret used to having it's teeth cleaned starting at an early age will make things easier in the long run.
Teeth cleanings can be done one of two ways. Either by brushing the teeth or scaling them with a dental instrument. Both take practice, but scaling is much more difficult and definitely not for the squeamish. You'll need to start out getting your ferret accustomed to having something in his/her mouth before brushing their teeth. You can use your finger at first. Scruff your ferret, then using the index finger of your free hand, gently rub the gums and inside of your ferret's mouth. At first your ferret may try to nip or bite you, but after a few tries, they'll generally stop. Once they are used to this, you can try brushing his/her teeth. There are a few items you'll need to do this. You can purchase a cat/kitten toothbrush, pet safe tooth paste(malt flavor seems to work best). Never use toothpaste made for humans. Human toothpaste is meant to be spit out. Since animals cannot do this, swallowing toothpaste can make them sick. Pet toothpastes are meant to be swallowed. They will not cause your ferret any harm. In place of the kitten toothbrush, you can use a finger brush or a piece of gauze wrapped around your finger. Whichever is easiest and most comfortable for you to use. Put a small drop of toothpaste(pea size or smaller) on the toothbrush(or whichever item you are using). Scruff your ferret and with your free hand, gently lift the ferret's upper lip and brush gently using circular motions; much like you would your own teeth. Make sure to brush the gumline as well as this is where the majority of plaque and tartar tends to accumulate. The gums may bleed, especially if there was a buildup of plaque or just because the gums/teeth haven't been brushed before. And since the blood tends to naturally run along the gums/gumline, the bleeding will look a lot worse than it really is. It will look like a lot of blood, when it might only be a small amount. So don't panic. Only brush as long as your ferret is comfortable. If your ferret starts to fuss and struggle, then stop and wait until a later time to start again. Continue until you have done all of the teeth. The outer sides and top of the teeth are the most impoertant areas to clean. The inner sides(next to the tongue) are rather difficult to do, so brushing those areas is not necessary. Giving your ferret a lickable treat after brushing or between brushing areas can make things a little easier and less stressing.
Scaling teeth is a bit trickier to do than brushing. It takes a lot of practice. Their is always the risk of the gums getting pricked if your ferret jerks it's head or you have an unsteady hand. Scaling should not be done very often as the tip of the scaling instrument tends to scratch the enamel of the teeth. These scratches end up becoming a magnet for plaque, which in turn makes the plaque and tartar build up twice as fast. You can purchase a scaling tool from your dentist or vet. The size, style and shape of scaler you buy should be based on what you are comfortable with. Be careful, some human scaling tools have VERY sharp points and will make nicking the gums much more likely to happen. First, scruff your ferret firmly with one hand. It is important to keep your ferret's head VERY still to avoid nicking the gums or other areas in the mouth. Now, take the scraper and find the edge of the tartar(at the gum line) and use the tip to gently "pull" the tartar away from the tooth. If you can't find the edge, place the point in the center of the tartar and apply a small amount of pressure. This should break up the tartar apart and you can then pull away the individual pieces. Try to avoid "scraping" the surface of the tooth as much as possible. The sides of the top molars and the canines seem to be the ones that end up with the most tartar. If you don't feel comfortable doing, you can ask your vet to assist you or do it for you.
Poor dental hygiene can lead to tooth loss and gum disease, which in turn can lead to heart and/or kidney problems. So keeping teeth clean will help keep your ferret from developing these health problems. *Please note: Ferrets can develop heart/kidney problems due to other conditions, but keeping teeth clean will help them avoid developing these health problems when they are in direct relation to poor dental hygiene and gum disease*