Orthodontic problems, also known as malocclusions, refer to an abnormal relationship between the jaws and/or teeth, also known as a “bite” problem. Many breeds have a predisposition to developing an abnormal bite. Every animal should be able to close its mouth completely without any tooth causing trauma to adjacent teeth or oral tissues. It is very painful for a tooth to be penetrating the gum tissue.
Dogs and cats have a scissor bite (the lower incisors bite just behind the upper incisors). The lower canine occludes between the upper canine and corner incisor and the premolars interdigitate. Some breeds may vary, for example a boxer or bull dog.
Orthodontic problems (malocclusions) will often present in puppies and kittens as young as 6-8 weeks of age. Close inspection of the mouth is important at the first vaccination. Some animals only present with a problem when the permanent teeth erupt at 5-6 months of age.
Early diagnosis is essential to prevent pain. If there is a problem with the deciduous teeth, extraction is advised and this should be carried out at the earliest occasion (in some cases this means extracting teeth at 8 weeks of age). Retained deciduous canines in dogs should be removed under general anaesthesia if they are present and the adult, permanent, canines are also present. This is because quite often the deciduous teeth push the adult canines into the wrong position causing a malocclusion.
Problems with the permanent teeth:
Orthodontic treatment may be suitable. A brace can be fitted to the teeth to move them in to a comfortable position. This needs to be performed by a vet specialising in veterinary dentistry. Unlike human dentistry, orthodontics for cosmetic reasons should never be performed in animals. Our aim is to ensure a comfortable, functional bite.
Extraction is an option, although this can be complicated as the teeth are otherwise healthy and can prove to be difficult to extract.
Jaw length and tooth bud position are known to have a genetic link so careful selection of breeding animals is advisable.