Bearded Dragons Teeth explained and How to Care for Them

Pet bearded dragons’ teeth are susceptible to periodontal disease. Their teeth can be easily damaged and need to be cared for.

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.

How many teeth does a bearded dragon have?

The bearded dragons acrodont teeth are triangular. 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 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).

My Bearded Dragon Has Lost Teeth

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.

Bearded Dragons Teeth Worn

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.

6 Things That damage Bearded Dragons Teeth

Bearded Dragons teeth are easily broken, damaged or lost. Outside of Nutritional Secondary Hyperparathyroidism (MDB), other things that damage teeth include:

  • 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.
  • Nutrition – too much or too little calcium powder, and micronutrient deficiencies (Simpson 2015).
  • 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.
  • Compromised immune system.
  • Fighting.
  • Large struggling food such as live vertebrate being fed.

Signs of Periodontal Disease That Need Attention

Some signs of bearded dragon periodontal disease include:

  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy
  • Pain on mastication
  • Trouble in swallowing food
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swelling around the mouth
  • Bleeding in the mouth
  • Sore on his mouth
  • Red gums (gingivitis)
  • Receded gums
  • Lost teeth, loose teeth, missing teeth
  • Changed colour of the teeth and/or the bone. Brown teeth, black teeth, green teeth, yellow teeth.
  • 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.

Note that if your bearded dragon’s jaw is bending, see the post NHSP in Bearded Dragons and What to do About It and speak with your vet urgently.

Bearded dragons are acrodonts
Wild bearded dragon displaying his teeth.

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 – providing a diet suited to acrodont teeth
  2. Environment – headbanging, glass surfing, falls
  3. Monthly mouth check

Fixing the Diet

It doesn’t take black teeth and gums to show for periodontal disease to be present. 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

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.

Checking teeth regularly

Check your bearded dragons teeth monthly to see if they need cleaning. Making this a part of your routine care can prevent the worst and add to the quality of life your pet can experience. Arrange for teeth cleaning at your annual vet visit which should be done prior to winter in preparation for brumation each year.

Do you need to brush your bearded dragons teeth? Start with providing the right environment and foods. If further there is still a need to brush your bearded dragons teeth then DVM Simpson (2015) recommends using a cotton bud and chlorhexadine solution a couple of times a week to slow down bacterial action. However, such treatment is best done in consultation with your vet.

Chlorhexidine is an antiseptic. 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 build-up of tartar (James et al, 2017).

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.

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

References and Further Reading

  1. Editor(s): Jörg Mayer, Thomas M. Donnelly. Periodontal Disease. Clinical Veterinary Advisor, W.B. Saunders, 2013, Pages 132-134, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-1-4160-3969-3.00082-2.
  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
  3. Gray, J. A. 2018. Skull Evolution in the Australian Dragon Lizards. Doctor of Philosophy dissertation for University of Adelaide.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. James, P., Worthington, H. V., Parnell, C., Harding, M., Lamont, T., Cheung, A., Whelton, H., and Riley, P. Chlorhexidine mouthrinse as an adjunctive treatment for gingival health. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD008676. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD008676.pub2.
  7. 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
  8. Reusch, B. Bearded dragon with periodontal disease: exotic practice challenge. June 8, 2009. Veterinary Times https://www.vettimes.co.uk/article/bearded-dragon-with-periodontal-disease-exotic-practice-challenge/
  9. Simpson, S. Dragon Breath… Peridontal Disease in Central Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps). Proceedings of the 2015 UPAV Conference, Sydney. p 47-50

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