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Dental Disease in Central Bearded Dragons

Thomas H. Boyer, DVM, DABVP (Reptile & Amphibian), Pet Hospital of Penasquitos, San Diego, California

Exotic Animal Medicine

April/May 2021

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In the Literature

Mott R, Pellett S, Hedley J. Prevalence and risk factors for dental disease in captive central bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) in the United Kingdom. J Exotic Pet Med. 2020;36:1-7.


This study represents the first large-scale investigation of risk factors for the prevalence of dental disease in one of the most common captive reptiles—the central bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps). Data from 20 veterinary clinics in the United Kingdom showed dental abnormalities in half of the examined population of central bearded dragons (n = 304). Only 24.8% of dragons with dental disease exhibited clinical signs, and all of these had advanced dental disease. Central bearded dragons, like chameleons, have acrodont teeth (ie, laterally compressed triangular teeth directly ankylosed to the mandibles and maxilla).1 During development, the pulp of the teeth is lost to a mineralized matrix that fuses teeth to bone.1 In these lizards, teeth are permanent and not replaced throughout life; this is unlike the pleurodont dentition of most other lizards.2 Also unlike other lizards, the gingiva of acrodont lizards does not attach at the base of the teeth; instead, a thin layer of stratified squamous epithelium covers exposed mandibular and maxillary bone, which is predisposed to bacterial colonization.3,4 Acrodonts also lack periodontal ligaments,1 and the authors state that although periodontal disease has been widely described in acrodont reptiles, dental disease is likely a better descriptor.

The authors graded dental disease as normal (grade 0: clinically normal, no dental disease); mild (grade 1: staining of teeth and exposed bone only; grade 2: mild tartar development, gingival erythema); and advanced (grade 3: moderate tartar development, gingival erythema and recession; grade 4: severe tartar buildup, severe gingival erythema and recession, osteomyelitis of jawbones; grade 5: end-stage disease, severe tartar buildup, severe gingival recession, osteomyelitis, pathologic fractures).

The percentage of central bearded dragons with dental disease increased from 11.5% in those <1 year of age to 36.9% in those 1 to 3 years of age and to 86.8% in those >8 years of age. There were significant associations among dental disease, increasing age, being under- or overweight, and concurrent disease. There was also a strong significant association between fruits in the diet and dental disease, with an odds ratio of 2.68; 66% of central bearded dragons with fruits in the diet had dental disease. In contrast, there was no significant association between vegetables in the diet and dental abnormalities or disease. The authors suggested eliminating fruits from the diet, as the high sugar content and acidity of fruits may contribute to dental disease. 


Key pearls to put into practice:


Thorough oral examination and dental grading are always indicated in central bearded dragons. Dental disease increases with age, but dental cleaning can reduce disease, especially with early detection.


Tartar initially supports gram-positive aerobic cocci that shift over time to anaerobic gram-negative bacteria and spirochetes.5 Fungal infections are less common.


In central bearded dragons, diagnosis and treatment of dental disease involve anesthesia with tracheal intubation; cytology; dental radiography; curettage of calculus, gingival sulci, and infected bone with a dental ultrasonic scaler; surgical removal of granulomas; long-term antibiotics—based on aerobic culture and susceptibility testing—that include anaerobic coverage; pain medication; and swabbing or flushing of the labial bones with 0.05% chlorhexidine or oral cleansing gels.5


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