Bite malocclusions in pets are often adorable characteristics, but they can cause a host of periodontal problems. Bulldogs, Yorkies, and many other breeds are predisposed to abnormal bites, but any pet can be affected. One of the most famous pets with a bite malocclusion is Tuna the chiweenie, a dog with a massive overbite and recessed jaw. While Tuna’s heart-melting face has graced many memes and become a social media sensation, this poor pup could certainly use a veterinary dentist’s assistance. 

What are bite malocclusions in pets?

Occlusion refers to the way the upper and lower teeth align or fit together. In the normal, aligned mouth in dogs and cats, the left and right side mirror each other. When this alignment is abnormal, which can be obvious when the mouth is closed, a malocclusion of the maxilla (i.e., upper jaw) and mandible (i.e., lower jaw) results. Malocclusions can occur in any of the four quadrants—the left maxilla, right maxilla, left mandible, and right mandible—and can affect the alignment of the incisors, canines, premolars, or molars in those quadrants.

Four main malocclusion types are seen in pets:

  • Class I malocclusions — These occur when the upper and lower jaws are correctly aligned, but the teeth don’t come together properly, because of crowding, misalignment, or rotation.
  • Class II malocclusions — Also known as an overbite, these malocclusions occur when the maxillary teeth are displaced forward relative to the mandibular teeth.
  • Class III malocclusions — These are also known as an underbite, and occur when the mandibular teeth protrude forward relative to the maxillary teeth.
  • Class IV malocclusions — These malocclusions result from asymmetrical jaw development.

What causes bite malocclusions in pets?

A malocclusion may be caused by abnormally positioned teeth, known as a dental malocclusion, or by jaw misalignment, which is a skeletal malocclusion. Malocclusion in dogs is usually hereditary, meaning the condition is passed down to future generations, and is common in certain breeds. For example, underbites are commonly seen in brachycephalic breeds, such as boxers, shih tzus, bulldogs, and pugs. However, malocclusions can also develop later in life, typically because of trauma (e.g., a dog fight, or being hit by a car).

What problems can bite malocclusions cause in pets?

Certain malocclusions can cause difficulty or discomfort when eating or chewing. Some cause trauma to the gums, palate, cheeks, or other teeth, and lead to excessive plaque and tartar buildup. In veterinary medicine, malocclusions are treated only if they are causing pain or problems chewing, and not for aesthetic reasons. Pets who appear comfortable despite their crooked smile are closely monitored for changes, but otherwise treatment is not necessary.

What treatments are available for bite malocclusions in pets?

Since malocclusions can result in an abnormal bite, affecting function and causing pain, they are evaluated regularly. Additionally, malocclusions predispose pets to periodontal disease, endodontic disease, and oral trauma, so extra close attention is paid to these pets’ oral cavity during their physical exam.

In most situations, the earlier a malocclusion is diagnosed, the better the prognosis. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent damage to the cheeks, palate, gums, and teeth, and minimize your pet’s pain as much as possible. However, since class II and III malocclusions are skeletal abnormalities, not much can be done to restore the maxilla and mandibles to a normal alignment. But, we can alleviate the pain these malocclusions cause, guaranteeing your pet comfort while they chew and eat.

In general, the most common treatment method is extraction of the problem tooth—the one that is rubbing against another tooth, causing crowding, or poking into the gum, palate, or cheek. In some cases, orthodontic appliances can be used to shift the teeth into the correct position. 

How will I know if my pet’s bite malocclusion needs treatment?

Fortunately, not all malocclusions require treatment, and some are considered normal for particular breeds. A pet’s malocclusion that is not causing discomfort or difficulty eating typically will not require any treatment. However, some pets’ malocclusion will require treatment to restore a comfortable bite. If your pet is displaying pain, difficulty chewing and eating, or other signs indicating oral discomfort or periodontal problems from misaligned teeth, they’ll need some treatment form. Treatments revolve around moving teeth, shortening teeth, or removing teeth, and the correct treatment is chosen based on your pet’s malocclusion type.

Does your furry pal’s bite not look quite right? If your pet’s smile is off-kilter, they may benefit from bite correction techniques. Contact our Animal Dental Clinic team for an appointment.