Rat Teeth 101: Your Questions Answered

rat teeth 101 your questions answered

Teeth are one of the most important parts of the rat’s anatomy. Not only they allow them to chew their food and groom their fur, but can also serve as mini daggers, for when rats are forced to defend themselves or get out of a sticky situation.

Making sure your rat’s teeth are growing properly is extremely vital for their overall well-being and comfort, so we’ve compiled some frequently asked questions about rodent teeth to help you understand them and how to take care of any possible dental problems.

How Many Teeth Do Rats Have?

Rats have only 2 types of teeth: incisors and molars – 16 teeth in total. Compared to other mammals (humans have 32 teeth all together), it might not seem like many, but thanks to their build and highly adapted nature, that’s more than enough teeth for your rats to do everything they need to!

yawning rat
Source: @pinkyandcasper Instagram

Specialised in gnawing, incisors are the most prominent teeth you can easily see at the front of your rat’s mouth. They are very characteristic in appearance and there’s four of them in total – two on the bottom and two on top. The bottom incisors are much longer than the top ones and extremely sharp, giving rats the ability to gnaw at extra hard surfaces, including wood, stone and even metal piping!

Molars are located at the back of the rat’s mouth and therefore not that visible, but if you really want to see them, you can spot them the next time your rat yawns! Responsible for grinding the food before being swallowed, rats have 12 molars in total – 6 on each side – 3 each on the bottom and top jaw.

How Long Are Rat’s Teeth?

Rat teeth vary in shape and size, depending on the tooth type and what it’s used for. The upper incisors tend to be about 4mm long and 1.5mm wide, where the bottom ones can reach up to 7mm in length and 1.2mm in width. One of the most interesting facts about rat teeth is that the incisors are open rooted, which means they never stop to grow!

To keep them in the optimal length, rats need to constantly grind them down by chewing on hard food or gnawing at wooden or stone toys. It’s almost like a never-ending chore! For some great cage set up ideas, check out How To Set Up Rats Cage And What You Will Need.

When it comes to your rat’s molars though, it’s a completely a different story! Unlike the incisors, molars are fairy small, flat and broad and therefore best used in grinding down food into a pulp before swallowing. Even though they also grow over time, the growth rate is fairy insignificant compared to the incisors and that’s why molars don’t need any special treatments to keep them in check.

How Fast Do Rat’s Teeth Grow?

Rat incisors erupt from the jaws about 8 to 10 days after birth and molars follow around day 19. While molars reach their full growth when a rat is roughly 4 months old, the incisor growth never really ends! The lower incisors grow the fastest – about 2.8mm a week and upper incisors grow roughly 2.2mm a week, which means that every 40-50 days your rat has a brand new set of front teeth!

Of course, rats constantly grind their teeth down to stop them from overgrowing and causing discomfort, but if they didn’t, their teeth would start to grow in a spiral! This truly fascinating process of rapid growth helps rodents with keeping their teeth strong and cavity free as any dental damage simply grows out and disappears!

How Strong Are Rat’s Teeth?

Very! Thanks to the reinforced mineral build and constant, rapid growth, your rat’s teeth are able to chomp through many tough materials and are proven to be stronger than platinum, cooper and iron. Ranking at 5.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, rat enamel is stronger than human’s and more than half the toughness of a diamond, which ranks at number 10.

Why Are Rat Teeth Orange?

You might think your rat is dirty or requires some dental help, when you notice the colour of their teeth, but you will be very wrong! Yellowish to dark orange teeth in rats are the sign of perfect dental health! Due to the mineral composition of your rat’s enamel, which is rich in iron, orange hues especially in the upper incisors mean that all is as it should be!

The pigmentation starts at about 21 days after birth and by the time your rat is 35 days old, their teeth should already have a strong colour in both upper and lower incisors. Even though it goes against everything people consider as healthy teeth, you should be worried if your rat’s teeth are white, not orange. White teeth in rats can mean some sort of mineral deficiency or lack of nutrients in their diet, so it’s recommended to consult your vet and amend the food you serve your rats to more nutritious options, including fresh vegetables.

Do My Rat’s Teeth Require Cleaning?

