by Dr Shannon Lee BVSc
Donkeys are part of the equidae family to which horses, ponys and zebras also belong. All these species have essentially identical dentition and each benefit from regular dental care.
Donkeys have teeth classified as hypsodont, the same as horses. These teeth are easy to understand if you appreciate that humans have brachydont teeth (simple teeth with short roots and crowns that change little throughout life). By comparison, a donkey's hypsodont tooth can be visualised by picturing an eraser or rubber. The piece of the eraser visible out of the cardboard sleeve is the crown of the tooth (or the part visible in the mouth), the cardboard sleeve is the bony socket that holds the tooth (the alveolus), and the rest of the eraser is reserve crown (spare tooth). Just as when we use the eraser it is worn away and it is necessary to push more of the eraser down from the cardboard sleeve, as a donkey chews they wear the crown of the tooth away and a process erupts more of the tooth (reserve crown) from below the gumline.
So unlike our mouths the mouths of Donkeys are active places with constant change, where as our mouths can be considered relatively static. This also means that the teeth of Equids (donkeys, horses, ponies and zebras) have a limited lifespan. If the animal lives long enough their teeth will completely wear away. However, regular appropriate dental care will help to maintain these teeth and allow the animal to keep them longer, thus greatly helping them to maintain condition as they age.
Another important difference between donkeys and humans is that our jaws are of equal width (isonagthia) so our top teeth sit directly on top of our bottom teeth, where as donkeys are anosignathic (unequal jaw widths). This combined with the fact that their top cheek teeth are wider than their bottom cheek teeth, and the constant wear and eruption of their teeth, means that there is an area on the outside of their upper cheek teeth and on the inside of their lower cheek teeth that develop into sharp overgrowths of enamel. These sharp points cut the cheeks and tongue causing painful ulcers and sometimes abscesses to develop. The periodic removal of these overgrowths will prevent the development of these ulcers and prevent the donkey from suffering.
Donkeys also suffer from all of the dental diseases affecting humans such as cavities, fractures, impacted teeth, oligodontia (missing teeth), polydontia (extra teeth), periodontal disease, gingivitis, etc.
Donkeys benefit from regular appropriate dental care and this both prevents the development of painful conditions and helps them to live longer healthier happier lives.
For more information on caring for your donkeys oral health see our other articles or contact us with your query.