Doggy braces may seem silly, but they can help realign a pet’s bite to ensure they are comfortable, and do not cause trauma to their mouth when chewing. Other methods can also correct your pet’s maligned bite and help create a proper “smile” for your pooch. First, let’s discover if your dog’s bite lines up correctly, and then we’ll look at problems and potential treatment options.

What is the normal alignment of a dog’s bite?

Determining if your dog has a normal bite alignment can be challenging, especially if you’re looking inside a bulldog’s mouth. Brachycephalic (i.e., flat-faced breeds) tend to have underbites, so they often have abnormal bites. A dog’s correct bite lines up in the following manner:

  • The incisors of the upper jaw slightly overlap the lower jaw incisors so that the lower incisors gently rest behind the upper incisors.
  • The lower canine tooth rests between the maxillary (i.e., upper jaw) canine and the third incisor.
  • Both the upper and lower canines are slightly angled to the outside.
  • The premolar teeth of the maxilla and mandible (i.e., lower jaw) do not contact one another.
  • The premolars of the maxilla and mandible form a sawtooth pattern with each other.
  • The upper fourth premolar lines up with the lower first molar tooth. These are the carnassial teeth.  
  • The upper fourth premolar tooth rests on the cheek side of the lower first molar.
  • The two molar teeth in the maxilla line up with the second and third molar teeth in the mandible, and have an occlusion similar to people. The cusps of each crown come together and serve to grind food.  

A malocclusion, or abnormal bite, occurs when either a tooth is in an abnormal position, or the mandible and maxilla are misaligned in respect to one another.

What causes abnormal bites in dogs?

Abnormal bites in dogs can be caused by several genetic or acquired issues.

  • Persistent deciduous teeth — Puppies have 28 teeth, and adult dogs normally have 42 teeth, so as your puppy reaches adulthood, those secondary teeth need a place to grow into. Malocclusions can develop because the primary teeth fail to fall out, or the secondary teeth fail to grow in properly. If the primary teeth do not fall out on schedule—which is common in toy and small breeds—the primary teeth must be removed to avoid malocclusion development.
  • Abnormal jaw length — Dog breeds typically have one of three facial structures. Brachycephalic dogs are flat-faced and include pugs, bulldogs, and Boston terriers. Long-faced dogs, like greyhounds and dachshunds, are termed dolichocephalic dogs. Dogs with the most proportional faces have mesaticephalic skulls and include breeds like Labradors, beagles, and cocker spaniels. Although jaw length varies among the different breeds, an abnormal jaw length in a particular breed can cause a painful malocclusion. 
  • Abnormally oriented teeth — While most of your dog’s teeth grow in straight, some are offset at a slight angle to ensure a correct bite. But, if primary teeth do not fall out at the correct time, the secondary teeth can grow in at a more significant angle and cause bite issues.
  • Trauma — Being hit by a car, fighting with another dog, or suffering from some other traumatic event can forcefully shove teeth out of their correct positions. Oddly angled teeth, or teeth that have fractured from trauma, can cause an abnormal bite.

What malocclusion types can dogs have?

Dogs can develop four types of malocclusions.

  • Class I malocclusion — A class I malocclusion occurs when one or more teeth are in an abnormal position, but the maxilla and mandibles are in a normal relationship with each other.
  • Class II malocclusion — These are considered overbites in pets, as the mandible is shorter than the maxilla.  
  • Class III malocclusion — Class III malocclusions are underbites in pets, in which the mandible is longer than the maxilla. Brachycephalic breeds commonly have class III malocclusions.
  • Class IV malocclusion — Class IV malocclusions result from asymmetrical development of the maxilla or mandibles, meaning the upper or lower jaw sits off to one side.

What other issues can cause abnormal bites in dogs?

Although a malocclusion generally causes an abnormal bite, other issues can be to blame. The most common potential causes focus on the temporomandibular joint, such as a luxation, fracture, or dysplasia, but any jaw fracture can cause an abnormal bite. 

When should a dog’s abnormal bite be treated?

Not all abnormal bites need treatment, but careful evaluation of how the teeth align and strike the soft and hard mouth surfaces will help determine a treatment plan. Abnormal bites that cause the following issues must be treated:

  • Pain — Abnormal bites can be painful, especially when misaligned teeth pierce the soft soft palate or strike other teeth while chewing. Dogs who have a painful mouth are typically head-shy, and avoid being petted near their head and face. 
  • Foreign material impaction — If teeth are positioned in such a way that they trap food, fur, and other material, they need correction to help reduce periodontal problems and disease development.
  • Interference with normal growth — Deciduous teeth that fail to fall out and interfere with normal permanent teeth development should be removed as soon as possible to allow for normal growth.
  • Attrition — If a malocclusion causes teeth to rub and grind along one another, treatment is required.

Malocclusions may be treated with orthodontic appliances or by oral surgery, depending on the underlying cause.

Do you suspect your pet has an abnormal bite that is causing problems? Contact our Animal Dental Clinic team to schedule a comprehensive evaluation of your furry pal’s bite.