Alpaca and Llama teeth are very similar. They have the same number and distribution. They are only dissimilar in the enamelling. Llama incisor teeth have enamel all round, whereas alpaca incisors have enamel only on the front. As well as molars for chewing, a camelid has 6 front incisors on its lower jaw, and a hard pad on the upper jaw, similar to sheep. However, they can all suffer the same problems with their teeth, and may therefore need attention at some stage during their lifetime. Teeth may occasionally need attention in order for the animal to be able to feed efficiently.
There appears to be some idea that alpacas in particular need their teeth trimmed every year. This is not necessarily the case, and correctly aligned teeth may never need attention. In the photos here the teeth are correctly aligned. However, sometimes the teeth may grow past the front of the upper palate, and this is the time to trim the teeth. When it is necessary, a popular way to tackle this task has been by the use of an angle grinder with a specially designed attachment. Thus the front teeth are brought down to level with the upper palate. Unfortunately, the front teeth are left with sharp edges at the front and back of the teeth, where they were trimmed. As the animal grazes, the sharp edge at the back comes into regular contact with the upper palate, causing damage to the palate which can then lead to abscesses. This can in turn lead to the animal ceasing to feed, with inevitable results.
At Bozedown we have come to the conclusion that alpacas need to have more specialist treatment than the above regime offers. We want our alpacas to live long, healthy lives, and we believe that good dental health will assist this end. We were very fortunate in finding a good horse dentist who was willing to tackle the much smaller mouths of alpacas. Initially he asked if we would sedate the alpacas, but we have never yet needed to do this.
We have come across many different problems in alpacas’ teeth. The most common problem is long front teeth. The dentist uses a Dremel tool with a very small cutting disc to trim the teeth level with the palate, and then grinds the edges of the teeth with a diamond attachment, to make smooth edges which cannot damage the upper palate.
Adult incisors are normally through by the time the animal is 3 years old. Sometimes the juvenile teeth remain in position instead of being displaced. In this instance grassy stems often get caught up around the incisors, which can cause rotting teeth. Pull the food away, and ask your vet or a horse dentist to remove the juvenile incisors.
We have found a few cases where all 6 lower incisors grow just outside and around the upper palate, so that when the mouth is almost closed it is not possible to move the jaw from side to side – the action necessary for proper cudding. This appears to occur as the alpaca approaches adulthood, with slightly differing growth rates between upper and lower jaws. The animals in this case can lose weight alarmingly. However, if the teeth are properly re-shaped, normal cudding is again possible, the weight is soon regained.
As alpacas get older many of them grow curly extensions onto their molar teeth, which can cut into the insides of the cheeks when long. These need to be rasped, and we keep a bottle of saline solution to hand for spraying into the mouth. Molars which do not meet properly can grow irregularly, again necessitating rasping. If a molar is missing for any reason, make regular checks to ensure that the opposing molar has not grown into the opposite space, and this will prevent normal cudding. It is most important to have this attended to.
By around 4 years old all alpacas develop canine teeth on both upper and lower jaws behind the incisors, and in the males these grow large with serrated rear edges, making them quite a weapon when tussling with other males, which is normal behaviour for them to establish their pecking order within the group. These male canines should be trimmed off near to the gum – quite a simple task – in order to prevent injuries.
If you feel any concern about your alpaca’s or llama’s teeth, your local vet should be able to put you in touch with a horse dentist, who will be able to give a thorough dental check-up, and correct any impending problems.