Watch your mouths

The dentist is here. Signal to dive for cover. Happily alpacas don’t appear to harbour the same fear of dentists as humans. In this article Allison Quagliani describes the dental anatomy, normal and abnormal, of alpacas.

Alpacas spend more than half of their lives eating. They graze for 5-6 hours a day and ruminate for 8- 9 hours a day (Vaughan, 2006, pp. 12-13). It is therefore essential as breeders that we understand the basics of alpaca dental anatomy and the effects dental problems can have on the health and welfare of our alpacas. This paper will provide an overview of normal dental anatomy and discuss abnormalities that can have significant detrimental effects on alpaca health.

Anatomical Overview

Fig 1. Skull drawing of an adult male showing the location of the teeth.

The function of the mouth is to prepare food for processing through the digestive system. Teeth play an important role in this process. There are four types of teeth found in the mouth of the alpaca: incisors, canines, premolars and molars (Fig.1). An adult male has 30-32 permanent teeth and an adult female the same or less, as the upper incisors and the canine teeth do not always erupt in females. If they do they are usually much smaller.

Alpacas have two sets of teeth in their lifetime. The first teeth, some of which are present at birth are known as deciduous or baby teeth. These teeth are temporary and are replaced between two and four years of age with permanent teeth.

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