cleaning bearded dragon teeth

Bearded Dragon Teeth and How to Care for Them

Bearded dragon teeth, just like humans they are important to our good health. Unlike many other reptiles, they only get one set…with some exception. Most importantly, bearded dragons teeth are susceptible to periodontal disease, easily damaged and need to be cared for.

How many teeth does a bearded dragon have?

The number of teeth a bearded dragon has varies with the acrodont teeth on the upper jaw of bearded dragons being between 11 to 17 on each side and 13 to 20 on the lower jaw on each side (Hocknull, 2002). The bearded dragons acrodont teeth are triangular.

The number of pleurodont teeth a bearded dragon has 4 on both the upper and lower jaw (Hocknull, 2002). The pleurodont teeth of the larger bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps and Pogona barbata) are even whereas in the smaller of the species (Pogona minor) they are uneven (Hocknull, 2002).

Should you clean bearded dragon teeth?

Do you need to clean your bearded dragons teeth? Here is what 3 vets around the world have to say:

  1. DVM Shane Simpson (2015) recommends cleaning a couple of times a week to slow down bacterial action.
  2. Brisbane Bird and Exotics Veterinary Services (2016) recommends removing plaque every 2nd day before it hardens into tartar.
  3. DVM Dayna Willems recommends cleaning bearded dragon teeth 1-2 times a week at grade 1 periodontal disease and every 1-2 days for grade 2.

Clean your bearded dragons teeth as part of your routine care. Cleaning teeth can help prevent disease and add to the long term quality of life.

Clean bearded dragon teeth with a cotton bud soaked in chlorhexidine solution (DVM Dayna Willems, n.d; DVM Simpson, 2015; Brisbane Bird & Exotics Veterinary Service, n.d.).

Chlorhexidine is an antiseptic and disinfectant effective against yeast, viruses, fungus and bacteria. Considered non toxic it is used in concentrated form to clean surfaces and less concentrated it is used to treat wounds, skin conditions, gingivitis, periodontal disease and other applications.

Chlorhexidine is only used at full strength for cleaning. Discuss with your vet the concentration suitable for cleaning your bearded dragons teeth. Getting the concentration right is important to ensure effectiveness and safety. Concentration could be as little as 0.05 or 0.2%.

In humans, it is recommended that chlorhexidine mouthwash is used for no longer than 4 weeks and doing so can lead to staining of teeth and a buildup of tartar (James et al, 2017). Speak to your vet for advice.

Preventative products that may be used include Maxi/guard (made for animals) and Oral Gel (made for humans) (Simpson, 2015).

Both Maxi/guard and Oral Gel are easy to apply. Maxi/guard application instructions are to place a droplet on either side of the mouth on the teeth.

Consult your vet before using any products. Remember to arrange for your bearded dragon to have its teeth cleaned during your annual vet visit which should be done prior to winter in preparation for brumation each year.

Removing calculus and staining on the teeth requires a vet. The vet will anaesthetise the bearded dragon and manually clean the teeth.

clean teeth of a wild bearded dragon
Wild bearded dragon displaying his clean and well formed acrodont dentition.
Matt from Melbourne, Australia / CC BY

7 Things That damage Bearded Dragons Teeth

Bearded Dragons teeth are easily broken, damaged or lost. Its their acrodont teeth that are vulnerable. In fact, pleurodont dentition, which many lizards have such as the iguana, isn’t reported to be impacted by periodontal disease (Divers and Stahl, 2018).

7 things that damage bearded dragon teeth include:

  1. A lot of soft food and sugar rich foods (Reusch 2009; Mayer 2013; Simpson 2015) :
    • Soft bodied insects,
    • Soft or softened foods (such as when shredded or cooked),
    • Soft plus sugar rich fruit.
  2. Nutrition – too much or too little calcium powder, and micronutrient deficiencies (Simpson 2015).
  3. Stress (Simpson 2015):
    • Stress may not be noticable. Signs that are noticable include banging its head or glass surfing, this can cause damage to rostral area.
  4. Compromised immune system.
  5. Nutritional Secondary Hyperparathyroidism (MDB).
  6. Fighting.
  7. Large struggling food such as live vertebrate being fed.

3 Changes You Can Make now to Save Your Bearded Dragons Teeth

Bearded dragon has black teeth and gums? If your bearded dragons’ teeth and gums are black, brown or lost a tooth, you may still have time to save them. Here are some ways to save your bearded dragons teeth.

  1. Diet – wrong diet promotes disease.
  2. Environment – Environment and stress. Headbanging, glass surfing, falls.
  3. Husbandry practices – monitor your bearded dragons teeth.

1. Wrong Diet Promotes Disease

It doesn’t take black teeth and gums to show for periodontal disease to be present. At first the disease will show as a light brown color, perhaps spotted around the teeth.

