Apicectomy - Dental Surgical Procedure

Dental overgrowth (malocclusion) – as we all know – affects the grinding surfaces of the teeth, causing them to over-grow, misalign and form spurs and sharp edges that cause the chinchilla much discomfort and difficulty eating. This can affect any teeth, incisors, pre-molars and molars.

The usual treatment for the affected grinding surfaces is to have them filed or clipped down whilst the chinchilla is under anaesthetic.

However, malocclusion can also affect the roots of the teeth too (this shows up well on X-rays). With the upper teeth – they over-grow upwards into the skull and towards the eye orbits - firstly occluding the lachrymal ducts and causing weepy eyes. With the lower teeth, they can over-grow downwards, into, and out of, the lower jaw.

The lower tooth roots grow much faster than the upper ones.

Understandably this root elongation may cause the chinchilla to suffer from chronic “jaw-ache” which may prevent the chinchilla fully recovering, even though they may have had surgery to correct the grinding surfaces.

Until very recently this root condition was untreatable in chinchillas and only rabbits were operated on to correct it – but now some vets are attempting a pioneering new operation that, until now, has only been used successfully on rabbits.

It is called an apicectomy.

It involves making an incision under the chinchillas chin – and then using a tiny drill – drilling out the roots and pulp of all the lower teeth – thus effectively "killing" the teeth and stopping them from continuing to over-grow. Unfortunately it is only the roots/teeth in the lower jaw that can be operated on in this way – and not the upper roots.

Once the apicectomy has been carried out - the teeth stay in place (and not fall out) and the chinchilla can go back to a pain-free life and can eat a normal diet again. In time, the chinchilla will form new bone that was exposed during the procedure.

There is one minor drawback, because the teeth have been killed by this surgery and no longer grow and renew themselves – they will eventually wear down. But that can take some years – and in the meantime the chinchilla's quality of life is greatly improved.

So far only a handful of chinchillas (that I know about) have been operated on using this new procedure – most of which have survived.

Although the long-term prospects are unknown as yet – it really does look like there will be some hope now for chinchillas with chronic dental problems involving lower tooth roots as well.

As far as my vet knows there are only a handful of vets in the UK (I cannot comment on other countries) that are performing this new surgical procedure. It may be hard to find one that is willing or able to carry out an apicectomy on a chinchilla.

It is a fairly hard operation on the chinchilla - and requires a high level of post operative care and pain relief.


** The chinchilla's quality of life is paramount and this operation should not be considered unless the long-term prognosis is good **

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