Dental malocclusion and abnormal bites in pets are relatively common, and can range from barely noticeable, with no discomfort, to severe bite misalignments between the upper and lower dental arches, which make chewing difficult and painful. Although any dog or cat may suffer from dental malocclusion, this disorder is common in purebred dogs. A famous pet with an excellent example of malocclusion is Tuna the Chiweenie. You’ve likely seen Tuna’s impressive overbite gracing many memes, or read his book, Tuna Melts My Heart: The Underdog with the Overbite.

Fortunately, most pets do not suffer such an extreme abnormal bite, and can manage a little misalignment perfectly fine. But, what causes these improperly aligned teeth, and can it be corrected? Read on to discover why some pets are more likely to have adorable under- or overbites, and if doggy braces can really help.

Types of dental malocclusion in pets

Various dental malocclusions occur in pets, and veterinary dental specialists often avoid the terms “overbite” and “underbite,” since they are highly subjective, and their meaning can vary from person to person. In general, the lower canines should be sitting on the outside of the gumline, in front of the upper canines, to create an ideal, comfortable bite. Misaligned teeth can be placed in the following malocclusion categories:

  • Class I — The mandible (i.e., lower jaw) and the maxilla (i.e., upper jaw) are the same length, but one or more teeth are misaligned
  • Class II — The maxilla is longer than the mandible, which can occur on one or both sides of the mouth
  • Class III — The mandible is longer than the maxilla, can happen on one or both sides, and is considered normal in brachycephalic breeds
  • Class IV — One side of the mandible is longer than the maxilla, and the other is shorter than the maxilla

Causes of dental malocclusion in pets

As people have bred dogs for particular traits, like longer faces or shorter noses, bite abnormalities have become more common in purebred dogs, and are often considered normal in certain breeds, despite being painful for a pet. Dental malocclusion is nearly always genetic, but abnormal bites can occur through trauma later in life. In general, jaw-length issues, as in Class II, III, and IV, are considered genetic, while individual tooth misplacement, in Class I, is considered non-genetic. 

In addition, dental malocclusions are either skeletal or dental in origin. The skeletal malocclusion occurs when the facial skeleton is abnormal, preventing the teeth from fitting together properly. For example, brachycephalic breeds, such as bulldogs and boxers, appear to have underbites because of their malformed skulls. A dental origin is when a pet may have one or two teeth that are abnormally positioned in a normal facial skeletal structure. 

Signs of dental malocclusion in pets

As with most periodontal problems, many pets with dental malocclusions display no painful signs, despite obvious intraoral damage from tooth-on-tooth or tooth-on-soft tissue contact. The only problem you may notice is misaligned teeth or an abnormal bite. If your pet does indicate they’re in pain, you may spot the following signs:

  • Recoiling when you pet them on the head or face
  • Rubbing the head against the wall 
  • Pawing at the face
  • Difficulty picking up or chewing food
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Bloody drool
  • Bad breath

Since pets are highly skilled at hiding pain or illness signs, at the first indication of an oral issue, schedule an appointment with the team here at Animal Dental Clinic. A dental malocclusion that is left untreated can potentially lead to severe issues, such as an oronasal fistula.

Treatment for dental malocclusion in pets

Most dental malocclusions don’t require treatment. However, if a tooth is rubbing on or piercing the gums, lips, or palate, treatment is necessary to make your furry pal comfortable. Depending on the malocclusion type your pet is experiencing, and the position of the problematic tooth or teeth, one or more of the following treatments may be beneficial:

  • Extraction of the problematic deciduous tooth or teeth
  • Extraction of the permanent tooth or teeth
  • Moving the offending tooth or teeth through orthodontic means
  • Removing the offending area of the tooth or teeth, such as a crown amputation

During your pet’s initial malocclusion evaluation, we can determine the treatment method that will best correct their bite, and alleviate their dental discomfort.

Although your furry pal’s misaligned bite may be adorable, you likely don’t have the next Tuna on your hands. We want to ensure your best friend can eat comfortably and avoid oral pain, so if you notice an issue with your pet’s bite, contact us.