Chinchilla teeth grow continually through their lives, and for this reason it is essential that they are provided with something to gnaw on, whether that be a pumice stone or an off cut of wood. If this is not available then serious dental problems can arise. Overgrown teeth will prevent the chinchilla eating, leaving it weak and suffering from weight loss, which in turn can lead to other illnesses. Watch you chinchillas behavior. If it is continually pawing at it's mouth, dribbles, and is visibly showing signs of weight loss then check it's teeth. It is relatively easy to do this with the front, but you made need the services of your local vet to check the back teeth. It is relatively easy to file the front teeth.
Contributors : Phil Myers (photographer, copyright holder),
Animal Diversity Web Staff (photographer)
It is worth pointing out that healthy chinchilla teeth are NOT white, they are in fact a yellow to orange colour. This is an indication of the chin being fed a healthy diet and is no cause for concern. Chin baby teeth do start off as white, but they change colour as the chin matures into an adult. White teeth are in fact an indication of the diet being deficient in nutrition. The most important nutrients for the chin are calcium and phosphorous in a 2:1 ratio and vitamins A, B, and D. Vitamin A deficiency can cause watery eyes and the chin's teeth to lighten, so care must be taken not to confuse this with a dental condition and have your animal destroyed. This may sound like a Draconian method of dealing with dental problems, but conditions such as malocclusion are inherited, and the dedicated breeder must do everything in their power not to use chins that have a history of dental problems for breeding purposes. This is one of the many reasons I recommend that people buy chins from breeders, not from pet shops. That way they avoid the risk of expensive vets bills and having to have their pet destroyed.
Use of a dedicated chinchilla pellet will avoid poor nutrition as the calcium to phosphorous ratio will be correct as the pellets were designed for the specific needs of chinchillas. Mixed foods tend to encourage the chin to pick at it's food, finding one or several items that it prefers and ignoring the rest. The end result is that the chinchilla does not receive a balanced diet possibly leading to dental problems.
As I've pointed out, it is easy to deal with the top half of the tooth, but unfortunately, malocclusion also affects the roots of the tooth as well. This results in the roots growing upwards into the eye orbit, or downwards into the lower jaw. Until very recently root overgrowth was considered to be untreatable, and the kindest thing to do was have the chin put to sleep. It is possible to deal with the root overgrowth of the lower teeth. An incision is made under the chin of the chinchilla. the roots of the tooth are all drilled out, there by killing the teeth. This will prevent further tooth growth and also means that the affected teeth do not have to be removed.
I would recommend that either of these methods is only used for pet chinchillas, not breeding chinchillas. Affected chins should not be used as breeding stock. The number of chins with signs of malocclusion has dropped in recent years, but if unscrupulous breeders use these method to 'cure' their sick animals, then the number of affected animals will sure to be on the increase. It is the breeders duty not to use chins for breeding that have a history of malocclusion.