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(207) 846-6515

DENTAL AND PERIODONTAL DISEASE IN REPTILES

Dental and periodontal disease are problems of the teeth and supporting and surrounding tissues. Most reptiles are acrodonts - their teeth have no roots and are directly attached to the gums. As a result of this body type, dental and periodontal disease often results in tooth loss.  

These oral illnesses have a chronic, progressive, variable and somewhat unpredictable course. Initial treatment can take weeks to months, and relapses are common.

Dental and periodontal disease may be a primary problem, with such causes as facial trauma from the reptile hitting its head on the inside of the enclosure and oral trauma from ingestion of live prey or inappropriate food items. Most often, however, dental and periodontal disease is secondary to other illnesses: a primary problem or problems, such as nutritional deficiency, stress, poor environment, and respiratory, kidney, and gastrointestinal disease lower the patient's immune system, allowing oral illness to happen.

Signs  Dental and periodontal disease may be so subtle that it cannot be diagnosed without an exam of the mouth with the patient under general anesthesia. Most patients have readily observable problems, including:

  • excessive mucus or pus in and around the mouth
  • swollen, inflamed oral tissues and jaws
  • ulcerations of the lips, face, and oral tissues
  • facial and eye swellings
  • nasal discharge
  • lethargy and loss of appetite 
  • difficulty holding and swallowing food

Diagnosis  Diagnosis can usually be made based on the history and exam. In some cases an anesthetized exam, x-rays, and blood tests are needed to confirm the diagnosis and determine the extent of the problem. 

Treatment  Most patients require a combination of medical and surgical therapy. Systemic (oral, injectable) and topical antibiotics are often used for more than a month. Necrotic (dead) tissue and loose teeth must be debrided (surgically removed). Multiple debridement  procedures are often needed over an extended time period.

Severely debilitated patients may need to be hospitalized for injectable fluids and assisted feeding.

An attempt should be made to identify any underlying illnesses and correct them. Owners should always carefully review their pet's care and feeding, with particular attention to maximizing control of temperature and humidity.

Prognosis  Reptiles with dental and periodontal disease usually have a long and variable course of  illness, and are prone to occasional relapses. For most patients, however, careful, persistent treatment will eventually result in adequate control of the problem. 

Prevention  A reptile's enclosure should be designed to prevent self-trauma. Food items should be appropriate for the species, and the particular individual's size and age. Careful attention should be paid to husbandry, especially temperature and humidity levels.  

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