For guinea pigs, tooth trouble isn’t just a cosmetic concern. It can become a matter of life or death.
When our senior guinea pig, Player, didn’t greet breakfast with his normal verve, it got my attention fast. The reason for his reluctance was obvious as soon as I checked his teeth. One lower front tooth was broken off fairly close to the gum line.
Guinea pig teeth
As Guinea Lynx explains, guinea pigs have 20 teeth. There are the four incisors readily visible at the front of their mouths and a series of premolars and molars tucked back out of sight behind their cheeks. Unlike humans, guinea pig have open rooted teeth that continually grow; that’s why it’s important to supply hay and chews for your pet to gnaw on.
The initial problem with a broken tooth
The first hurdle in caring for a guinea pig with a broken tooth is getting it to eat. Left to its own devices, your pet could starve. We spent weeks hand-feeding Player a mix of his absolute favorites. Since he got frustrated when he tried to pick up his food and fumbled it, we held his preferred romaine lettuce for him and let him rip it with his three good teeth. We balanced slivers of grated apples and carrots on our fingertips and sliced bananas, strawberries, cucumbers and watermelons into pieces that didn’t require chewing. We fed a little too much fruit, but we were more concerned with getting Player to eat something than the quality of his diet at that point.
As his tooth grew back in, Player soon start eating on his own again. My husband set up a tray beside the guinea pig cage and ate his own breakfast while Player did, which kept the critter content.
A secondary problem with a broken tooth
Because the majority of vets in my hometown won’t treat guinea pigs, something not uncommon in rural areas, I relied on Guinea Lynx and The Peter Gurney Guinea Pig Health Guide; both are fabulous sites for guinea pig owners. Armed with what I’d learned there, I practiced watchful waiting. Basically, I kept my fingers crossed that the broken tooth would grow back without causing other issues.
Unfortunately, we weren’t that lucky. Despite Player’s best efforts, the bottom tooth that hadn’t broken outgrew the one that had, creating a misalignment that would have eventually prevented him from eating again. Thankfully, I finally managed to track down a vet about an hour away from me who often treated rabbits, another animal with open root teeth. After looking at my guinea pig’s teeth she confirmed that the too-long tooth was going to cause problems if it wasn’t corrected. Player was given the teensiest bit of anesthesia to make him groggy and then she used the veterinary equivalent of Dremel tool to even his teeth back out. It wasn’t something that could’ve been done immediately after the break because then his teeth would’ve been too short for him to eat comfortably. But with his damaged tooth almost back to normal, it was now safe to trim the other tooth to match it.
Before I took one drowsy guinea pig back home, she advised me to keep watching for any sign of misalignment, explaining that I could correct the problem myself with a fingernail file and a little patience if I caught it soon enough.
Guinea pig dental care
Taking care of your guinea pig’s teeth doesn’t require a pig-sized toothbrush and tomato-flavored toothpaste. Instead, make sure your pet eats a healthy diet with plenty of vitamin C and has its choice of materials to gnaw on to keeps its teeth properly worn.
As for my guinea pig, he was soon crunching through baby carrots with relish. Thankfully, Player didn’t have any other dental problems.
Looking for more information on guinea pig care? Check out these:
“Going Guinea: How Do You Give a Guinea Pig a Bath?” — Bree Shaw
“Going with Guinea: How to Keep Your Guinea Pig Safe on Car Trips” — Bree Shaw