Malocclusion is a dental disorder, usually congenital, that causes a misalignment of the upper and lower teeth in dogs. Although in most cases it is usually only a cosmetic problem, in others it can cause damage to the mouth and lead to difficulty in eating.

Malocclusion problems can’t be defined until the animal loses it milk or deciduous teeth. This moment usually occurs at 6 months of age and when they already have their permanent teeth. By 10 months, a dog can already have a fully formed jaw and all its permanent teeth. The correct and healthy scenario is that the teeth are aligned with each other, as if they were scissors, or in a zig-zag arrangement.

Causes of dental malocclusion

The most common cause is congenital or hereditary and both are related to growth problems of the lower or upper jaw. Another possible cause of malocclusion is the retention of milk teeth. Strong blows or trauma can also alter the bite if they displace the joint or if the lower or upper jaw is shortened after a fracture. This problem can even be caused by tumours.

One of the most common disorders or malocclusions is brachygnathism. Dogs with mandibular brachygnathism have a longer upper jaw or a shorter lower jaw, which causes the upper teeth to protrude.

On the contrary, prognathism means that the lower jaw is longer or the upper jaw is shorter, causing the lower teeth to protrude. This characteristic is part of the official standard for certain breeds such as bulldogs, pugs or shih-tzus.

Consequences of this disorder

One of the main effects of malocclusion is that the teeth may dig into the soft tissue of the mouth. This constantly causes wounds that are difficult to heal if the tooth causing the damage is not removed.

Because of this, many dogs develop eating problems and end up suffering from malnutrition and severe pain. In some cases, though infrequent, uneven growth may occur on one side. This is known as crooked teeth and it is one of the most serious problems, as the position of the teeth usually prevents the dog from eating normally.

Treatment of malocclusion in dogs

For flat-faced breeds, there is no possible treatment, but neither is it recommended, as this conformation is an inherent characteristic of the breed. However, these dogs need special care and more frequent visits to the vet to monitor their dental health.

On certain occasions, malocclusion disorders can be solved by removing one or more teeth to leave enough space for the rest of the teeth to grow. In more severe cases, most of the teeth must be extracted in order to prevent periodontal disease.

For the moment, if the pet develops a malocclusion disorder, the most important thing to do is maintain dental hygiene, practice daily brushing, and take the pet to the vet for professional cleaning when necessary. If all oral parameters are kept in check, the condition need not worsen.

Written and verified by biologist Ana Díaz Maqueda on April 28, 2021.

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