Periodontal disease is associated with diet. Soft diets are not good for bearded dragons teeth (Reusch 2009; Mayer 2013).

McCracken and Birch (1994) describe an even with nine bearded (Pogona vitticeps and Pogona barbata) in 1989 at the Melbourne Zoo. They all appeared to be normal, except for one that had an abscess in the mouth. However, on examination all were found to have periodontal disease.

The bearded dragons with periodontal disease had been fed soft diets consisting mainly of fruit when taken to classrooms. Diets of the zoo’s bearded dragons from there on were changed to firm foods including 7-10mm cubed pieces of vegetables.

McCracken and Birch (1994) described a similar event at the Zoo with Pogona minor in 1990. Fed on soft diets severe periodontal disease eventuated within a year. Their diet was changed to only insects which was considered closer to their normal diet and no further issues were seen.

Feed rougher and harder foods along with the soft foods. Soft foods include mealworms, superworms, many fruits and so on. Hard foods can become soft by grating, shredding and cooking. Grating and shredding foods requires less mastication, results in less abrasion on the teeth to keep them clean (Simpson, 2015) and can contribute to disease.

Particles of soft foods are easily trapped within the mouth which promotes bacteria and plaque build up. Soft foods do not offer abrasive surfaces useful for cleaning teeth. Harder or rougher foods don’t present the same level of issue and they help toughen the mouth tissue.

Easy changes in diet that can be made include switching from feeding mealworms as larvae to their adult stage as beetles. Consider adding the occasional snail, phasmid and other beetles. For more on feeding see the post on diet and feeding.

pogona minor juvenile teeth
Juvenile pogona minor complete and clean teeth.

2. Environment and Stress

Banging its head including its nose into walls, wire and glass. If your bearded dragon is glass surfing or banging its head, the environment isn’t working for it. Perhaps a bigger house will help, natural accessories or perhaps a place to hide. See the post on Housing for Bearded Dragons or Accessories and Enrichment for ideas.

Prevent falls. Never put your bearded dragon on high shelves, smooth tabletops or other things it cannot grip on and could fall.

3. Monitor your bearded dragons teeth

Light brown teeth or spotting of teeth are the first stages (grade 1) of periodontal disease. As it advances to grade 2 the teeth will become quite brown, yellow tart will show and the gums will be red. From grade 2 onwards there is no mistaking that something is wrong with your bearded dragons teeth and you will need the support of your vet.

When you see the teeth are stained or off color, take action. Review the diet and discuss a cleaning regime with your vet.

Has Your Bearded Dragon Has Lost Teeth?

bearded dragon teeth wearing down
Teeth are showing signs of wearing down. Jon Glittenberg Flickr CC BY 2.0

Your bearded dragon may not have lost its teeth, instead they may be worn down. Bearded dragons do not naturally lose teeth but will naturally wear down. However, teeth can be lost if not cared for appropriately. Unfortunately unlike pleurodont teeth, acrodont teeth do not grow back.

Periodontal disease in bearded dragons is not something seen in the wild bearded dragon, it is associated with husbandry practices in captivity (Reusch, 2009; Hedley, 2016).

The mouths of eight preserved bearded dragons from the National Museum of Victoria collection were assessed for signs of periodontal disease. None were found to have signs of any issues including being free of calculus deposits, gingival recession or swellings (McCracken and Birch, 1994).

The prevalence of periodontal disease is not well known. Karingal Veterinary Hospital in Victoria, Australia assessed 62 bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) over 6 months and found that 35% had periodontal disease (Simpson 2015). That is 1 in every 3 bearded dragon’s with periodontal disease. How representative this is of pet bearded dragon’s is yet to be understood.

13 Signs Your Bearded Dragon has periodontal disease that needs attention

Some signs of bearded dragon periodontal disease include:

  1. Anorexia
  2. Lethargy
  3. Pain on mastication
  4. Trouble in swallowing food
  5. Loss of appetite
  6. Swelling around the mouth
  7. Bleeding in the mouth
  8. Sore on his mouth
  9. Red gums (gingivitis)
  10. Receded gums
  11. Lost teeth, loose teeth, missing teeth
  12. Changed colour of the teeth and/or the bone. Brown teeth, black teeth, green teeth, yellow teeth.
  13. Increased mucus in the mouth

By the time you see these sorts of symptoms, it requires medical attention. Periodontal disease can result in your bearded dragon having no teeth, pain and a shorter lifespan. Arrange a visit with your vet.

bearded dragon and metabolic bone disease
Note that if your bearded dragon’s jaw is bending, see the post NHSP in Bearded Dragons and speak with your vet urgently.

