A malocclusion can mean that your pet has a tooth (or teeth) out of place or that the pet’s upper and lower jaws do not line up properly. Malocclusions can affect any breed; however, some breeds, like the German shepherd, are prone to have a shorter lower jaw genetically, so their canine teeth hit the roof of their mouth. Other breeds, like boxers, are bred with a protruding chin to have an intentional malocclusion. Even if a breed is meant to have a malocclusion, there may still be pain associated with the imperfectly positioned teeth or jaw.

Why does a malocclusion matter?
A pet may appear to look normal but have a painful malocclusion hiding behind those closed lips. Malocclusions become concerning when imperfectly positioned teeth touch the roof of the mouth, another tooth or gum tissue. This traumatic contact can lead to holes in the roof of the mouth, abnormal wearing of teeth and ulcers where tissue is being damaged. The consequent chronic pain and infection can become a quality of life issue for your four-legged family member.

Many families report that their pet does not show any signs of oral soreness and “is eating well.” It is important to remember three things: 1) this condition has likely been present since the teeth first erupted, and you have never known your pet any other way; 2) most pets do not show signs of oral pain; and 3) many of these pets are head shy which may be a hint that their mouth is painful.

How do you correct the malocclusion?
Each malocclusion is different, so there is no “one size fits all” solution. Sometimes there is no damage from the “bad bite,” and we simply enjoy the cute pup with a “snaggle tooth.” However, when there is traumatic contact, intervention must be performed. In some cases, we are able to move the teeth through orthodontic devices. In other cases, we may have to shorten teeth to prevent traumatic contact to the roof of the mouth. And, although it may sound extreme, sometimes we selectively extract an offending tooth as it is much better to have no tooth than a painful tooth. With traumatic malocclusions, the goal is to create a pain-free and functional bite.

For more information on this subject, speak to the veterinarian who is treating your pet.