A healthy pet rat won’t normally require any intervention from their owners in their teeth cleaning routine. Rats clean their teeth by chewing on hard items like wood or stone and don’t need any help in doing so. Offering your rat a good quality, hard dog biscuit once a week or tougher vegetables like carrots to snack on should be sufficient to keeping their teeth healthy and clean.

How To Know Rat Teeth Are Too Long?

There’s a couple of ways you can keep an eye on your rat’s teeth and spot any potential issues before they get too long. You don’t need to visit the vet to have them checked – you can determine whether your rat’s teeth are too long fairly easily at home.

misaligned rat incisors
Source: @mels_misfit_creatures_rescue Instagram
  • Firstly, observe how your rat eats and chews their food. If they are struggling to gnaw or grind the food down or even stop eating all together, it could mean that they are experiencing some sort of discomfort.
  • Secondly, you can gently pull your rat’s lips apart and have a proper look at their teeth. The front incisors should be longer on the bottom and measure about 7mm, the upper incisors should be about 4mm.
  • When checking your rat’s teeth, pay attention to their alignment and position – both incisors should be fairly straight and on the same level. If one of the teeth is longer than the other, overlapping or even curling, it means that they need urgent attention.
  • And finally, if you notice any lumps or abscesses around or inside your rat’s mouth, there’s definitely something wrong and it might be connected with their teeth rubbing them in the wrong way. Excessive salivating or a bad smell coming from your rat’s mouth can also be a fairly good indication of dental issues. To treat these problems you should consul your vet as soon as possible.

How To Trim Rat’s Teeth?

If your rat is eating as normal and enjoying hard snacks, you shouldn’t need to trim their teeth at all. But if your rat is suffering from misalignment of the jaw or overgrown incisors, it’s best to consult an experienced vet to have them trimmed. Usually they will be able to snip any overgrown teeth off with animal nail clippers or burr them down and file to shape as needed.

Sometimes your pet rat will need to be slightly sedated, so they are not as stressed out about the whole procedure and easier to handle. Even though it’s not recommended to clip your rat’s teeth at home, you can do it if you feel comfortable enough or have not other choice. Here’s a short guide on how to clip your rat’s teeth quickly and efficiently.

  • Before clipping your rat’s teeth, you must restrain him/her, so they don’t move during the procedure. The best way to do it is to have one person hold the rat and another person clip their teeth. To restrain your rat you can use a firm grip around his/her shoulders or wrap him/her tightly in a towel, leaving just the head exposed. Some people also use a home made “straight jacket” fashioned from a sock with a small hole cutout at the toe tip. Whichever method you use, you should make sure your rat is not in any pain and can breathe normally before you proceed.
  • Once you have your rat in the right position, you can use a wooden dental stick or even an ice-cream stick to place it in between the incisors, pushing the tongue back. It’s extremely important to make sure the tongue or any cheek tissue are out of the way of the clippers – you don’t want to cause a bloody mess if you accidentally cut the flesh!
  • Clip each tooth individually and at an angle slanting towards the mouth. Be careful not too cut the teeth too short – the top incisors should be at least 4mm long and the bottom ones 7mm. If you are unsure on where to clip, you should be able to notice the point where the teeth turn opaque – cut below that line.
  • Use a clean nail file to smooth out any sharp edges if needed and voila, you are a rat dentist!

How To Prevent Overgrown Teeth In Rats?

It’s a good practice to check your rat’s teeth occasionally by carefully pulling back their lips or have a quick look if you happen to catch your rat yawning widely.

As a general rule, their teeth should be the same length and not overlapping or sticking out of their mouths. Regular checks can catch any potential issues early and correct them, but the simplest and most efficient way to prevent your rat’s teeth from becoming overgrown is to provide them with plenty to chew on!

Rodent teeth need to be ground down on a day to day basis and having things to gnaw on is extremely important. Vast majority of pet rats will be happy with chewing wooden blocks or sticks (but remember – made only from the safe woods like apple or pear) and lava or pumice type stones.

Very popular among many rat parents are lava ledges which you can fix to the inside of the cage. They will not only provide an excellent gnawing object for ratty teeth, but also help with filing down their nails, whenever your rats stand on the rough surface of the stone.

Do you have any additional questions about taking care of your rat’s teeth? Leave a comment below! You can also find more rat care related articles on our main blog.

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