|TL;DR: Guinea pigs usually have a total of 20 teeth.
Their teeth never stop growing throughout their entire lives. Because of this, guinea pigs are no strangers to dental issues. To keep their teeth strong and with a healthy length, cavies need to routinely gnaw on things and maintain a balanced, nutritious diet.
These fluffy herbivores rely on their teeth to munch their way through a day’s worth of plant fiber, but like with any dental system, they are prone to problems if the diet isn’t right.
But not to worry. In this article, we will dive into the ins and outs of guinea pig teeth, exploring common dental issues and tips and tricks to keep your cavy’s chompers in tip-top shape.
So let’s ensure your piggie’s teeth are always ready for their next crunchy meal!
Types of Guinea Pig Teeth
Although it may look like guinea pigs only have frontal teeth, they have 20.
Guinea pigs’ teeth are special: they are ever-growing. They have elodont dentition, or open-rooted teeth: root canals that never seal and where teeth can continue to grow indefinitely. A baby guinea pig is born with life-long teeth; even if one falls out, it will grow back as fast as two or three weeks.
Why do piggies have elodont dentition? Their fiber-based diet is full of foods that cause a lot of wear on teeth, so they have evolved to grow teeth when needed. This evolutionary adaptation makes a guinea pig’s teeth grow as much as 1 – 2 mm weekly!
They don’t need to worry about wearing them out before they reach old age — they may have the opposite problem, though.
What are the three different types of teeth in a piggy’s mouth?
???? INCISORS: These are the easily spotted, long, thin teeth at the front of their mouth. Guinea pigs have four frontal teeth, two maxillary (upper) and two mandibular (lower) incisors — usually of matching length: 1.5 centimeters. These sharp teeth are used for grabbing and nibbling on their food, as well as for grooming.
???? PREMOLARS: These teeth sit just behind the incisors and are sharp and narrow. Cavies have two pairs of premolars: upper and lower, which they use to grind and chew tough food. These are known as cheek teeth.
???? MOLARS: Deep in their mouth, guinea pigs have three pairs of upper and lower molars, equalling up to 12. These sturdy grinders are also cheek teeth responsible for most chewing work.
|Guinea Pig Fact: Guinea pigs don’t have any canine teeth. Instead, they have a diastema (the clinical term for a gap between teeth) between the incisor and the premolars.
Taking Care Of Your Guinea Pig’s Teeth
Healthy teeth are a must for happy guinea pigs. A pearly-white dentition is a sign of good shape. While some rodents have yellow teeth naturally, if a guinea pig’s teeth look discolored, it could be a sign of trouble.
What are the most common teeth troubles in guinea pigs?
All 20 teeth can overgrow. Overgrown incisors can puncture the cheeks or gums and cause abscesses. Overgrown molars and premolars can create a bridge across the tongue and even interfere with the guinea pig’s swallowing and chewing.
⚠️ Elongated Roots
Roots can be a real pain in the jaw when it comes to guinea pig teeth. Roots may grow too excessively, elongation of the lower roots can result in bumps along the jawline, and if the upper roots are elongated, they may pressure the eye, leading to tearing, bulging infection or other complications.
When a guinea pig’s teeth are not correctly aligned, it can cause bite problems. Malocclusion occurs when the teeth grow in the wrong direction, usually due to injuries or overgrowth. While malocclusion is more commonly found in incisors, it can also affect their cheek teeth.
The condition can cause poor chewing, excessive drooling, or “the slobbers.” It’s essential to seek veterinary care as malocclusion can cause further dental issues and affect a guinea pig’s overall health.
What are the best dental health practices for a guinea pig?
Taking good care of your pets is essential and dental health is no minor issue. Below you’ll find some tips for every kind of scenario.
???? One: Perform weekly teeth checks
Remember to wash your hands before the examination. And once you finish, give your guinea pig their favorite treat — they will appreciate it!
During the checkup, make sure that:
✅Teeth are wearing evenly
✅There are no cracks
✅There are no visible sores or injuries
✅Top and bottom incisors meet evenly in the middle
✅Their tooth enamel is white and has no signs of discolor
???? Two: Monitor your guinea pig’s eating habits
Any alterations in their usual feeding behavior — such as loss of appetite, difficulty cutting large food items into smaller pieces or dropping food out of their mouth — may be a sign that something is wrong with their teeth.
⚖️ Three: Weigh your guinea pig weekly
As changes in their eating habits might go unnoticed, you can detect dental problems by regularly checking their weight. If it drops over two ounces weekly, it could indicate something is wrong with their dentition.
How can you help avoid overgrown teeth in guinea pigs?
Clipping a guinea pig’s teeth to keep their length in check is not recommended. It can be pretty stressful for them and even result in eating disorders.
But it can occasionally be useful when their teeth become too long and cannot be worn down naturally. However, it is best to always consult with your vet first. Instead of clipping, an overgrowth can be easily prevented by giving piggies free access to safe, healthy objects to grind down their teeth.
Some chewable items include:
- Natural, unprocessed wood blocks — tree branches or twigs such as apple wood, hickory wood, maple wood or oak.
- Chew toys and sticks — when choosing which toy to spoil your guinea pig with, it is best to go for those made from natural materials.
- Cardboard boxes and paper rolls.
- Grass mats, hay (both fresh and in cubes) and pellets for guinea pigs.
What is the best diet for a guinea pig’s teeth?
Healthy piggies are munchers! Gnawing will keep their choppers in check. But what they eat is also essential for their dentition and overall health. A nutritious diet and adequate vitamin C will make their teeth grow strong and white.
A good, healthy diet should include:
- Sufficient fiber from grass hay should be at least 70% of their diet
- Clean, fresh water is available at all times
- Fresh fruit and vegetables such as carrots, cabbage, cucumbers, apples and strawberries
- Fresh greens: romaine lettuce, red or green leaf lettuce, celery, parsley, dandelion, coriander, basil, dill and mint
- Food rich in vitamin C, such as citrus and kiwi; specialized guinea pig pellets or vitamin C supplement
However, guinea pigs have a delicate and complex digestive system. Some foods can be harmful to them and may cause health issues.
You should avoid the following:
???? High starch foods like peas, beans, corn, cakes, cereal, grains
???? Nuts, seeds, dried fruits
???? Breads, biscuits, sweets, sugar, chocolate
???? Buttercups, garden shrubs, lily of the valley
???? Onions, potato, garlic, beetroot, spinach, and rhubarb leaves.
???? Dairy and meat products
|⚠️ Lucerne (alfalfa) hay — although it can be given to young guinea pigs, pregnant, nursing or malnourished adults, alfalfa’s high calcium levels can contribute to the formation of bladder stones in adult guinea pigs.
Yes, dental problems in guinea pigs are a common issue. They can cause severe discomfort and health complications to your piggy. Fortunately, preventing them is simple. It comes down to the right diet, tons of chewables and making regular teeth and weight checkups.
There’s nothing more heartwarming than seeing your guinea pig express their joy through their adorable behaviors and sounds. By taking care of your guinea pig’s dental health, you can help ensure they enjoy a long and joyful life by your side.
Animal House of Chicago (2020). Dental Disease in Rabbits, Guinea Pigs, & Chinchillas. animalhouseofchicago.com
Gorog, T. Myers, P. (2023) Caviidae cavies. animaldiversity.org
Guinea Lynx. (2023) Teeth. guinealynx.info
Jones, L. (2022) What Can Guinea Pigs Eat? petmd.com
Legendre, L. (2022) Malocclusions in guinea pigs, chinchillas and rabbits. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Myers, P. (2023). Structure and placement of individual teeth. animaldiversity.org