How a rabbits teeth work
Their back teeth are designed to grind up long fibre and the top teeth do not oppose the bottom ones. This is because the rabbit grinds its back teeth from side to side. As a result the top teeth can grow outwards and sharp edges can stick into the cheek. The lower teeth can grow inward and sharp edges can develop and stick into the tongue. This causes ulcers and leads to pain.
Initially the rabbit goes off hard food that requires chewing, such as hay. Then they go off all food and start to salivate. Many will still try to eat but the food will be scattered around their feeding bowls.
The increase in length of the back teeth cause the lower jaw to drop slightly which leads to a misalignment of the front teeth. Many front teeth overgrowths are in fact due to overlong back teeth. The lower back teeth grow at three times the rate of the top teeth and this overgrowth can put abnormal forces on the roots which can lead to the roots being pushed towards the bone surface. This can lead to osteomyelitis, a deep-seated bone infection that causes abscesses.
Treatment of dental problems
A rabbit with any sign of the above needs a clinical examination, which is best done under anaesthesia. It is estimated that 95% of the sharp edges, the 'spurs' will be missed on examination in a conscious rabbit.
It is also advisable that rabbits are x-rayed to check for signs of root changes. Once under anaesthesia, the back teeth can be shortened and all sharp edges removed. Their front teeth can also be shortened, or indeed removed to prevent continuous growth. Rabbits cope very well without their front teeth, however it is possible for regrowth to occur.
An x-ray is required to check the back teeth as there is little point removing the front teeth if the back tones are the underlying problem.
This is vital for the successful solution to dental problems; repeat check-ups (under anaesthesia in some cases) will ensure that the back teeth are kept under control. Diet is the key to help in this. Your rabbit ideally needs hay and grass as at least 75% of its diet. The rest can be made up of a complete pelleted diet and high fibre green vegetables. Conversion may take some time, as your rabbit has to adjust to a new type of diet. Generally it is advised to change their diet slowly over 2 weeks if it is required.