Alpacas have 30-32 teeth comprising of 18-20 cheek teeth (molars and premolars), 6 fighting teeth, and 6 incisors. An alpaca’s molar and premolars are found at the back of the mouth in both the upper and lower jaws. Incisors are found in the lower jaw at the front of an alpaca’s mouth. The fighting teeth are
located behind the incisors.
The different types of teeth that alpaca have each serve different purposes – and this isn’t necessarily just for eating either.
Let’s take a closer look at the role each type of teeth plays, how alpaca and llama teeth are similar and different, as well as whether alpacas need their teeth trimmed or not.
Alpacas Teeth Types & Purposes
Alpacas six incisor teeth are designed to fit snugly against the dental pad of the upper jaw. By the time an alpaca is 4 years old, it should have lost all of its deciduous incisors, which are replaced by permanent incisors.
The incisors are designed for efficient feeding, so an alpaca is able to eat and grab grass, other vegetation like bark or stems, or tasty treats like apples, berries and carrots, and then tear the food away from its roots.
Alpaca incisors gradually get worn down by the chewing process, but if they get too long, crooked, and start sticking out, alpacas can find it difficult to eat, and the teeth can even break off.
Alpacas have six molars on each jaw towards the back of the mouth – three on each side plus premolars. Alpaca molars are large and designed to provide an efficient grinding surface due to the way they mesh together. This aids in proper digestion.
As molars are found at the very back of alpacas mouthes, in addition to their mouths not opening very wide, most vets can find working on these teeth a challenge. This can become an issue with older alpacas that experience gum disease, tooth abscesses, and uneven wearing.
Also known as “fighting teeth”, alpaca canine teeth first appear at about three years of age, and can be seen in between the incisors and molars. Two canine teeth can be found on the upper jaw and one on each side of the lower jaw – for a total of three on each side.
Canine teeth are found in both males and females, though they are more prominent in the males where the teeth grow large with serrated rear edges. This makes them quite a weapon when tussling with other males. It’s therefore important that these teeth are either removed or kept under control because males will fight and suffer nasty injuries as they try to assert dominance.
Trimming Alpaca Teeth
Most alpacas require regular maintenance and trimming of their teeth, although alpacas with correctly aligned teeth may never need attention at all. One of the most common issues occurs in adult alpacas when the lower incisors have grown beyond the dental pad and protrude out of the lip.
The two most common procedures performed are minor trimming of the lower front incisors, and dulling/grinding down of the canine (fighting) teeth.
There are three methods to choose from when it comes to trimming alpaca teeth.
- Gigli Wire Saw and Flat File: A saw is used to remove the bulk of the tooth. A file is then used to provide a smooth, even biting surface
- Tooth-a-Matic: Provided the long incisors aren’t too long, a Tooth-a-Matic can be placed over the teeth and then used to cut them down to the desired length. This is the fastest way to trim alpaca teeth but the tool is very noisy and heavy
- Dremel Tool: This specialized tool is equipped with a high-speed grinding or cutting attachment to trim teeth. Using a Dremel tool isn’t necessarily the best option unless used by a professional because it can be dangerous to both the animal and the operator
Alpaca Teeth vs. Llama Teeth Differences
Alpaca and Llama teeth are very similar – with each animal having the same number and distribution of teeth.
The only difference between the two is the enameling. Alpacas have incisors that have enamel only on the front, whereas llamas incisors have enamel all around.