Bearded Dragon Dentition

The Agamidae and Chamaeleonidae are the only lizards that have acrodont teeth. Bearded dragons are in the Agamidae family. Bearded dragons have both acrodont and pleurodont teeth.

agamid teeth bearded dragon
Bearded dragon’s are agamids. Agamid teeth are both pleurodont and acrodont.

In agamids, the juveniles acrodont tooth at the back of the mouth (posterior) is the largest (Hocknull, 2002). In adults, the last acrodont tooth is smaller (Hocknull, 2002). In juveniles, the pleurodont teeth are the same size as their acrodont teeth with the pleurodont teeth overtaking the size of the acrodont teeth when the pleurodont teeth are replaced (Hocknull, 2002).

The jaw bone in juvenile agamids is slightly translucent compared to the opaque color in adults and the teeth of the juveniles are hollow (Hocknull, 2002).

Agamids do not start out life with their complete complement of teeth. The pleurodont teeth start erupting from where the egg tooth is (Hocknull, 2002). As agamids grow, acrodont teeth are added to the back (posterior) of the tooth row (Gray 2018). An anterior acrodont tooth may be lost as a pleurodont tooth erupts (Hocknull, 2002). Regardless, the final number of acrodont teeth will still be present as adults (Hocknull, 2002).

Acrodont teeth are not bedded in sockets, they do not have roots, instead they are fused to the bone.

The is no clear separation between the teeth and the jaw bone. Acrodont teeth wear down and are never replaced.

Bearded dragons teeth – acrodont (fused to the bone) and pleurodont teeth. Note that the acrodont teeth do not have a clear differentiating line between the teeth and the jaw. Acrodont teeth appear more as if the bone was serrated like a knife.

The acrodont teeth are attached to the jaw, and the gum is thin. This makes them vulnerable to being exposed if the gum is damaged such as with gingivitis. Gum recession from gingivitis is permanent. Acrodont teeth are vulnerable to both bacterial and fungal infection.

Periodontal disease is the same for bearded dragons as it is for humans with the main cause being bacteria. Periodontal disease shortens the lifespan of bearded dragons. Although it cannot be reversed, it can be managed through correct diet and dental management plan with your vet.

Bearded dragons teeth will wear down as they get older. Old bearded dragons may have no teeth, either acrodont or pleurodont, through wear (Hocknull, 2002).

bearded dragons teeth wear down
Bearded dragons teeth wear down as they age. a) a young bearded dragons teeth. b) an adult bearded dragons teeth wearing down. Note that it isn’t easy to differentiate the teeth from the bone as it appears in the diagram.

References

  • Divers, S. J., and Stahl, S. J. (2018) Mader’s Reptile and Amphibian Medicine and Surgery E-Book. Elsevier Health Sciences.
  • 2016. Pogo the Bearded Dragons dental procedure. Brisbane Bird & Exotics Veterinary Service
  • Editor(s): Jörg Mayer, Thomas M. Donnelly. (2013) Periodontal Disease. Clinical Veterinary Advisor, W.B. Saunders. 132-134, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-1-4160-3969-3.00082-2.
  • Haridy Y. (2018) Histological analysis of post-eruption tooth wear adaptations, and ontogenetic changes in tooth implantation in the acrodontan squamate Pogona vitticeps. PeerJ 6:e5923 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.5923
  • Gray, J. A. (2018) Skull Evolution in the Australian Dragon Lizards. Doctor of Philosophy dissertation for University of Adelaide.
  • Hedley, J. (2016) Anatomy and Disorders of the Oral Cavity of Reptiles and Amphibians, Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice, 19(3), 689-706.
  • Hocknull, S. A. (2002) Comparative maxillary and dentary morphology of the Australian dragons (Agamidae: Squamata): A framework for fossil identification. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum. 48(1): 125-145. ISSN 0079-8835.
  • James, P., Worthington, H. V., Parnell, C., Harding, M., Lamont, T., Cheung, A., Whelton, H., and Riley, P. (2017) Chlorhexidine mouthrinse as an adjunctive treatment for gingival health. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Issue 3. Art. No.: CD008676. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD008676.pub2.
  • McCracken, H. BVSe BSc(Vet) MVS. and Birch, C. A. BSe(App). (1994) Periodontal Disease in Lizards – A Review of Numerous Cases. Proceedings American Association of Zoo Veterinarians
  • Reusch, B. (June 8, 2009) Bearded dragon with periodontal disease: exotic practice challenge. Veterinary Times https://www.vettimes.co.uk/article/bearded-dragon-with-periodontal-disease-exotic-practice-challenge/
  • Simpson, S. Dragon Breath… Peridontal Disease in Central Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps). Proceedings of the 2015 UPAV Conference, Sydney. p 47-50
  • Willems, D. (n.d.) Bearded Dragon Periodontal Disease. Aurora Animal Hospital. Centennial, Colorado.
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