Gingivitis in Small Mammals
Gingivitis is inflammation of the gum tissue resulting in redness and swelling. Dental plaque is one of the most common causes of gingivitis and it typically affects ferrets. Other small mammals are usually not affected.
Plaque results when bacteria normally found in the mouth mix with proteins and starches found in saliva to produce a gritty material that adheres to the teeth. Plaque eventually turns into tartar, which accumulates on the teeth especially at the gum line. Local irritants and some diseases also may cause gingivitis. Gingivitis can lead to periodontitis – inflammation around the tooth root – which in turn can lead to tooth loss.
What to Watch For
- Red or swollen gums
- Difficulty eating
Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize gingivitis and exclude other diseases. Your veterinarian will take a complete medical history and perform a thorough physical examination including a thorough oral examination of your ferret. Sedation or anesthesia may be needed for a complete oral examination.
In severe cases, additional tests may be recommended:
- A complete blood count (CBC), serum biochemistry tests and urinalysis may be performed to evaluate the general health of your pet before sedation or anesthesia.
- Full mouth X-rays are important to evaluate your ferret's teeth. Seventy percent of the tooth structure is below the gum-line and periodontitis cannot be properly diagnosed without them. These X-rays also will disclose more serious problems such as tooth root abscesses.
Ultrasonic scaling, which is cleaning the teeth both above and below the gum-line, and tooth polishing may arrest and reverse gingivitis.
Home Care and Prevention
Daily brushing of the teeth can be effective. Brushing your ferret's teeth on a daily basis can be just as effective as brushing your own teeth. This may, however, be difficult to accomplish. Brushing one to two times a week can also help. Also, chlorhexidine rinses or toothpastes can effectively remove plaque above the gum-line.
Follow up with your veterinarian as directed (usually every 3 to 6 months) for re-evaluation. Oral examinations by your veterinarian every 6 months to one year are recommended.